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Council President Lisa Bender responds to mayor's threat to veto budget over officer staffing

Mayor Jacob Frey has repeatedly criticized a Safety for All plan which would cut officer staffing targets from 888 to 750.

Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender has pushed back against threats of a budget veto by Mayor Jacob Frey over disagreements on police funding.

A council committee passed a 2021 budget that would cut Minneapolis Police Department funding in favor of other public safety programs through a “Safety for All” amendment on Monday. Frey has been critical of the amendment, which was authored by Bender along with Council Members Steve Fletcher and Philippe Cunningham, calling it “irresponsible.”

The amendment would take nearly $8 million – less than 5% – from Frey’s proposed $179 million for MPD to fund expanded mental health and violence prevention resources. In particular, Frey has taken issue with a provision in the amendment that would reduce officer staffing from 888 to 750 in coming years. 

Frey has instead expressed support for funding such programs with private donations managed through the Minneapolis Foundation.  

If passed by the council following the final budget hearing Wednesday, Frey said he would consider vetoing the budget.

“Preemptively reducing the sworn capacity by 138 officers prior to having alternative responses in place or completing the mutually-agreed upon staffing study is irresponsible,” Frey said in a statement.

Bender responded by standing by the Safety for All amendment, saying: "Mayor Frey’s insistence that we should plan for 888 police officers in 2022 is completely unrealistic. The realistic budget the City Council has drafted is based on the actual current staffing of MPD after years of attrition and an exodus of officers since the killing of George Floyd and the burning of the 3rd precinct.

"If the Mayor has a real plan to hire 150 more officers in 2022, he could simply propose that in next year’s budget along with the taxes needed to pay for it.”

Frey cannot do a line item veto, meaning he would need to veto the entire budget. Doing so would result in a reset to the property tax levy and cut $20 million from city programs, Bender pointed out.

“If the Mayor vetoes [the budget], he will trigger a $20 million budget cut that will affect every City department next year while we are still responding to a pandemic, rebuilding public safety and facing multi-million dollar lawsuits related to police violence,” Bender said in a statement Tuesday.

“This veto would be so destructive to the City and our residents that it is difficult to take the threat seriously."

Bender has already announced she will be stepping down as council president and will not run for re-election in 2021.

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