The selling of a tax increase


The pitch in Anoka County to approve a quarter-cent sales tax increase and a $20 motor vehicle excise tax increase as part of the transportation bill passed by the Legislature, came with an interesting twist this morning: it’s property tax relief.

The Anoka County Board approved the tax increase on a 5-2 vote after refusing opponents’ requests to listen to a dozen or so people who showed up to oppose the tax increases, and the county’s joining with other like-minded counties to decide how the tax money will be spent.

The concept of tax relief only went so far, however. When one commissioner asked the board to agree to reduce the property tax levy to prove their sincerity, the board demurred.

Anoka County property taxpayers are on the hook for $4 million to fund operations of the Northstar commuter rail line. But with the tax increases passed today, that burden shifts to the sales tax.

“If we don’t pass this, it’s only going towards property owners, instead of asking renters and visitors to help pay for it,” said board chair Dennis Berg.

anoka_commishes.jpg His colleague, commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah sponsored the motion to commit the county to reducing the property tax levy by a like amount. “It is an odd concept,” she told me after the meeting. “That’s the way it was sold to the legislators, that’s the way it that it has been promoted here within the county — that it’s property tax relief, that the sales tax you’re collecting from people who don’t necessarily live in the county. But if it was true property tax relief, there would be a willingness to actually commit to true property tax relief. ” (Listen | Full interview)

“Unless we want to stick it to the property owners only, we need a sales tax,” countered commissioner Scott LeDoux, who said people who visit the National Sports Center in Blaine or the 3M championship would be paying some of Anoka County’s costs.

The debate over whether to impose the taxes is different in the smaller counties of the metro area now that the Counties Transit Improvement Board has been created (and which Anoka County voted to join today) to collaborate on spending the tax money on regional transportation. But with a weighted voting system, Hennepin and Ramsey County have a larger share of votes when it comes to deciding what projects to fund.

That had Sivarajah concerned. “They can run Anoka County right over and eat our lunch,” she said. “There’s no protection. I’m concerned about Anoka County taxpayers paying for what Minneapolis and St. Paul want.”

But Mary Richardson, of the Metro Transitways Development Board, said any project to be funded with the sales tax money would need the support of a third county.

If the furor over the transportation bill that the Legislature passed and then overrode Gov. Pawlenty’s veto of, has trickled down to the county levels, you couldn’t tell by the attendance at today’s meeting.

“It was a pretty bad turnout,” said Andy Aplikowski, who tried to organize opponents. “I was surprised not to see a line of contractors’ trucks and protesters and all that kind of stuff coming in because that’s what I’ve heard they’ve been doing at some of the bigger counties. But I think people knew they weren’t going to be able to say anything so they said, ‘why bother?'” (Listen to full interview)

On Wednesday morning, MPR’s Midmorning is going to look at the issue. Joining Kerri Miller will be Jim McDonough, Ramsey County commissioner, representing District 6, and Randy Maluchnik, Carver County commissioner, representing District 3.