Whose property taxes went down?

Published 10:24 am Thursday, November 28, 2013

ST. PAUL — Even before Minnesota property tax levies are locked in, the effort to assign political meaning to the bills awaiting homeowners and others is in full swing.

Minnesota Democrats, who predicted a drop in property taxes, are left to explain why that didn’t happen in most places. Legislative Republicans say they’ll remind voters’ of their rivals’ promise in the next election.

Preliminary data shows the likelihood of more tax levy increases than cuts despite the state providing tens of millions of dollars in aid to local governments under the guise it would hold down taxes. While still subject to change, 93 cities are on course to lower property taxes, 223 are holding steady and 537 are planning increases. Out of 87 counties, only seven planned reductions, 13 planned no change and 67 were looking at increases.

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Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans’ push to highlight cities that held the line, visiting Minneapolis on Tuesday to showcase its 1 percent levy reduction.

“It’s taken 12 years to get out of a hole, while we were being whac-a-mole’d back in by the tax strategy of the past governor and legislature, frankly,” outgoing Mayor R.T. Rybak said. “So, every city is different.”

With Rybak and Frans was Circle Pines Mayor Dave Bartholomay, whose suburban city is cutting property taxes by 2 percent. Bartholomay said it wasn’t easy.

“Every city basically faces the same dilemma, how to manage a list of important needs put off for years because of declining state investment in local communities,” Bartholomay said. “Property tax reduction is on the list, as is replacing a snowplow or fixing old or broken playground equipment, or perhaps refilling the rainy day fund to limit tax increases in the future.”

Only a few months ago, Democratic leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton were confidently predicting there’d be property tax reductions throughout the state. Now they’ve recalibrated their message and Republicans see an issue that could break their way.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said Democrats campaigned on property tax reductions in 2012 and haven’t delivered.

“I have a feeling that when you make promises and you don’t live up to your word that those things come back to haunt you,” said Daudt, R-Crown. “So my guess is that it probably will be a big deal, not only on the campaign trail, but when people get their property tax statements and see that their property taxes have gone up.”

Dayton, who along with all House members faces re-election next fall, said he trusts tax and spending decisions of local governments.

“These numbers are still good news. It’s still significantly less than what they’ve been heretofore,” he said this week. “Let’s see how the final numbers come out and then we’ll pass definitive judgment.”

Local officials have until Dec. 27 to set their final levies.