Building consensus is Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown's thing.

Getting back up right after a hard-fought smackdown and vowing to fight again?

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

Less so. It's not that the mayor can't do it; it's that he hasn't chosen to do it.

Until now:

"Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown said he'd like to see a city sales tax increase on the ballot by June or earlier, launching a second discussion on the topic three weeks after an attempt to increase city tax rates failed at the polls," Herald staff writer Sam Easter reported last week.

"'The sooner, the better,' Brown said."

Brown's quick decision shows he supports the sales-tax increase more strongly than almost any other issue in his long tenure. He's right to do so and to devote himself to this cause.

That's because other than the dike system, not much else in Grand Forks' history since the flood would have such a positive effect as this long-term boost to the city's finances.

The sales-tax increase would let residents share with visitors the cost of projects that must be built anyway. The projects will help Grand Forks keep its reputation as a progressive and well-run city, while the sales-tax financing would keep property taxes and water bills reasonable.

Of course, supporters offered those arguments in the fall, yet voters still rejected the proposal. Why might the second time be the charm?

Politics is an uncertain business, and tax hikes in particular are never a sure thing. Just ask the voters in Thompson, N.D., who've repeatedly rejected measures to renovate the Thompson school.

Then again, Fargo voters reaffirmed a tax increase, on the same day that Grand Forks voters rejected the tax-hike here. Why the difference?

Brown and others in City Hall already are asking that question. Change One is to shorten the span of the proposal, Brown said. Fifty years, in the defeated measure, was too long.

Good idea. More thoughts:

As mentioned before in this space, it's not enough to recruit civic leaders' support. Remember "Harry and Louise," the fictional couple whose skepticism on TV commercials helped kill President Bill Clinton's health-care reform? That effort holds two lessons for Grand Forks: First, supporters should mount a campaign, complete with advertising, to fully get the message across.

Second, make sure "ordinary people"-real ones, in this case-and not just "experts" offer testimonials. More business owners along with business leaders, in other words.

One other suggestion involves Brown himself, and it's for him to stay out front as the figurehead. Fargo's mayor took that role, and the pro-tax, pro-flood-diversion commercials that showed him tossing sandbags will be remembered for years to come.

Brown's consensus-building style means he has lots of political capital built up. He can afford to spend some now, and this long-term, multi-million dollar boost to Grand Forks' revenue stream would be a great choice.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald