Response to 'Counterpoint'

  • Article by: D.J. TICE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 30, 2011 - 8:39 AM
D. J. Tice

D. J. Tice

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Note: Star Tribune Commentary Editor D.J Tice responds to criticisms of his March 6 column by Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, and Rep. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato.

I thank Rep. Hamilton and Sen. Sheran for their civil and substantive rebuttal.

But, with respect, their argument strikes me as something of a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose proposition.

Believing that greater Minnesota communities suffer “inequalities” related to property taxes, the lawmakers argue that the state should make it a priority to reduce those inequalities.

But when responding to an argument that in fact the real inequalities victimize someone else -- taxpayers in the metro area, and even in the suburbs -- the lawmakers become tough-minded individualists.

This is just the way property taxes work, we are told, and people must live with the choices they make.

Shouldn’t one response to inequality apply?

Consider a few of their key points:

  • “Like it or not, property taxes are based on property values, not income…”

Yes, property taxes work this way, as my column noted. But this basis for local taxation is not an inexorable fact of life - like tooth decay or Charlie Sheen - that we simply have to live with.

It is a choice made by policymakers, and they could make a different choice.

Or, if there are good reasons to tax property (and there are), government could at least establish policies to reduce the undesirable effects of taxing this way.

And, of course, government does establish policies that purport to make things fairer -- policies like local government aid.

The whole argument for LGA is built on the recognition that property-based taxation can produce inequalities, requiring, the legislators say, that we “reduce inequalities between property poor and property rich cities.”

But why must we reduce such inequalities? Why isn’t it a sufficient answer to say, as the legislators do: Like it or not, property taxes are based on property value -- so naturally property poor communities have a smaller tax base?

One gathers that in the end the legislators don’t like inequality. Neither do I.

The point of my column was to explore whether the property tax-relief policies we have in place really do correct the real inequities among taxpayers. I fear that they do not. Check out the report and judge for yourself.

  • “[M]edian homeowners in a southwest suburban city like Eden Prairie live in homes four times more valuable than property owners in a rural city like Worthington, and have twice the income.”

The impression is created here, and is nowhere corrected by the lawmakers, that the Voss report is all about comparing tax burdens for wealthier suburbanites against those facing lower income residents of greater Minnesota.

This isn’t true.

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