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It isn’t shocking to find out that Gov. Dayton supports another middle class tax increase. When Gov. Dayton first ran for governor, he campaigned on making Minnesota’s’ tax system more progressive. It’s a promise he kept for the first half of his first term, thanks mostly to Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

In December, the budget forecast showed Minnesota with a $1,200,000,000 surplus. When that surplus was announced, Gov. Dayton said that the DFL’s proposed gas tax increase was dead. This article reports that Gov. Dayton hasn’t given up on a gas tax increase. Gov. Dayton insists that this isn’t a flip-flop. Instead, Gov. Dayton said that his gas tax statement was “his political assessment, not his preference.”

That’s actually believable. While it’s true that Gov. Dayton wanted to make Minnesota’s tax system more progressive, that didn’t mean he wouldn’t support regressive tax increases. It just meant that the progressive tax increases needed to be big to offset the regressive tax increases.

Once Gov. Dayton got DFL majorities to work with in 2013 and 2014, he instituted major income tax increases, instituted, temporarily, major sales tax increases and major property tax increases. Though the DFL will insist that their increased LGA payments brought property tax relief, it’s a sham. The truth is that it just slowed the speed that property taxes increased in most cities. That’s before talking about the huge property tax increases inflicted on taxpayers through property tax increases for education levies.

The truth is that Gov. Dayton and the DFL love regressive tax increases as long as they’re mixed in with lots of progressive tax increases. When Gov. Dayton said the DFL’s proposed gas tax increase was dead, I never thought he meant it. I thought that he recognized the toxic nature of a gas tax increase heading into an election. I still think that a gas tax increase is toxic to DFL legislators in swing districts.

While Democrats living in safe districts remain willing to vote for a gas tax increase, it’s highly doubtful that swing district DFL legislators will be willing to cut their own throats by voting for a gas tax increase.

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Anyone who’s read LFR the last 5 years knows I don’t have any respect for Paul Thissen. He’s one of the most partisan political hacks in Minnesota. His contact with the truth is tangential on his best days, nonexistent on most days. For years, Thissen has insisted that Republicans are interested in providing “special treatment to big Twin Cities and multinational corporations.” That’s an outright lie. It isn’t inaccurate. It isn’t a matter open for discussion.

It’s an outright lie. Rep. Thissen knows that it’s a lie. Worst, Rep. Thissen doesn’t mind telling that outright lie. Last May, I wrote this article about Gov. Dayton’s shutdown notice announcement. At the time, Speaker Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Bakk had worked out a compromise budget. Gov. Dayton and Rep. Thissen objected to the bill in an attempt to kill the bipartisan bill.

Gov. Dayton and Rep. Thissen both complained that the Tax Bill would “provide tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.” I contacted Greg Davids, the Chairman of the House Taxes Committee, for a statement on those statements. Here’s what he said:

My bill does not do that. Eighty percent goes to individuals. Tax relief is for the middle class…My tax bill is tax relief for the poor and middle class.

I read Davids’ tax bill. His characterization of the bill is accurate. Rep. Thissen’s characterization isn’t. Unfortunately for Minnesotans thirsting for the truth, Rep. Thissen’s lies don’t stop there:

Thissen said the 2015 session was a “monumental flop for Greater Minnesota” after the House Republican majority failed to tackle important issues for greater Minnesota such as transportation, broadband infrastructure, and rural property tax relief. He said the “Greater Minnesota for All” agenda is focused on completing the unfinished business of the 2015 session.

First, the DFL played obstructionist with transportation. They said no to the Republicans’ transportation bill that would’ve directed sales tax revenues from rental cars, auto repairs and vehicle leases to a stability fund. That fund would’ve been used to fix Minnesota’s roads and bridges. The DFL didn’t want that because they wanted a gas tax increase and additional funding for transit in outstate Minnesota. The need for transit in outstate Minnesota is less than important. It’s virtually nonexistent.

Next, the DFL’s ‘investments’ in LGA and education from the 2013 budget when there was a DFL governor and DFL majorities in the House and Senate sent property taxes through the roof. Rep. Thissen bragged about the DFL’s “historic investment in education.” Despite that historic investment and the paying off of school shifts, school districts across the state enacted huge property tax increases. The most modest increase was St. Cloud’s increase of 14.75%. The biggest property tax increase that I heard about was Princeton’s 25.16% increase. That’s relatively modest considering the fact that Princeton initially wanted to raise property taxes 33.87%.

The truth is that Dayton, Thissen and the DFL love raising taxes. Dayton, Thissen and the DFL love spending those tax increases on education because they know that the vast majority of that money will go to Education Minnesota, then into DFL campaign coffers.

Rep. Thissen, keep your grubby little fingers off the taxpayers’ hard-earned money. Robbing the taxpayers to pay off Education Minnesota isn’t ok. It’s disgusting and it’s gotta stop ASAP.

After I wrote this post, I was invited onto Dan Ochsner’s Ox in the Afternoon radio program to discuss the alarming disparity between the ISD 742 estimates and the bid that was put together for Sarah Murphy and Claire VanderEyk.

During the campaign to pass the Tech bonding referendum, the ISD 742 school board said it would cost between $85,800,000 and $96,800,000 to temporarily fix Tech for 5-10 years. When Ms. Murphy and Ms. VanderEyk toured the facility, they took notes on what was in disrepair and needed fixing. Since they’re both architects, they’re qualified to determine what’s in need of repair, what’s structurally deficient and what’s in good repair.

Ms. Murphy and Ms. VanderEyk are both Tech alums so they’d like to preserve the building if that’s possible. That’s why they took their notes to a contractor to see how much it would actually cost to repair the existing Tech campus. Saying that their estimate came in at less than $97,000,000 is understatement. It came in at $15,696,000, which is approximately $100,000,000 less than the School Board said it would cost to build a brand new Tech High School.

It’s worth noting that the new Tech High School would be able to hold 1,800 students, which is significantly more than it needs. It’s also worth noting that the School Board wanted $46,500,000 in bonding authority to fix Apollo High School, which is less than 50 years old. (Tech is over 100 years old.)

Considering the fact that the bid put together for Ms. Murphy and Ms. VanderEyk to refurbish and repair a 100-year-old building was less than $16,000,000, it isn’t a stretch to think that it wouldn’t cost $46,500,000 to repair Apollo. In fact, it isn’t a stretch to think that both projects combined could be done for less than what the Apollo renovation would’ve cost.

As I said in the earlier post, I’m not arguing to do nothing. That ship has sailed. It isn’t returning to port. What I’m arguing for is to rethink the entire project and see if we shouldn’t adopt a more taxpayer-friendly option that still helps students attend a high school where they can prepare for a college education and a productive working career.

Simply put, I’m arguing to kill last fall’s plan once and for all. It isn’t needed and it can’t be afforded. It’s that simple.

When I wrote this post about the ISD 742 School Board’s numbers on how much it would cost to fix Tech High School, I unintentionally omitted the enrollment figures for the district. The point of the article was to highlight the fallibility of the School Board’s numbers. Specifically, I quoted Sarah Murphy’s criticism of the repair cost figures.

Kevin Allenspach’s article quotes Ms. Murphy as saying “Those numbers are really round, so it’s hard to take them seriously.” Rather than just criticizing the figures, Ms. Murphy and Claire VanderEyk, both Tech alumni and architects, got a bid on how much it would cost to fix Tech.

The ISD 742 School Board estimated the cost at between $85,750,000 and $96,750,000. The estimate put together for Ms. Murphy and Ms. VanderEyk was $15,696,000. That’s a difference of more than $70,000,000. As terrible as those numbers are, that isn’t the whole story. This St. Cloud Times article on open enrollment is just another nail in the School Board’s bonding project coffin.

According to the School Board, the new Tech High School and the renovated Apollo High would have had an enrollment capacity of 1,800 students each. Here’s what the Times’ open enrollment article says:

The Sauk Rapids-Rice school district has seen a steady increase in the number of students open-enrolling from other districts. This fall, the district gained more than 500 students more than it lost to other districts. Almost a quarter of Sauk Rapids-Rice students aren’t residents of the school district. On the flip side, the St. Cloud school district lost about 1,660 more students this year to other public school districts than it gained through open enrollment.

The combined enrollment at Tech and Apollo was 2,700+ students last year. The trend is declining enrollment. Taxpayers aren’t out of line in questioning the School Board’s decision to build a new school that’s bigger than they need at a price nobody can afford.

It’s important to remember that the School Board’s price tag on a new Tech High School was $113.8 million. Compare that with Ms. Murphy’s and Ms. VanderEyk’s estimate to fix the existing Tech High School is $16,000,000. Additionally, the School Board’s estimate of fixing Apollo was $46.5 million.

Why would anyone trust the School Board’s figures for either project, especially given their proclivity for wild exaggerations? It’s time to scrap the School Board’s plan entirely. That doesn’t mean we can afford to do nothing. That isn’t an option. It just means we should fix what needs fixing at a price that’s taxpayer friendly.

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After reading Kevin Allenspach’s article, it’s difficult to give the ISD 742 School Board the benefit of the doubt.

Last fall, the school board argued that it was wiser to build a new school (estimated cost of $113.8 million) than to remodel the current Tech High School. Allenspach’s article highlights the untrustworthiness of the School Board’s numbers. For instance, Allenspach notes that “the district’s pre-referendum estimate of $85 million in maintenance during the next 10 years just to keep the school in use” is being questioned by 2 Tech grads.

Sarah Murphy and Claire VanderEyk are both architects and Tech graduates. They’re both convinced that the ISD 742 School Board’s $85,000,000 estimate isn’t accurate. The School Board’s estimate includes “$10 million-$15 million for roofing, $20 million for a boiler replacement, $5 million for a chiller replacement, $5 million for window replacement, $10 million for asbestos removal, $1 million for brick tuckpointing, $5 million for plumbing, $2 million for lighting, $1 million for parking lots, $2 million-$3 million for electrical service, $3 million to replace classroom ceilings, $3 million to replace doors and hardware, $2 million to replace flooring, $750,000 for a building control system and $15 million-$20 million for general building repairs.”

Murphy’s response was powerful:

“Those numbers are really round, so it’s hard to take them seriously,” said Murphy, who worked for architectural firms in Minnesota and Colorado before becoming a space planner for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. “The building is 100 years old, so it’s going to need some help. But if there are real structural problems, there shouldn’t be anybody in the building. If the cafeteria has major structural issues, why are they using it? They’d be putting the kids at risk. There’s a difference between structural problems and things that are inconvenient or don’t look good, like floor tiles popping up.”

The School Board’s pitch was essentially a sky-is-falling pitch. The Board essentially said that not approving the bonds for the new Tech High School was the equivalent of putting these students at risk. It isn’t a stretch to think that the School Board tried shaming voters into approving the bonds.

Murphy has worked on similar projects, including North High School in Denver, which required technology updates and other renovations but preserved a building built in 1907. Both she and VanderEyk said they will work with the Friends of Clark Field citizens group to see if there is a way to get more information about renovating Tech.

Ms. Murphy and Ms. VanderEyk should be applauded for their efforts. I’ve learned more from them in a short period of time than I learned from the Vote Yes campaign all last fall. Most importantly, I’m thinking that I’d make a more informed decision because of these ladies’ works.

This is information that we should’ve gotten from the School Board but didn’t. That leads to the question of why we got this financial information from them. Let’s recall that Barclay Carriar admitted that the blueprint for the new Tech High School wasn’t available:

According to Barclay Carriar, a 57-year-old adviser with Ameriprise Financial and co-chair of Neighbors for School Excellence, “What a lot of them don’t recognize is, 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.”

That’s stunning. They asked taxpayers for $113,800,000 in bonding approval but they hadn’t designed the building. What’s up with that? How many banks would lend money based on that type of information and still be solvent 5 years from now? Hint: the number rhymes with Nero.

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When I read this Our View editorial, my first reaction was that of disgust. The Times has tried to portray itself as object, as allies of ‘the people’. That façade disappeared when they wrote about setting a revote on the Tech-Apollo bonding referendum for this spring.

When they wrote that “a huge turnout expected in presidential election years may not enhance the chances for a school referendum to pass”, the Times essentially said that the right outcome was more important than giving the people the right to make informed decisions based on information gathered during meetings where the school board took questions and answered them on point. If the school board doesn’t answer the people’s questions directly, then citizens should continue to defeat the bonding referendum.

BTW, giving platitude-filled answers doesn’t constitute answering the citizens’ questions. That’s deception, which isn’t tolerated. The citizens have a right to know more of the specifics about the building that would be built with their money. When Barclay Carriar admitted that “80 percent of [the new Tech HS] isn’t going to be designed until after the referendum”, he essentially told voters that they should approve the bonds without knowing what they’d get.

Carriar is an “adviser with Ameriprise Financial and co-chair of Neighbors for School Excellence.” Think of adviser Neighbors for School Excellence as the DFL’s Vote Yes campaign organization for pushing the bonding referendum down voters’ throats. It’s important to remember that the bonding referendum was defeated in November because the School Board tried getting their referendum passed without answering voters’ questions.

That time, with the bonding referendum being the only thing on the ballot, voters rejected the proposal by an 8,460 to 7,393 vote margin. That 53.4% of the people voted to reject the proposal is a major upset.

Supporters and district campaign materials first cited a 10-year maintenance tab of $140 million at Tech. However, as the Election Day neared, credible evidence arose to question it. Yet supporters and even district leaders remain tight-lipped to this day about its validity.

That was a major nail in the School Board’s coffin. That wasn’t the only thing, though, that people questioned. They also questioned whether the buildings both needed to have a capacity of 1,800 students, especially considering the fact that there are 2,700 students in Tech and Apollo right now.

The chances of ISD742 increasing enrollment by one-third over the next 20-50 years is approximately zero. The school board tried convincing their constituents that writing the school board a blank check based on a platitude-filled campaign.

That measure went down in flames.

The best news from today’s budget forecast, other than the fact that there’s a major surplus, is that Gov. Dayton admitted that a gas tax increase is dead for the upcoming session. That might’ve been the most painful statement he’s made as governor.

That all but officially ends Move Minnesota’s gas tax increase campaign. I wrote this post to highlight the features of House Transportation Committee Chairman Tim Kelly’s plan. Chairman Kelly’s plan invests heavily in roads and bridges without diverting funds to transit. The reason why Move Minnesota opposed Chairman Kelly’s bill is because he didn’t raise taxes and because he doesn’t put a high priority on ‘investing’ in transit.

Chairman Kelly wrote this op-ed to highlight his proposal. A big key to the plan is investing “$7 billion into needed road and bridge repair without raising taxes.” Chairman Kelly’s plan repurposes “revenue that is already being collected from existing sales taxes on auto parts, the Motor Vehicle Lease sales tax, the rental vehicle tax and the sales tax on rental vehicles.” Currently, that money goes into the general fund.

As I said last spring, why should taxes that are imposed on rental vehicles and leasing motor vehicles go into the general fund?

Chairman Kelly’s plan creates a “Transportation Stability Fund.” The TSF will “not only provide new money for roads and bridges statewide, but also for small city roads, bus services in Greater Minnesota, suburban county highways and metro area capital improvements.”

This is what Gov. Dayton and the DFL were upset about:

In addition to the dedicated funds provided by the Transportation Stability Fund, the proposal would also utilize $1.3 billion in Trunk Highway bonds, $1.2 billion from realigning Minnesota Department of Transportation resources, $1.05 billion in General Obligation bonds, and $228 million in General Funds.

According to Paul Thissen, Chairman Kelly’s plan stole money from schools and other DFL priorities. That’s interesting considering the fact that Thissen insisted that the DFL had made an historic investment in education and paid back the school shifts.

At what point does Rep. Thissen think Minnesota’s middle class is overtaxed? For that matter, does Rep. Thissen think that Minnesota’s middle class is overtaxed?

The good news is that the DFL’s dreams of raising the gas tax is over.

The DFL’s intentional deceptions are disgusting. Minutes ago, they posted this tweet:


It’s time that the DFL stopped lying about property taxes. The DFL’s budget didn’t prevent property tax increases. I wrote this post in 2014 to highlight that fact. In that post, I linked to this post, which talked about the Princeton School Board voted to raise “the school district tax levy by 25.16 percent for taxes payable 2015 to fund the 2015-16 school year.”

That happened before Kurt Daudt was elected as Speaker of the House. That didn’t happen until January, 2015.

St. Cloud school district has imposed its largest tax levy increase in six years for 2015. The district’s property-tax levy will increase by $3.3 million, or 14.75 percent, to nearly $26 million. The school board voted unanimously Thursday night to approve the 2015 levy.

This happened during 2014, too. It’s difficult to blame the MNGOP for those property tax increases, especially considering the fact that Paul Thissen bragged about the DFL’s “Historic Investment in Minnesota’s Future.” After the DFL significantly raised K-12 spending, shouldn’t we have the right to expect a year or 2 of no property taxes from the school districts? Instead of getting stable property taxes, we get historic property tax increases.

The thought that the DFL is now lying about Republicans driving up property taxes is disgusting but predictable. The DFL isn’t in the business of telling the truth. They’re in the business of lying to people if they think that’s what will help them win elections.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk isn’t having fun, thanks in large part to Senate Republicans and Senate Minority Leader David Hann. Sen. Bakk is insisting that Republicans move into Bakk’s Palace, the building Sen. Bakk shoved down taxpayers’ throats in the 2013 Tax Bill in the dead of night the last weekend of session without going through the committee process. It didn’t go through the committee process intentionally because Bakk didn’t want it to be scrutinized by anyone.

Now, Sen. Bakk is attempting to play hardball, insisting that “other state entities need Republicans’ current quarters in the State Office Building.” Senate Minority Leader Hann isn’t buying, saying “if that’s the case, Bakk should say who is it and when they’re going to move, ‘because that’s all news to us.'”

What’s especially laughable is that Bakk calls their refusal to move “short-term political gamesmanship.” The truth is that Sen. Bakk doesn’t like it when GOP legislators shine the spotlight on Bakk’s Palace, my nickname for the new Senate Building. Bakk doesn’t like the attention because he’s trying to maintain his majority through the 2016 election. When House Republicans highlighted the House DFL’s support for Bakk’s Palace, they lost their majority.

When people take a look at Bakk’s Palace, Republicans will remind them that Democrats voted to raise taxes on citizens, which paid for the $90,000,000 building. They’ll also remind citizens that the DFL also voted to dramatically raise the pay of Gov. Dayton’s commissioners.

Sen. Bakk should stop worrying about political gamesmanship. He should start worrying about the DFL’s legislative history since the last election. Then he should kiss his majority status goodbye.

The latest update on the Tech bonding referendum is that the school district knows exactly how much money they need to build a new Tech High School but they aren’t finished designing the building.

According to Barclay Carriar, a 57-year-old adviser with Ameriprise Financial and co-chair of Neighbors for School Excellence, “What a lot of them don’t recognize is, 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.”

Picture this. Picture a homebuilder just starting out going into a bank and telling the loan officer that he wants to borrow $250,000 to build a home. The first thing that loan officer will do is ask about how big the house is, whether the contractor already has a buyer, etc. Imagine the contractor telling the loan officer that he’s got a good lead on someone who might buy the home but that he hasn’t had someone draw up the blueprints.

That contractor’s interview would end abruptly. This referendum should end quickly, too. This argument is absurd:

The group also points out that homeowners in the district already pay lower taxes than almost every other district in the immediate area. St. Cloud’s annual school tax expense on a $150,000 home is $521. The other metro area districts of Sauk Rapids-Rice ($741), Sartell-St. Stephen ($686) and Rocori ($627) all are higher. Even with passage of the referendum, St. Cloud taxes would rise to $739, still just below Sauk Rapids-Rice…

My first reaction is “So what?” If other cities want to spend more, that’s their decision. I’ve never been a fan of keeping up with the Joneses. If you want to win my vote, explain with specificity how spending additional money will improve the students’ learning experience.

Telling me that ‘we must invest in education’ is fluff. It isn’t a serious argument.