As he completes a second term as mayor, Coleman says he's proud of that track record of no increase in the city tax levy. He has had the luxury of presiding over strong economic times, but Coleman says the combination of no tax hike, expanded city services, a better bond rating, and a larger budget reserve are not just the product of the times.
"We've chosen a path here. One of the elements has been, we'll manage our finances wisely, we'll make some tough choices. And as a result, hopefully we'll generate more confidence and more investment and that's what we have here in this city."
Coleman's financial record in St. Paul will now become part of his campaign for the U.S. Senate. Instead of running for re-election as mayor, Coleman will challenge the senior senator from Minnesota, Democrat Paul Wellstone.
Among those who will carry on in City Hall, there are differing opinions on how difficult it will be to maintain Coleman's streak of not raising taxes. City Council member Jerry Blakey, the Republican-endorsed candidate for mayor, says in spite of the lagging economy, he doesn't think it will be too hard to keep the lid on spending for another four years. "It's really about prioritization," Blakey said. "What you want to do as a city, what you're willing to commit to. I've been the leader on the council along with the mayor, pushing to hold the line on taxes, so I don't find... it's not something that's hard to do, it's just is that what you want to do. And the taxpayers are telling us that they want us to hold the line."
Conversely, Bob Kessler, an independent mayoral candidate and the long-time head of the city's licensing and inspections department, thinks Coleman has put his successor in the position of having to make overdue service cuts or tax hikes.
Kessler is troubled by Coleman's use of more than $1 million from the city budget reserve to balance the 2002 budget. "I think he really wanted to say that he hasn't raised taxes in eight years. You look at the amount of money that came out of savings in order for him to say that. And I say that's a problem that's passed on to the next mayor, and for me it's not an honest way to deliver on that promise that you're not going to raise taxes when eventually you're going to have to do that or severely cut services," Kessler said.
Coleman says the budget reserve has grown to about $40 million. He says the city should make use of that money to forestall any tax increases. But he says it should be a priority for the City Council to set guidelines for the use of the reserve to ensure it does not become depleted and hurt the city's financial outlook.