Minn. property tax fairness needs your support

Published 9:19 am Monday, March 16, 2009

Editor’s note: Former state Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, co-wrote this with Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji.

Although we may be two former state legislators from two different sides of the aisle, and two different ends of the state, we share the belief that fair property taxation is part of what makes us one Minnesota. Unfortunately, fair property taxation may fall victim to the budget ax as lawmakers attempt to close a $4.5 billion gap in the state’s budget.

We can all agree that there are basic services — police, fire protection, safe roads, libraries and parks — that all Minnesotans are entitled to. These services ensure communities statewide are attractive places to live and work. No matter what region you live in, we expect a police officer to respond to our emergencies, a librarian to recommend reading material for our children, and a snowplow driver to clear the roads for the morning commute.

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The property tax catch is this: if a city has lower valued homes, they have a lower property tax base and are forced to charge each homeowner a higher rate in order to gather enough money to pay for essential services, like police officers and firefighters.

If the cost of city services hit some property taxpayers harder than others, Minnesota would become a state of stark disparities: cities with libraries and cities without libraries; cities with clear roads after a snowstorm and cities with dangerously icy roads; cities that are affordable to families and businesses and cities that drive families and businesses away with sky-high property tax rates. This wouldn’t be a Minnesota that most of us would want to live in.

Because of the local-government-aid program, residents across the state don’t have to worry about the affordability of their community or the quality of services their community can offer. Part of the Minnesota Miracle, LGA is a state initiative that equalizes property tax rates amongst cities with lower wealth or higher need, and cities with higher wealth or lower need. The important thing to remember is that LGA works and has kept Minnesota a vibrant, affordable place to live and do business for nearly 40 years.

As the state confronts a widening budget deficit, LGA has been targeted for disproportionately larger cuts than other state-funded programs in Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s budget proposal. Nobody expects LGA to emerge from the budgeting process unscathed — the severity of the state’s deficit will require all programs to play a part in the solution. However, with the economy tanking, people losing their jobs, and home values bottoming out, we believe keeping property taxes fair and affordable is important now more than ever.

If fair property taxation is important to you, visit www.ThankLGA.org, a Web site where you learn more about the LGA program, contact your legislators and the governor in support of LGA, and be part of the LGA discussion. It’s not too late to have your voice heard. If we join together and make our case to the governor and policymakers at the Capitol, we can keep a fair property tax system in Minnesota.

Dorman also is the executive director of the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency.