Senator Erik Simonson: Republican tricks will make property taxes rise

There are a lot of things that happen on the Senate floor that slide under the radar. One of those things just happened earlier this week when we were debating the omnibus tax bill. A behemoth bill that, aside from the problems I’m writing this letter about, at a $900 million price tag is much too large to sustain, and will likely hurt the state of Minnesota in the future. During this debate, Republicans proposed an amendment that stripped away a large chunk of Minneapolis’ local government aid (LGA) money and used it for other purposes – effectively reducing the statewide LGA pool by nearly $29 million.

This amendment passed. But what Republicans aren’t telling people is that their approach to LGA funding decreases all local government aid in future years. Take for example the city of Duluth. In 2019, under the amended Senate bill, the city will actually receive less aid than it will in 2018. Due to the complexity of the formula, the amendment will have a negative impact to many cities all across Minnesota.

That is significant. Local government aid money helps cities pay for among other things, police and fire protection, snow plowing, libraries and other critical services. In 2013 I was part of a working group of legislators and stakeholders that updated the LGA formula. This formula is carefully crafted and very complex – not something that should be played with using forced floor amendments.

When local governments – from Willmar, to Virginia to Owatonna, don’t get enough aid from the state – they turn to local taxpayers. Republicans have been proudly touting their “strong” support of local government aid lately. But what strikes me as odd, is their vehement opposition to the same bill last year when the Senate was under DFL leadership.

We know a strong commitment to LGA is one of the best ways to keep property taxes down. And yet, here we are with a small, one-time bump for 2018, before we’re right back down to decreasing aid again in 2019. This isn’t what cities and counties are asking for. They want stability, and they need more aid in order to keep property taxes in check. Republicans are playing with this stability, and their lack of governing skills is becoming crystal clear. The same night we debated the tax bill, I offered an amendment to increase LGA up to 2002 levels (the high water mark for funding before a decade of continued cuts) but it was defeated by the Republican majority – citing “inability to afford” the provision.

Governing is a lot harder than selling an idea. It involves making choices that line up with your values. And right now Republicans are showing us their cards. The choices they are making are going to hurt Minnesota property tax payers. It’s going to hurt the 70-year-old retiree in New Ulm. It’s going to hurt the busy family of five in Bemidji. But you know who won’t be hurting? Wealthy business owners, thanks to a nearly 18 percent cut to their taxes.

Erik Simonson represents District 7 in northeastern Minnesota.

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