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Rep. Steve Drazkowski: Ask local governments why property taxes continue to rise

Recently the Minnesota Department of Revenue released the preliminary property tax levies set by locally elected officials. The news is not good for property owners, as they show a $422 million property tax levy increase statewide — a 5.35 percent increase.

Specifically this number includes: $186 million in increased levies projected by Minnesota's schools — of which $92 million was passed in K-12 levy referendums — a 7.53 percent increase; $107 million in increased levies projected by cities — a 5.24 percent increase; and $105 million in increased levies projected by counties — a 3.73 percent increase.

These are staggering figures considering the hundreds of millions in new revenue invested in our schools, Local Government Aid (LGA), and county programs over the past four years.

Last session, the Minnesota House Taxes bill made a significant effort to give taxpayers greater control over their property taxes through the Property Taxpayers Empowerment Act. Under this reverse referendum that empowers citizens, if in December it is found that the certified property tax levy for any city or county is higher than it was during the previous year, taxpayers in that jurisdiction would have the right to put the issue of their property tax levy increase on the Election Day ballot that following November.

If the local government convinces the public the property tax increase is justified and the vote is in their favor, nothing changes — the local government's levy increase decision is sustained. If the voters oppose the property tax increase decision, the local levy is reset to the amount that was utilized by the local government during the previous year.

Big government advocates will counter that Minnesota should simply give local governments more state subsidies which would, in theory, eliminate the need to raise anyone's property taxes. This tactic was utilized by an all Democratic-led state government three years ago as $120 million was sent to local governments for this purpose. Their plan failed Minnesotans.

According to the Certified 2015 Property Tax Levies analysis released by the Minnesota Department of Revenue, Minnesota homeowners, business owners, and farm owners are currently paying $286 million more in additional local property taxes when compared to 2014, which amounts to a 3.4 percent increase - even after the huge LGA and property tax refund increases that the Democrats passed in 2013.

It's worth remembering that these new property tax increase numbers are preliminary. Once citizens have weighed in, local governments must set their final 2016 property tax levies by December 28.

If you are dissatisfied with rising property taxes, ask your locally elected officials why they're being increased. Don't simply accept "because we're not getting enough from the state" as an answer. Why do they want more of your money? Clearly some thought went into the reason for the proposed increase, so find out some specifics and determine for yourself whether local officials are making the right call.

In 2016, The Minnesota House will continue its push to pass the Property Taxpayers Empowerment Act into law. Handing hundreds of millions more to local governments has not resulted in lowered property tax rates, but empowering our citizens will.

Representative Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) is the chairman of the Minnesota House Property Tax and Local Government Finance Division.

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