The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 1, 2013

Taxpayers should ask tough questions

Why it matters: Some local governments are raising property tax levies despite increased state funding


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Many local governments will soon have public meetings on their plans for taxing and spending in the next year, and many are requesting budget and tax levy increases.

That’s surprising to some state lawmakers because the DFL Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton provided millions of dollars in property tax relief last year. They argued passage of these increases in state spending would be offset with decreases in local property taxes.

It’s causing some alarm, then, that local levies are going up in some cases. Minnesota Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans has been meeting and holding media events with cities and mayors who are cutting their tax levies, subtly suggesting others should follow suit.

Taxpayers have their chance to weigh in on these tax increases, though, by attending one of the public meetings, many of which have been detailed in The Free Press over the last week or so. (For a roundup of meetings and budget summaries use the search bar at www.mankatofreepress.com and type “property tax levies”).

The meetings are required by state law and they used to be called “Truth-in-Taxation” meetings, until someone decided there either was not much truth or it was in the eye of the beholder at best.

It’s always difficult for busy taxpayers to be studying local budgets, and we suspect that is the reason most do not show up at the local meetings. As long as their taxes are not rising markedly many do not feel the time is well invested.

But this year there are basic questions to ask that don’t require a lot of local budget knowledge. State lawmakers have urged taxpayers to ask their local governments one basic question: If they state provided millions in property tax relief, why are the local taxes still going up?

The Legislature cut $129 million worth of sales taxes to cities and counties and increased aid by about $130 million. But proposed preliminary levies statewide would increase property taxes by $80 million for cities and counties.

In July, Dayton and his administration predicted at $121 million cut in property taxes at the local level. So far, they’re almost $200 million off if all the preliminary levies stay in place.

Past history suggests that will not be the case. Many local governments set preliminary levies at an artificially high level and then reduce them. That’s clearly warranted in many, many cases.

But taxpayers should ask the tough questions of their local governments. Sure, some put off road projects for years as local government aid was cut. Some put off real necessities. But some probably did just fine during those years as well.

If you don’t like your property tax bill, now is the time to let your local officials know about it and ask the tough questions.