Archive for the ‘Taxes’ Category
The constant drumbeat from the St. Cloud Times and the ISD 742 School Board is that a) Tech is ancient and falling apart and b) we have to build a new Tech HS at the cost of $104,500,000. What they don’t want voters to know is that Apollo a) currently houses the district offices and b) can hold 2,400 students if they were the only occupants of the building.
The Times and the School Board definitely don’t want voters to know that the combined enrollment for Tech HS and Apollo HS for SY2015-16 was 2,715 students. They definitely don’t want voters to know that enrollment is declining and is forecast to continue shrinking.
What that means
Those statistics mean that Apollo’s campus will likely soon be able to hold all of the district’s high school students within 5 years. That means that the School Board and the St. Cloud Times are pushing voters to spend $143,500,000 on facilities that won’t be needed within 5 years. What’s puzzling is that renovating Apollo would cost a fraction of that $143,500,000 and suffice in housing the District’s high school students for the next half-century.
ISD 742 residents have a decision to make. Do they want to spend $39,000,000 on renovating a facility that will meet the district’s needs for the next half-century or whether they’ll approve the building of a new Tech HS at a cost of $104,500,000 plus an additional $39,000,000 for renovating Apollo. ISD 742 residents will have to decide if they’re willing to spend $104,500,000 on a building that isn’t needed. ISD 742 residents will have to decide whether they want the accompanying property tax increases for the next quarter-century.
Thus far in this series, I’ve highlighted the fact that the ISD742 School Board hasn’t talked about St. Cloud’s high school enrollment forecasts for the short-, medium- and long-term. They didn’t tell voters that they’ve already purchased the land for a new Tech HS. That wasn’t announced on the District’s website. It was announced this past week on Dan Ochsner’s radio program when a current school board member called into Ox’s show and blurted that information out.
Last year, voters found out in the newspaper that there wasn’t a finalized set of blueprints for people to look at because, according to Barclay Carriar, “with the cost of designing a building, 80 percent of it isn’t going to be designed until after the referendum. And the plans we’ve got now are still tentative.”
Last year, taxpayers didn’t know that the plans were “still tentative.” This year, we didn’t know that the District had already purchased the land where the new Tech HS is supposed to be built at. The next logical question that taxpayers should demand answers to is what other information the School Board hasn’t disclosed. At this point, taxpayers don’t know where the money came from to pay for the Tech HS land. That’s certainly something that we should know. Did the District have enough money tucked away to pay for the land? At this point, taxpayers don’t know.
The thing that taxpayers know, though, is that they aren’t writing any blank checks this year. This isn’t the time when people are trusting politicians. The School Board is asking taxpayers to approve the biggest property tax increase in St. Cloud history without telling taxpayers that they’ve already bought the land for the new high school. That’s terrible because the taxpayers haven’t approved the bonds yet. That tells taxpayers that the School Board is taking them for granted.
Just because the School Board is a rubberstamp doesn’t mean that taxpayers are a rubberstamp. Taxpayers don’t want a canned presentation. They want input from start to finish. That’s something that the School Board isn’t willing to relinquish.
In my estimation, the ISD742 School Board has transitioned from being public servants to being arrogant taskmasters. That’s why the bonding referendum must be defeated. That’s why we need new School Board members elected ASAP.
In Part I of this series, I highlighted the fact that the ISD742 School Board still hasn’t told voters these important things: what the district’s high school enrollment is, whether the district’s high school enrollment is declining or increasing and whether that’s likely to continue into the future.
Another thing that hasn’t happened is that the School Board hasn’t told voters that they’ve already bought the land where the new Tech HS is to be built. We found that out because one of the school board members called into Dan Ochsner’s Ox in the Afternoon show and said that they’d already purchased the land. The first question that I’d ask is simple: where did they get the money to pay for a tract of land that big? The next question I’d ask is just as simple: Why didn’t the School Board announce this acquisition when it happened? That isn’t the type of thing that should’ve gotten inadvertently revealed on talk radio. It should’ve gotten announced.
Something that should be asked of every school board candidate is whether they support the bonding referendum. If they support it, they should be pressed on why they support it. I’d ask them if they’ve looked at the high school enrollment forecasts, too. If they haven’t, then they’re likely to rubberstamp Superintendent Jett’s agenda without questioning. Have they considered whether downsizing might be the better option?
This should be about doing what’s right for the students and the taxpayers. This shouldn’t be about what’s got the School Board excited. If it’s determined that the district doesn’t need this building, then it should be rejected handily.
Finally, the question is whether St. Cloud needs this type of facility or whether that’s too big:
Based on enrollment patterns, I don’t think it’s justified. That’s why the referendum should be rejected.
It isn’t surprising that the Establishment has a different perspective on whether to build a new Tech High School. The title of their Our View Editorial is “Vote ‘yes’ twice to deliver best value for schools.” To be fair, not everything in the editorial is foolishness.
For instance, they have a legitimate point when they say “If you think it’s adequately built to educate today’s youth — not to mention future generations — you have not been in its crowded hallways between classes, especially if your mobility is impaired.”
The question isn’t whether doing nothing is an option. It isn’t. The question is whether the options on this November’s ballot represent the best value for students and taxpayers. They don’t. The current options are the School Board’s choice. The School Board started with a goal, then they tried figuring out how to make it happen.
They didn’t ask, in any meaningful way anyway, what the district’s enrollments would be in 2020. They certainly didn’t think of what the district’s need would be in 2050. It’s certain that ISD742 will look dramatically different in 2040 than it looks today. This argument is total foolishness:
If both questions pass, the monthly increase in taxes for a $150,000 home will be about $13. Approving just a new Tech costs about $9 a month.
So what? The important question that still hasn’t gotten asked is what the district’s needs are. Telling me that the payments on something are $13 a month for the next generation doesn’t tell me whether that something will be useful for the next generation.
The other question that hasn’t been asked is why these prices reflect prevailing wage bids. The cost of everything is increased with prevailing wage bids. The quality doesn’t increase, either. Why would taxpayers want to pay extra for something that isn’t dramatically better? The unions might howl about this but that isn’t my responsibility. My responsibility is to vote for the best product at the least expensive price.
For example, to address neighborhood concerns about the future of the Tech campus, the district has said it will move its administrative offices and welcome center to the older parts of Tech. Similarly, more thorough research was done — and remains available — about the costs of building new compared with rebuilding old.
There’s no question that more information is available this time. Still, there’s no question that the School Board still hasn’t answered the most important questions. There’s no question that building a new high school and renovating Apollo doesn’t represent a great value to students and taxpayers. It’s too expensive and it’s too big for our needs.
The ISD742 School Board is trying to ram a $143,000,000 bonding referendum down its residents’ throats because they started with a predetermined destination, then put together a plan to reach that destination. In the Board’s arrogance, they’ve decided they didn’t need to listen to their constituents. That decision was the worst decision they’ve collectively ever made.
The Board decided they wanted to build a new Tech HS without first determining what the students’ and the district’s needs were. They made that decision without first determining whether the district was shrinking or growing. (It’s shrinking.) The plan that they’re promoting would equip St. Cloud with 2 high school buildings, each with a capacity of 1,800 students. The last full school year, high school enrollment for ISD742 was approximately 2,700 students.
The first question that must be asked by taxpayers is this: why the Board would overbuild the district’s needs. Claire VanderEyk, a Tech graduate who took an interest in last year’s referendum, wrote this post on her blog of Feb. 17, 2016. At the time, Claire wrote “I haven’t seen stats on this – but according to many people I’ve spoken with, District 742 is losing students. One cause of this, I’m told, is the quality of high schools in the neighboring districts of Sartell and Sauk Rapids. This is frustrating, I agree. It is difficult to maintain proper school facilities and high quality staff when the tax base that supports your district is dwindling.”
Claire stated that she thinks renovation is possible when she wrote “But, as I’ve said before, I have not been provided evidence that these issues cannot be overcome and would make the feasibility of retaining Tech High School as an educational facility for another 100 years impossible.” The truth is that there are parts of Tech that are quite usable.
The truth is that the Board hasn’t considered any option other than building a $100,000,000 brand new Tech HS that’s too big for the district’s needs.
DFL senators killed the House bonding bill in mid-May by insisting that the bill include funding for the Southwest Light Rail project. In June, Gov. Dayton killed middle class tax relief with a pocket veto. In July, Gov. Dayton refused to call a special session in House Republicans didn’t include funding for the Southwest Light Rail project. (Sounds like a broken record, doesn’t it?) In August, after the Met Council, CTIB and Hennepin County provided the local funding for the Southwest Light Rail project, Gov. Dayton hinted that he was open to a special session again.
Friday, Gov. Dayton sent a letter to Speaker Daudt saying that “he had ‘reluctantly concluded that the time for agreement on a Special Session has expired.'” It expired because Gov. Dayton didn’t get everything he wanted in the bill. Republicans insisted that specific highway projects be included in the bonding bill, including the Highway 14 project. Speaker Daudt addressed that, saying “House Republicans have initiated every meeting and discussion over the past two months to pass tax relief and funding for critical infrastructure projects like Highway 23, Highway 14, and countless others throughout the state.”
In the end, Gov. Dayton said that wasn’t enough:
But the infrastructure bill was more troublesome. Lawmakers solved the money issue — Dayton’s demands that Republicans add new funding for his priorities, including upgrades at the state’s psychiatric hospital in St. Peter. But a process issue proved intractable. Dayton objected on principle to the infrastructure bill’s earmarking of money for specific projects, and was backed up in this by a letter signed by a bipartisan range of current and former chairs of the Legislature’s transportation committees. Many lawmakers like earmarking because it lets them guarantee funding for key projects in their home districts. House leaders agreed to a compromise that would give the Department of Transportation more flexibility instead of dictating every project, but Dayton’s letter said that “remains unacceptable.”
Gov. Dayton is pretending like MnDOT ultimately decides what projects get done. That’s fiction. It’s indisputable that MnDOT has a say in which projects get done. The Met Council, CTIB and port authorities all have a say in it, too.
The first time that Gov. Dayton and the DFL rejected the special session, Gov. Dayton and the DFL said no because they put a higher priority on funding the SWLRT project than they put on providing middle class tax relief. The final time that Gov. Dayton and the DFL rejected the terms for a special session, they rejected it because they didn’t get to control who picked the highway improvement projects. The reality is that farmers, veterans, students and small businesses didn’t get tax relief because Gov. Dayton and the DFL didn’t put a high priority on it. Gov. Dayton and the DFL put a higher priority on a project that the vast majority of Minnesotans will never use. Then Gov. Dayton and the DFL said no to tax relief because they didn’t get to pick their transportation projects.
In 2015, GOP Speaker Kurt Daudt and DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk put together a bipartisan budget agreement. The problem that time was that Minnesota’s other political odd couple, Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL Rep. Paul Thissen, combined to sabotage that bipartisan budget agreement. It isn’t unlike the DFL’s sabotaging of the bonding bill this session.
According to this article, “legislative and executive branch staff members [will] gather to discuss bringing legislators back this fall” this morning.
Gov. Dayton, as usual, is acting like a petulant child. This time, he said that the transportation projects in the bonding bill “were selected based on this year’s GOP election needs instead of following a list of the most-needed work as determined by his Minnesota Department of Transportation.” Gov. Dayton knows that a number of the projects specifically put into the bill were picked because the highways were among the most dangerous highways in Minnesota.
While they’re campaigning, Republicans should remind voters that the DFL put a higher priority on funding the Southwest Light Rail project than they put on middle class tax relief. The DFL voted for the Republicans’ Tax Bill but they certainly didn’t fight for it. Let Gov. Dayton criticize Republicans about which transportation projects should’ve been included in the bonding bill. Republicans can counter that by saying that they fought for funding to fix the most dangerous stretches of highway in Minnesota. Then they can remind people that they’re the party that fought for middle class tax relief.
The DFL isn’t in great position going into this election. Many of their mailers talk about bringing people together and how they need a majority in the House and Senate to pass their ultra-liberal agenda. This is my first prediction of the season. Republicans will maintain their majority in the House this election.
The next time that the budget is being put together, I hope Republicans will tell airheaded liberals like Betsy Hodges and Chris Coleman to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine when they ask for their LGA increases. I wrote this post to highlight the fact that Chris Coleman was upset that he’d have to cut firefighters or police officers because evil Republicans didn’t give him an additional $3,000,000 in LGA. Because Coleman spent money he wasn’t owed and didn’t have, St. Paul suddenly had a $3,000,000 deficit.
As stupid as that sounds, Coleman’s in the minor leagues compared with Betsy Hodges. Betsy Hodges wants to spend $11,000,000 “beautifying the Convention Center plaza.” She wants to do that because, in Hodges’ estimation, the Minneapolis Convention Center plaza’s “lush grass, huge, funky animal sculptures, and fine trees” aren’t good enough. She wants to “plant more trees, level its tilted slope, and install electricity hookups and tent anchors so NFL VIPS might hob-knob inside party tents when Super Bowl LII comes to town in 2018.”
This is classic DFL spin:
Hodges’ spokesperson David Prestwood says it’s needed to “maximize the space.” And it “makes sense to do it now” because the city is slated to also host the X Games and the 2019 Final Four.
That sounds good but it isn’t wise when you consider this:
The job of the 33-member, citizen-led Capital Long-Range Improvement Committee is to review spending requests. Most recently, it scrutinized 97 projects, the plaza among them. The others included construction of a new fire station and sidewalk and intersection improvements so that kids can safely walk and bicycle to school.
The panel graded the proposals on various criteria such as level of need, cost, and public benefit. They were competing for a funding pool totaling about $150 million.
After all that, the citizens committee essentially flunked the Convention Center project:
But the committee ranked the plaza 95th out of 97.
Let’s get serious for a moment. This isn’t the exception for Minneapolis. It’s worth checking this post out:
We’ve been staking out the four fabled city-financed artistic drinking fountains in Minneapolis recently. We wanted to see what the nearly $50,000 per fountain from our property taxes and water fees buys. You can judge for yourself from the photos.
That’s right. Minneapolis spent $200,000 on “artistic drinking fountains.” Comparing R.T. Rybak with Betsy Hodges in terms of foolish spending is foolish. Rybak is a conservative compared with Hodges. Here’s the bad news:
Thus, the only ones standing between spending $11 million on lights, grading, and trees at the convention center plaza is the Minneapolis City Council.
It isn’t surprising that people are leaving Minneapolis as fast as their feet will fly.
Saying that the questions asked at the St. Cloud Area Joint Cities Forum had a leftward tilt to them is understatement. For instance, the first question was “While the legislature accomplished its most basic responsibility of passing a state budget, the last biennium, it does seem that the last 2 years are marked with significant disappointment, including the failure to pass a Tax Bill, no major bonding bill, and continued impasse over transportation. What do you think needs to happen at the legislature to make sure that these other important pieces of legislation get passed?”
If that question sounded like it was written by Rep. Thissen or Gov. Dayton, raise your hands. If you think that question was written by Rep. Thissen, you earned bonus points. He’s specialized in criticizing everything that Speaker Daudt did the past 2 years. That’s because he didn’t like getting cut out of the budget negotiations in 2015. He didn’t like it that Speaker Daudt and Sen. Bakk put the budget together in an afternoon.
The truth is that the past 2 years produced a bipartisan budget that should’ve gotten signed during the regular session. The only reason why the Tax Bill didn’t get signed into law was because our spoiled rich brat governor vetoed the bill in his attempt to get funding for a SWLRT project that has no chance of happening before the end of the first term of Minnesota’s next governor. The problem with the Tax Bill wasn’t with the legislature. That fault is exclusively with Gov. Dayton, aka Gov. Temper Tantrum.
Here’s another question:
Q3: Local government aid continues to be an important program for restraining property taxes and providing services to residents and businesses at a reasonable cost. For 2017, the LGA formula distributes approximately 66% of all LGA funds to greater Minnesota vs. 34% to the metro area. The LGA appropriations to cities across the state is still $45.5 million less than it was in 2002. Do you support the current LGA formula and would you support an increase in LGA to get back to the 2002 level?
I reject the premise that LGA is “an important program for restraining property taxes.” There’s no proof of that. Why should I accept that premise? The truth is that it’s more likely to increase spending on foolish projects in the Twin Cities than it is to stabilize property taxes.
The truth is that property taxes have increased significantly since the DFL legislature increased LGA and Gov. Dayton signed those increases into law. Here are all 8 questions from the forum:
Just like Speaker Daudt predicted, the Met Council has announced that they’ll “come up with the final piece of the state and local funding” for the SWLRT project. That’s the mini-bombshell about the SWLRT project.
The major bombshell this week happened “when House Speaker Kurt Daudt revealed the existence of an email from Met Council Chairman Adam Duininck to Governor Dayton stating that the federal government has no plans to execute a funding agreement until sometime in 2017 because of ongoing litigation regarding the project. He’s (Dayton) hid that from the public and from the Legislature and from the press since January of this year. We know the federal government is not going to fund it for a year and a half. There is no deadline. There is no reason that we have to take action now on Southwest light rail,” said Daudt.”
It’s connect-the-dots time. First, the Senate DFL bonding bill that was defeated was the biggest bonding bill proposed in state history by orders of magnitude. It was for $1,800,000,000. Next, every DFL senator voted for that bill. Third, that $1,800,000,000 bonding bill didn’t contain a penny of funding for SWLRT. The state’s share would have been $135,000,000. In a pork-filled bill of almost $2,000,000,000, the DFL didn’t include $135,000,000 on a project that they insist today is Minnesota’s highest bonding priority? What idiot DFL senator omitted that funding from a monster bill like that?
Fourth, Gov. Dayton vetoed a major tax relief bill, then insisted that he wouldn’t call a special session unless Republicans added funding for a project that the DFL refused to fund in a $2,000,000,000 bonding bill.
Connecting these dots tells this indisputable story: Hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans won’t receive tax relief because the DFL refused to fund SWLRT initially, then insisted on funding it as a condition of holding a special session.
It’s time to throw these DFL legislators out of office. It can’t happen soon enough. What type of person would omit funding for a project, then deny farmers, veterans, students with student loan debt and small businesses tax relief? The DFL’s position is that it’ll fight for funding a light rail project but it won’t fight for tax relief for students, veterans and farmers.
Minnesota, you’ll have a choice this November. Will you vote for politicians that won’t fight for students, parents, farmers, veterans and small businesses? Shouldn’t you vote for the party that’s fought the good fight for students, farmers and veterans? The choice is clear. The DFL needs to get run out of St. Paul ASAP.
They deserve it because they’ve fought for the special interests, not the people. That’s grounds for immediate dismissal.