Editorial: Session brought victory as well as puzzling loss

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 17, 2002

Albert Lea can be grateful to state lawmakers for passing at least four important bills related to repairing the damage caused by the Farmland fire. But the manner in which another Albert Lea request &045; for a local-option sales tax &045; was defeated makes it easy to be bitter about state politics and about the outcome of this session for Freeborn County.

First of all, it’s important to note that the city of Albert Lea, all along, admitted that its Farmland requests were its number-one priority in St. Paul this year. Those bills, put together, will go along way toward getting a new plant built, getting the old site cleaned up, and financially taking care of ex-employees and the school system

City Manager Paul Sparks was even asked during a hearing on the sales tax bill: If you had to choose the Farmland bills or the sales tax, which would you pick? Sparks said

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he had to go with Farmland. Given the huge impact on the community, it was the only answer he could give.

But honestly, why couldn’t the city get both?

The half-cent local-option sales tax, which Albert Lea wanted to pay for lake improvement projects and downtown revitalization, ended up denied in a curious fashion. For some reason, lawmakers saw fit to grant this kind of taxing power to cities in the St. Cloud area, but not to Albert Lea or other smaller communities that wanted it. The argument against local sales taxes is supposedly that lawmakers want all of the state to have a uniform sales tax; that would seem to shoot down any hope for St. Cloud as much as for Albert Lea.

But that wasn’t the case. Perhaps St. Cloud’s larger population and more powerful legislators made a difference; if so, this was a blatantly political decision, and one that is just plain not fair. Did Albert Lea use up all its political capital on the Farmland measures? Does the state’s compassion for a city like ours, so much smaller than St. Cloud, only go as far as our meager number of votes in the legislature?

The decision about a local-option sales tax should be a local one, and it would have been a local one &045; decided by a local referendum &045; if the state had only loosened its reins a little bit and allowed local cities to make their own decisions. The sales tax idea was one supported by a unanimous Albert Lea City Council, and at least the idea of allowing it to go to a local vote &045; if not necessarily the idea of paying the tax &045; seemed more than popular enough among citizens.

Although Albert Lea made out well in the aftermath of Farmland, it’s hard not to feel like an opportunity to better itself was taken away from Albert Lea, and apparently for all the wrong reasons.