Local sales tax down, but not out

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 29, 2002

In Iowa, local voters can approve up to a 1 percent local sales tax. In Wisconsin, they can go up to a half-percent. In the Dakotas, it’s 2 percent. None of them need the state’s permission to do it.

But in Minnesota, the state legislature must approve any local sales taxes, and in recent years, has begun to frown on them and turn most down.

Destination: Albert Lea (DAL), the community group that first proposed a half-cent sales tax to pay for lake cleanup and downtown effort in Albert Lea, was denied at the state legislature last year. Now, they may try a different angle: Getting the state law changed so the legislature’s approval is no longer required for local sales taxes.

Email newsletter signup

DAL President Randy Erdman said Minnesota should take the example of most of the 37 other states that allow local-option sales taxes. Besides Minnesota, only one makes local governments get state approval for their taxes, he said, citing the 2002 U.S. Master Sales Tax and Use Guide, a publication of the Department of Revenue.

&uot;You pass it through your local government body and you have a local referendum, and you can have it,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s a local decision and it’s under local control as long as you meet the guidelines.&uot;

Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, agreed that the state should be consistent &045; that either any city that wants one should be allowed, or that none should be. Right now, 11 local cities or counties, including Mankato and Rochester, have local taxes. Last year, at least six communities asked the state for permission to levy a local sales tax, but the legislature granted only one, for St. Cloud and surrounding cities.

&uot;A general law change is probably the best idea,&uot; Dorman said.

Another strategy Dorman suggested is to have a local referendum on the tax first, then go to the state if it passes. That’s what St. Cloud finally did after two years of failure at the legislature, and with the local referendum approved, the state agreed to allow their tax, which was earmarked for airport improvements.

Under the Albert Lea proposal, which the city council unanimously approved, 65 percent of the revenue would go toward lake improvement efforts, mainly for Fountain and Albert Lea lakes, and the rest would pay for public downtown improvements like street lighting, decorative features and possibly a revolving loan fund for storefront restoration. The city would have control over the money.

Erdman said the sales tax provides the best opportunity for Albert Lea to jumpstart development.

&uot;All you’ve got to do is go to these cities that have (the sales tax) and see what they’ve done with it.&uot; Some have added civic centers, used the money for flood control or directed it to waterfront development.