For more than a decade, Minnesotans have watched their property tax bills rise dramatically while the services they are paying for have declined. In total, property taxes have risen more than 85 percent in the last decade.
Over the last few years, I’ve visited with business owners, mayors and community leaders in every corner of the state. There is a great concern over the deterioration of critical city services like public safety. Overwhelmingly, the feedback was: “We need property tax relief!”
The sudden and drastic rise in property taxes wasn’t a calamity brought upon by the recession or by cities spending beyond their means. Starting in 2002, cities faced massive cuts in local government aid from the state and were forced to cut the services residents count on most in order to balance budgets and govern responsibly.
Thirty years after the inception of the LGA program — designed to help minimize the impact of property taxes on middle-class families in regional centers and cities — politics got the better of Minnesota lawmakers, and the results were predictable: higher tax bills across the state.
To put the numbers in perspective, St. Paul’s annual general-fund budget is approximately $238 million, and LGA makes up approximately 21 percent of that. LGA makes up 2 percent of the state’s general-fund budget ($427 million). The Legislature has cut annual LGA for St. Paul by $26 million compared with the 2003 amount, comprising almost 11 percent of the city’s budget. By contrast, these cuts have provided Minnesota taxpayers with less than 1 percent of savings in the state general fund.
The story is similar for communities from Worthington to Austin to Moorhead to Duluth. Every year, costs for the same services go up while local government aid declines. This has resulted in layoffs and skyrocketing property taxes.
In St. Paul, we have reduced library hours throughout the system by 10 percent. Some communities are using firefighting equipment that is more than 30 years old, putting firefighters and residents at risk. Other communities have reduced the number of police officers on their streets. The results of more than a decade of decline in LGA are dramatic.
We know that when our cities our strong, our state is strong. That is why Gov. Mark Dayton’s plan to provide additional aid to cities is so important. This plan would deliver $1.4 billion in direct property tax relief to homeowners and would stabilize local government aid.
For many years, local communities counted on the partnership established with the state to help keep property taxes low while providing essential services to residents. Dayton’s budget places a priority on reestablishing that crucial partnership.
Partnership between the state and local governments is what helped solidify our reputation as the state that works. Services were good; taxes were affordable. We can be that state again.
LGA builds infrastructure. LGA keeps our communities safe. LGA strengthens local economies. I urge legislators to listen to property taxpayers in their districts and pass the governor’s LGA plan. It is stable. It is sustainable. It invests in middle-class families.
Chris Coleman is mayor of St. Paul.