Tuesday, March 06, 2007

We suffer from a "revenue shortage" 

That euphemism was reported to me to have been spoken by Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller as he left a meeting midweek last week in which much of the mighty and powerful in Minnesota had gathered to contemplate the Minnesota budget right after the Finance Department had announced its revenue forecast as being off by 0.02%. According to those who were in attendance, that statement was backed up by DFL talking points that would lead to two proposals. The first shoe dropped yesterday, as Rep. Mindy Greiling proposed raising the top rate on the state income tax to 8.5% from the current 7.85%.

Greiling, who is chairwoman of the House K-12 finance division, estimated that the added revenue would amount to $252 million next year. Greiling said the measure would affect about 170,000 out of 2.5 million total state income tax returns. A number of those returns are filed by married couples filing jointly.

She said the idea is not only to get an extra pot of money for education, but also to quit forcing school districts to go to voters for higher property taxes to make up for funding shortfalls.

"Schools should be our top priority, and our parents are willing to pay for them," said Greiling said. "We never meant for tax levy referendums to pay for education, but that's what's been happening, and we've reached a saturation point."

I'm a little confused. Shouldn't those who benefit from a government service pay for them? Why is it the state's business to finance my local school district's decision to build a new school or get new musical instruments for the band? Or, for that matter, pay for my larger police force?

A bill changing the state's Local Government Aid formula brought St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis to the Capitol to testify in its favor Monday. The bill would give St. Cloud an extra $2.3 million next year.

"They asked if I'd be OK having it dedicated to public safety, and I told them we'd be doing that anyway," said Kleis, who testified at the Senate Property Tax division on behalf of a bill from Sen. Mee Moua, DFL-St. Paul.

"St. Cloud doubles in size every day (because of visitors and workers), and that puts a strain on our public safety services that state aid is meant to offset," the mayor and former state senator said.

I thought we were already hitting those out-of-town visitors to the city with the .5% sales tax on the stuff they buy at Crossroads and elsewhere. That money stays in St. Cloud; if it's not enough to pay for the additional services, either raise the local sales tax or raise the property tax charged to the owners of Crossroads to pay for the services.

Larry Schumacher -- whose blog, by the way, is now a year old and is getting to look more and more like a real blog, good job Times! -- notes that Grieling is quoting Education Minne$ota research in her justification for the income tax increase. But it's hard to explain why paying more for education in Minnesota, a dubious goal when there's no connection between inputs and outputs, should fall on the backs of 6.8% of taxpayers when the broad majority of Minnesotans benefit from higher spending.

More likely it's an attempt to roll back the tax cuts passed by Republican legislatures and supported by Governor Pawlenty, using 'the children!!!!!!!!!!' as the shield from claims about tax fairness and class warfare.

Since our GOP friends in the MN House have been having a good time with silly bills, I suggest the introduction of one that will go nowhere -- even though such bills have passed in five states. Americans for Tax Reform have established the Tax Me More Project. This would create a special fund into which all those who say they are "happy to pay for a better Minnesota" can pay more than lip service and cure their own revenue shortage.

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