You think no special session of the Minnesota Legislature is no big deal? You must not live in St. Paul. There, Mayor Chris Coleman raised his recommended 2017 property tax increase from 4 percent to 7 percent upon news on Aug. 18 that talks that might have led to a special session had broken down. That’s how much the $20 million per year local government aid (LGA) increase in the stalled tax bill is worth to capital city taxpayers.
Similar stories are told around the state. Take Olivia, where the tax bill’s LGA increase would tamp down a possible double-digit property tax increase next year, said Mayor Suzanne Hilgert. Or Ely, where an 11.35 percent levy increase is on the horizon without a boost in LGA and help with infrastructure improvements that could have been funded by the Legislature’s bonding bill, Mayor Chuck Novak said. In Windom, the tax bill’s provisions would cut a possible 2.9 percent levy increase in half. In Granite Falls, no LGA increase will mean more delay in restoring city staffing hours that were cut during the Great Recession.
For the sake of those cities and more, Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders should make one more attempt to find an accord that would lead to a special session. At a minimum, the tax bill that was vetoed because it contained a costly drafting error should be corrected and enacted. A special session should also pass an improved version of the bonding/transportation bill that died minutes before midnight on May 22. It would have authorized more than $1 billion in infrastructure projects, many of which will cost more if they are delayed.
If those bills remain in limbo until the 2017 session, Minnesotans should brace themselves for some eye-popping city levy increase forecasts. By Sept. 30, every city in the state is obliged to set its preliminary 2017 levy, which serves as a ceiling on the final levies set in December. With little or no increase in LGA for the third straight year and none of the bonding bill’s infrastructure help on the horizon, cities are aiming high as they set preliminary levies — high enough to give legislators a political nosebleed.
Dayton and legislators can avert that campaign-season pain. The biggest stumbling block to an agreement in the months since the regular session’s botched finish — Southwest light-rail funding — has been cleared, at least for now. That leaves a handful of disputes that ought to be amenable to resolution. For example, House Republicans should back away from their intention to supplant their judgment for the Minnesota Department of Transporation’s in choosing highway improvements, knowing that doing so would set a precedent that could disadvantage their districts in the long run. Lawmakers should shoulder responsibility to provide safe conditions for inmates and employees at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter. They should be glad to upgrade the visitor center at Minnesota’s birthplace, historic Fort Snelling, in time for its 2020 bicentennial.
After a long-running record of futility, the 2016 Legislature should be eager for one more chance to produce positive results. Dayton said this week that he’s willing to try again for a special session deal. Minnesotans should urge legislators to meet him at least halfway.