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In Response: Festering problems fail to be fixed with so many priorities

The State of the City address by Mayor Emily Larson this past week was more of the same. Many parts of the speech we have heard for many years now. Politicians love festering problems. It gives them something to talk about.

Rob StenbergBut let's take a look at the issues and priorities discussed and the status of those issues.

Using the public process of Imagine Duluth 2035, priorities for Duluth have been identified as infrastructure, livable neighborhoods, affordable housing, green space, energy conservation, a dynamic and diverse economy, culture and recreation, and a safe and secure community. That is too many priorities. A city like Duluth does not have the resources to address all of these at once, so they must be prioritized.

Once again, a mayor of Duluth is talking about fixing our streets, which has been a problem for decades. This is not a problem easily fixed, but recommendations have been made on funding Duluth's Street Improvement Program that would not involve raising taxes. (See Why are these ideas not being acted on?

The mayor continues to tout that 77 percent of Duluth voters approved a tax increase. This number is misleading. In that election year, only 12,021 people voted to raise your taxes. The mayor is lobbying the state Legislature to increase taxes based on the approval of less than 25 percent of registered voters in Duluth and less than 15 percent of the overall Duluth population. Doesn't seem like a strong position. Other revenue sources could have been utilized, and we could be fixing streets today. But that would have meant a festering problem goes away.

Also, once again, a Duluth mayor talked about the need for good jobs in Duluth. The downtown area of the city is classified as a Historically Underutilized Business Zone, or HUBZone. HUBZone is a U.S. Small Business Administration program for small companies that operate and employ people in historically underutilized business areas. To qualify for the program, a small business (except tribally owned concerns) must meet SBA standards; be owned and controlled at least 51 percent by U.S. citizens, a community development corporation, an agricultural cooperative, or an Indian tribe; have its principal office within a HUBZone, including lands considered "Indian Country" and military facilities closed by the Base Realignment and Closure Act; and have at least 35 percent of its employees residing in a HUBZone. Firms owned by Indian tribal governments must either maintain a principal office in a HUBZone and ensure that 35 percent of its employees reside within a HUBZone or certify that at least 35 percent of its employees engaged in performing the contract will reside within an Indian reservation governed by the Indian tribal government.

Why is the city of Duluth not using this tool as a way to entice job creation? These jobs, and those employed with these companies, could help revitalize the downtown area.

Also, once again, a Duluth mayor discussed the need for housing in Duluth, a decades-old problem. But the mayor focused on low-income housing, and this only addresses part of the problem. There is a shortage of all housing types in Duluth. The mayor said this is a "crisis," and we with Duluth BizPAC agree. But the city has done very little to help fix this problem. The aging housing market, high real estate taxes, construction costs, and extreme permitting costs well above other cities of our same size are all factors in the current housing dilemma. But the City Council recently approved a 6 percent tax increase, and permitting costs in the city of Duluth are a barrier to housing. (See

The bottom line is this: We have limited resources and too many priorities. Government needs to focus on the basics of job creation, infrastructure, housing, and safety. We need leadership that doesn't use games to decide where money is best spent. Government in Duluth should get back to the basics, do them well, and get rid of festering problems so politicians have less to talk about.

Rob Stenberg is president of Duluth BizPAC, a pro-business political action committee.