Republican legislators took a political hit last night when Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak hosted a budget forum focused on city property taxes.
In politics, timing is everything, and the forum was timed to match the arrival in city mailboxes of Truth-in-Taxation forms announcing property tax payable in 2012.
“The city did not increase property tax. The Park Board did not increase property tax. The state Legislature passed out an increase,” said Rybak, referring to the elimination of the $261 million Homestead Credit Fund during state negotiations and a special session to balance the budget.
The Republican-controlled Legislature replaced the Homestead Credit with the Market Value Exclusion Program, which shifts the property tax burden to higher-value homes, commercial and rental property.
“Last year, when we [the city] raised the taxes, it was perfectly proper to lay it on us,” said DFLer Rybak, adding, “I think they [the Republicans] didn’t realize how bad it was going to be.”
There were plenty of ideas from the crowd of about 30 assembled at Temple Israel, some with their Truth-in-Taxationforms in hand and most with a few ideas to share with the mayor.
One group came proposing a flat tax that would be based on income instead of property value.
One woman said that closing schools has a bad impact on the city’s neighborhoods and property values, and she asked the mayor if he worked with the School Board on this issue. He responded that he did work with the School Board.
But the state Legislature? “That’s not something I’m in charge of,” said Rybak. “We got kicked in the head.”
He did offer some plans that he said would lower the property taxes:
• Atrracting more people to live in the city. When he was growing up in Minneapolis, the population was 500,000. Today it’s about 388,000. When more people pay property taxes, the taxes will go down, he said.
• Getting more downtown workers to make purchases before heading home to the suburbs. Those sales taxes would increase city revenue.
• Developing businesses along the new Central Corridor Light Rail Line to attract more people to the city and move people out of cars and onto mass transit.
• Paying off the debt on Target Center. That’s part of the city’s football stadium plan, and would result in a 2 percent drop in property taxes, he said.
It turns out he shouldn’t have mentioned “stadium,” because people had plenty to say about that:
• “Why would we build a football stadium when we have people living in the streets?”
• “Why on earth would you support a downtown stadium?
• “We should buy the team and end the stadium debate.”
• “Why are my property taxes not going down?”
Back to property taxes.
“I spent seven months preparing a budget,” said Rybak. “We had to come in with a zero increase” … There is a lot of pain at City Hall because of the budget cuts we’ve made, but we had to cut because there’s a lot of pain from property tax.”