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PAUL MARQUART: Property tax increases betray rural Minnesota

Paul Marquart

DILWORTH, Minn.—A strong farm economy and vibrant communities are the key to the success of rural Minnesota. And the lifeblood for our rural communities is local government aid, state monies that let cities provide high-quality essential services while keeping property taxes affordable.

LGA lets rural cities have the same level of services as much wealthier metro cities at roughly the same cost.

Senior citizens, families and businesses benefit greatly in rural Minnesota from LGA and direct property tax relief for homeowners. In 2013-14, under Gov. Mark Dayton and a DFL-led Legislature, we increased LGA by $88 million and provided more than $100 million in direct property tax relief to homeowners, renters and farmers. As a result, property taxes went down for the first time in 12 years.

During this time, homeowners saw their property taxes go down $41 million, and businesses had a cut of $55 million.

All of this property tax relief came to a screeching halt when LGA was frozen in 2015.

If Herald readers in Minnesota haven't received it yet, their annual Truth in Taxation statement will be arriving in the mail soon, and the news is not good: their property taxes are going up.

The Department of Revenue states that preliminary property tax levies around the state will go up a crushing $422 million in 2016.

These increases could have been avoided. Property taxes are going up in East Grand Forks by 24.9 percent, they're going up by 5 percent in Crookston and by more than 5 percent across Pennington, Polk and Red Lake counties.

They are going up because of the actions of those areas' local legislator, Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston.

Kiel provided absolutely no property tax relief to area homeowners—not a single dime for LGA—despite a $2 billion surplus. There's no doubt Kiel and her colleagues will soon be scrambling to shift blame for these increases to anyone but themselves.

In fact, unbelievably, the Republican-led House cut LGA by $84 million, a cut that jeopardizes a program that goes two-thirds to rural Minnesota residents and businesses.

Even worse, House Republicans prioritized permanent tax cuts for the owners of Minnesota's largest business property owners, while providing $0 in direct property tax relief to Minnesota homeowners or renters.

The owners of skyscrapers in Minneapolis would have received property tax cuts, while homeowners in greater Minnesota would have received nothing.

Keeping property taxes in check through LGA and property tax relief is what keeps and attracts homeowners, businesses and farmers to rural Minnesota. These property tax increases are a betrayal of Greater Minnesota and the opposite of the campaign promises the Republicans made to rural Minnesota.

Those crushing increases are why it's imperative that rural legislators, from both sides of the aisle, take a leadership role on behalf of rural residents who pay property taxes. That means strengthening LGA and providing direct property tax relief.

The Republican majority in the House must drop its plan to cut and dismantle LGA. Instead, the House should follow the lead of the Senate, which is proposing to increase LGA funding by $45.5 million to get back to 2002 levels.

Too much is at stake for rural Minnesota for us to do otherwise.

Minnesota State Rep. Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, is the House deputy minority leader and former chair of the Property Tax Division.