Our view: Improve taxpayers’ ability to knowMost of us, when our taxes go up, don’t really pay much attention to — or aren’t willing to take the time to figure out — why, whether it was due to the actions and policies of our local School Board, County Board, City Council or some other taxing authority.
Most of us, when our taxes go up, don’t really pay much attention to — or aren’t willing to take the time to figure out — why, whether it was due to the actions and policies of our local School Board, County Board, City Council or some other taxing authority. Or all of them. We only know our taxes are going up, again, and we’re going to be left paying more.
But we should know. We have every right to know. And it shouldn’t be so confusing and/or time-consuming to find out.
The Minnesota chapter of NAIOP (the Commercial Real Estate Development Association) and the Center for Fiscal Excellence (formerly known as the Minnesota Taxpayer Association) agree and are leading a project to get more useful tax-related information into the hands of taxpayers and to require government, especially at the local level, to be more forthcoming.
Legislation is needed to require local governments to regularly report not only how much they spend on things like police, fire departments and water treatment, but how much in detail, including specific expenditures like wages and benefits.
The League of Minnesota Cities and other local-government advocates resist, calling the increased level of reporting an unfunded mandate.
“They note that they already make public reams of data about their taxing and spending decisions,” the Star Tribune opined in an editorial last month. “But that information is seldom presented in a way that would allow, for example, an average taxpayer to inspect the trend line on debt service or employee benefit costs over the last five years.”
“You can tell me you put your budget online, but when you put 500 pages online, you haven’t reached a meaningful definition of ‘transparent,’ ” state Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, told the newspaper.
In addition, despite what the League of Minnesota Cities and others might contend, “Being more transparent is neither costly (nor) difficult,” as a spokesman for the project, Merrill Busch of Minneapolis, told the News Tribune Opinion page yesterday. The project is working with the Minnesota cities of Edina, Hastings and Faribault, in addition to former state revenue commissioner Matt Smith and Dakota County, to demonstrate a higher level of reporting isn’t more burdensome to local governments — and would be far more beneficial to taxpaying Minnesotans.
“The result of what we have been able to demonstrate has been dramatic, and substantial support is developing for potential legislation, possibly led by Rep. Jim Davnie,” Busch told the News Tribune, referring to the Minneapolis DFLer. “We will need all the support we can muster, given the opposition to clarity advanced by the cities themselves.”
Another barrier is the reality that the 2014 legislative session is expected to be a short one. But time can still be made for transparency and for taking measures to ensure that taxpaying Minnesotans know just who’s nicking them and why.