Politics Magazine

In The Southwest Journal

Posted on the 06 August 2011 by Erictheblue

The neighborhood newspaper, Southwest Journal, delivered to our house today has the page 1 headline, "Minneapolis property taxes higher than most other Minnesota cities."  Hardly a surprise.  Those "other Minnesota cities" do not have on their payrolls homicide detectives, their public schools do not have to teach English as a second language, and their cops do not work overtime 81 times a summer when the Twins have a home game.  That the article was silent about such facts might have left readers with the impression that Minneapolis policy makers must be free-spenders. 

The article is deficient in other ways, too.  "In Hennepin County, property taxes generally get lower the further from Minneapolis," we are told.  The sentence is not grammatical, and the truth of what the reporter is trying to say depends upon an expansive definition of "generally."  In the suburb of Edina, which abuts south Minneapolis on the west, the annual property tax on a $200,000 home is $2275, whereas in Minneapolis it is $3142.  Meanwhile, in Brooklyn Center, which borders Minneapolis on the north, the tax on a $200,000 home is $3340. 

Allow me to indulge myself in what wingnuts call "class warfare."  Edina is a very affluent suburb.  Hardly any of its homes are worth only $200,000, and probably most are worth at least twice that.  Brooklyn Center is a different story.  If your home-buying budget is $110,000, your realtor might say, "How do you feel about the Brooklyn Center area?"  But, of course, the things that cities supply--police protection, fire department, street maintenance, snow plowing, public library, parks and recreation programs--are all purchased in the same market.  Brooklyn Center can't cut a deal on account of its comparatively low tax base.  It has no choice but to tax at a higher rate. 

Well, it can cut out Iibraries and parks and recreation, and skimp on the steet repair--but it will still have to tax at a higher rate than Edina.

When it comes to local property tax rates, distance from Minneapolis is not as important as tax base.  I guess maybe it is impolite to say so but still it is true.  The property tax system is a way of stomping on people when they are down, and awarding them for having already succeeded.  If you live in a modest home in Brooklyn Center, you'll have to drive on pockmarked streets past the closed library to get to unkempt parks--and pay higher property tax rates, too.  That makes it a less attractive place to live, which further reduces  property values, which makes the problem yet worse.  Edina is in comparison highly desirable--if you can afford it. 

Once, Minnesota state government, recognizing this problem, awarded "local government aid" to struggling municipalities.  But then we elected Tim Pawlenty governor during hard economic times.  Of course he'd promised "no new taxes no matter what," and, faced with a gaping budget deficit, he balanced it with a mix of accounting tricks and actual cuts.  The actual cuts were almost entirely limited to local government aid.  When the tricks didn't work, he instituted new ones and cut local government aid further.  This resulted in much higher property tax rates in places like Brooklyn Center (which formerly had received local government aid) but not in places like Edina (which had never been a recipient).  So the budget was brought into balance by tapping the resources of people least able to afford it.  More and more, that is the American way. 

On the lighter side, the Southwest Journal also prints a crime report, which this week included the following item:

2800 block of Girard Ave. S.
July 19, 6:00 p.m.

A legally blind 18-year-old man met a homeless man on a bus and agreed to allow him into his apartment for a glass of water.  While inside the apartment, the suspect stole several items.  The victim was still able to provide some suspect information.

A baritone, perhaps, who could have been wearing anything.

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