It's not usually Must-See TV, but it might be a good idea to catch the live stream of your city council and county board meetings over the next ten days.
An apparent error recently discovered in a last-minute amendment to the 273 page tax bill has brought confusion to dozens of cities and counties at the worst possible moment — budget time. Local governments face a Sept. 16 state reporting deadline that determines maximum property tax rates and truth-in-taxation notifications for Minnesotans.
A spread sheet from the Minnesota Department of Revenue specifying the baseline amount for some 300 cities and counties to use in calculating property taxes triggered the head-scratching. The allowable amount available to levy appeared to be much higher than, in many cases, what was anticipated — the exact opposite of what the Legislature apparently intended.
A provision of the mysterious amendment on pages 53 and 54 contained an error that evidently eluded lawmakers and dozens of taxpayer-paid lobbyists representing cities and counties throughout Minnesota. The apparent mistake allowed millions of dollars in debt to be added to the total, which is used by many local governments to calculate the 3 percent maximum property tax increase for 2014 operating budgets. So far, only a lobbyist — and no legislators — has volunteered to take the rap (Gary Carlson).
“Our Legislature’s sloppy last-minute work is now causing confusion and last-minute crunches for cities like Moorhead,” said Brenda Elmer, a City Council member in Moorhead. “We’re just finding this out this week and we don’t have a council meeting until Sept. 9, when we’re supposed to set our maximum levy. Their being unprepared has caused a situation for us.”
It’s a classic case of late night backroom maneuvering on the omnibus tax bill at the State Capitol during the last weekend of the session, according to an influential lobbyist.
“I still don’t know where it came from, whether it was the governor, the House or the Senate, nobody ever told me precisely but it came up very late in the process and up to that point there was really no discussion of it,” said Gary Carlson, lobbyist for the League of Minnesota Cities. “Whenever you throw out language like that quickly toward the end of the session, people try read it and figure out what it means, but there’s not always the luxury of time to figure it all out.
In the end, local governments appear to be taking the approach of constituents who find a way to get things done in spite of the Legislature.
“For many cities and many counties they’re probably being very logical in how they’re reading or understanding the law,” said Carlson. “City officials and county commissioners are probably saying they couldn’t have possibly meant to double count those debt limits.”
Still, you might consider logging into your local government’s live video feed just to make sure.
More from Star Tribune
More from Tom Steward
Just in case you had better things to do the last five years and missed it, the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act requires everyone to get coverage or pay the price. Just ask MNsure.
This may be the most off-beat list of 14 stories from 2014 that you encounter heading into next year, but that's the point. Frivolous, funny or even infuriating, these Watchdog examples of real life Minnesotans dealing with the powers that be sometimes slip under the radar of the mainstream media.
Five Twin Cities school districts recently held GMO awareness day, but as media and others' awareness of the event spreads across the Internet, there's been a backlash.
HBO host Bill Maher wasn't on the ballot either, but his flip-a-district gimmick flopped as Cong. John Kline coasted to his seventh term in the US House of Representatives.
Did you know Minnesota has more cases riding on the outcome of the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case coming out on Monday? For-profit Minnesota employers have won 8 of 35 temporary injunctions granted by federal courts to businesses across the country under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But for how much longer?