PoliGraph: Emmer wrong on rhymes

“Origami bird. You have great long wings to fly. Why do you sit still?”

The haiku imprinted on the sidewalk of the corner of Western Ave and Selby Ave. in St. Paul and other sidewalk poems in the Capitol city are irking Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.

During an MPR-sponsored Sept. 3, 2010 debate at the Minnesota State Fair, Emmer promised to reform local government aid so it can’t be used to pay to put poetry on the sidewalks.

“LGA should be applied to what it was intended for,” he said. “It should pay for essential services defined as police and fire service and sewer and water infrastructure. That’s should what it should be going for, not to etch poetry in sidewalks in St. Paul.”

There’s no truth to Emmer’s claim.

The Evidence

Local government aid, which was put on the books nearly three decades ago, is meant to help Minnesota communities with smaller tax bases provide the same services as larger, more affluent cities. Aid is distributed based on city size and population, among other things, and it goes directly into a city’s general fund.

Emmer said that local government aid was intended to pay for essential services, such as the police force and fire fighting, and often it is. But his statement implies that there are restrictions on how it can be used. In fact, local government aid can be used however a city sees fit – including sidewalk poetry.

Even so, no local government aid was used in Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk, the project that has Emmer so fired up.

Rather, the entire project is paid for by a group called Public Art St. Paul, and has been since 2008 when it began. Costs include paying Marcus Young, the artist behind the project, the graphic designers who create the poetry templates, and the poets themselves. All told, it’s cost the non-profit about $80,500 since 2008, according to Christine Podas-Larson, president of Public Art St. Paul.

Emmer’s staff points out that the City of St. Paul advertises the project on its website. And it’s true that Public Art St. Paul and St. Paul Public Works have teamed up to support the program; it’s public works employees who imprint the poems during annual sidewalk repairs, a process takes only a few minutes, Podas-Larson said.

Where does funding for the sidewalk repair come from? Not local government aid, according to the City of St. Paul. Repairs are paid for with bonds and Right of Way Assessments, a fancy name for a fee city dwellers pay to keep streets, lights and sidewalks in top shape.

The Verdict

This case is clear cut: Emmer’s claim about local government aid is false.


“Origami bird,” by Madeline K. Schuster

Minnesota Public Radio News, State Fair gubernatorial debate, Sept. 3, 2010

The City of St. Paul, Sidewalk poetry, accessed Sept. 7, 2010

The City of St. Paul, Sidewalk poetry FAQs, accessed Sept. 7, 2010

Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes, Chapter 477A. Local Government Aid, accessed Sept. 8, 2010

The State Auditor of Minnesota, Local Government Aid and Its Effect on Expenditures, Feb. 10, 2003

City of St. Paul, 2010 Adopted Budget, accessed Sept. 7, 2010

Interview, Bob Hume, deputy chief of state for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Sept. 7, 2010

Interview, Christine Podas-Larson, president, Public Art St. Paul, Sept. 7, 2010

Interview, Pat Dalton, legislative analyst, Research Department, Minnesota House of Representatives, Sept. 7, 2010