It’s a bit hard to read the tea leaves this week on the subject of taxes, the new third-rail of politics in Minnesota and elsewhere.
Are people really invested and interested in the subject of their taxes as we think, enough so to make it cornerstones of larger campaigns than the ones that were waged in this off-year election?
Short answer? Beats me.
But there are at least a few signs that maybe the issue is over covered. Maybe.
In Blue Earth County, for example, county commissioners voted to increase the sales tax this week to cover road repair, the Mankato Free Press reported. They got tired of waiting for state lawmakers who shied away from any talk of increasing the gas tax, a subject that gets people really worked up around here.
The unanimous decision came after the county board held a public hearing. Two people showed up. Nobody spoke.
In Minnesota yesterday, dozens of school districts held operating and capital improvement levy votes. And most of the registered voters said, “whatever.”
In my school district, for example, three referendum questions were poised to raise some property tax bills by up to 10 percent. That’s not nothing when you consider the wailing that regularly takes place over less.
Two of the three questions passed, with the second one passing by just 19 votes. Now maybe every voter in the district who complains about taxes showed up, but only about 13,000 voters bothered. Some quick napkin math suggests that’s about 20-percent of the eligible voters in a district that usually votes at rates higher than the statewide average in a state that prides itself on voter turnout.
There’s certainly an argument to be made that people simply value roads and education more than they value a few extra dollars (about $400 in the case of the above levy) in their pocket. But if that were true, that’s support that would be demonstrated by voting. If that were true, state lawmakers wouldn’t be petrified of transportation funding.
None of this is surprising, of course. School levies usually get widespread support in off election years. But there’s another truth: Most people don’t vote in these sorts of elections, even though they’re the ones that have the most direct impact on taxes and services.
So we now turn our attention to the coming national elections, and the constant diet of red meat for the voters who were just given a chance to make a difference one way or another and punted instead.
You’re a strange duck, democracy.
Related: Quiet polls curse of off-off-year elections (Pioneer Press)