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Editorial: Minnesota editorial boards say, 'Cut business property tax'

When a roomful of otherwise quarrelsome consumers agree on something, marketers listen. That's the value of a focus group: It's not scientific, but it is a quick read on public opinion that executives know can be very valuable.

Politicians know this, too.

So, for the benefit of lawmakers in St. Paul, here's a Minnesota "focus group" that could point the way to bipartisan agreement this spring. It's the editorial boards of the state's newspapers, and the boards' idea is a good one: To get to "Yes" on tax and budget policy, start by cutting Minnesota's business property tax.

The reason is—well, let's let the boards make the case. Here are excerpts from a few 2016 and 2017 editorials:

▇ "Like homeowners, businesses in Minnesota pay property taxes to the school district, city and county, but they also pay a statewide business property tax that equates to about 30 percent of their total property tax bill. ...

"We believe it is time to reduce this tax."

-- Albert Lea Tribune

▇ "This tax does not benefit local government, but rather goes directly into state coffers, and it imposes a burden on all of our businesses.

"Businesses exist to make money, but they do not always do so. Yet they still have to pay the tax, which also hinders expansion and hiring. ...

"It is well past time for it to go."

-- Fairmont Sentinel

▇ "The tax — arguably a regressive one — includes an automatic 'inflator' that drives rates up on 'autopilot.' It has made Minnesota an outlier, with business property taxes among the highest in the nation, ranking second-highest for rural properties and seventh-highest for metro properties. ...

"That adds to the costs of doing business in Minnesota."

-- St. Paul Pioneer Press

▇ "(A) modest tax bill that balances GOP and DFL priorities is affordable. Ours includes a $44 million statewide business property tax cut, which tops the business community's wish list this year and has strong GOP backing."

-- Star Tribune, Minneapolis

▇ "Though comparison of tax rates from state to state is always more complicated than anti-tax advocates would tell you, it's accurate to say that Minnesota is the only one that has a statewide business property tax. (Ten states have a statewide tax on all properties.) ...

"We think the business property tax is long overdue for a fresh look, especially at a time when tax revenue is running far ahead of projections and the state expects a $1.65 billion budget surplus."

-- Rochester Post-Bulletin

Some of those edit boards lean liberal, some lean conservative. But on this issue, they all agree. That suggests they're speaking for a broad swathe of Minnesota voters, including Democrats and Republicans, young voters and old, city dwellers and small-town residents alike.

Minnesota lawmakers, take note.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald