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 Response Page - John James  Interview -      

These comments are responses to the questions listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
 John James  Interview of

The Questions:

On a scale of (0) most disagreement , to (5) neutral, to (10) most agreement, what is your view on the following:

1.  _5.4 average response_____  State aid to city governments should be eliminated and, in turn, city governments should receive more authority to raise their own revenues. 

2.  _5.5 average response_____  To offset property tax increases resulting from withdrawal of state aid, the Governor and Legislature should increase the income tested property tax refund program.

3. _6.5 average response_____  Allow city governments to impose local non-property taxes themselves.

4.  _7.4 average response_____  Health insurance for all state and local public employees in Minnesota should be purchased in one plan, thereby replacing all existing health plans for schools, colleges, cities, counties and other state and local government entities.

Steve Hardie (no) (no) (no) (yes)

Bradley Peterson (0) (1) (2) (7)

Allowing cities to raise local revenue through non-property tax source simply increases disparities between communities that LGA is intended to reduce.  Redirecting property tax relief to individuals may be politically attractive, but it does not help cities with lower property tax bases provide levels of service at as affordable a cost as those communities with a higher property tax base can.  While I have not closely read all the summaries of conversations you have had with your guests I do find it concerning that there seems to be something of a bias or at the very least an ignorance of the value and practical effects of programs such as LGA.

Bob White (8) (10) (10) (10)

Question 4:  This is especially important given the faltering of federal health care reform.

Ray Cox (10) (10) (5) (10)

The health care common purchase and common purchase of other items is a big savings concept that should be implemented right away.

Jerry Fruin (8) (5) (7) (7)

Hans Sandbo (9) (9) (9)(10)

John James has some great ideas.    How best to implement them and get change.  I think  that with our current economic situation (local and state) , internet , legislators must be informed and be informing others on these proposals - make sure new candidates understand this as well as incumbents.   It is the ones with the ideas of what and how to implement that get elected in a democracy, assuming we still have one.

Fred Senn (8) (8) (8) ( 10)

Paul Hauge (0) (7) (3) (8)

John W. Hoscheid (10) (10) (10) (10)

Mina Harrigan (5) (5) (3) (7)

 I agree---hosting forums   to get input from leaders is important, but the "action" piece is needed.

Robert J. Brown (10) (8) (10) (8)

Question 1:   Authority for raising taxes and responsibility for spend them have to be better linked than they are today. Local units are far less efficient when they have the authority to spend with little responsibility for raising the revenue.

Question 3:  Another option a couple of us proposed 30 or 40 years ago would be to allow the school districts to raise their local revenue with a piggyback tax on the state income tax, assuming the income tax is the fairest and most progressive of the options. This is much more feasible now with a substantially smaller number of school districts and much more sophisticated technology to implement the program.

Question 4:  I would be comfortable with the situation where the state purchased health insurance for all state and local employees, but it might be better to have two or three options from which those employees could choose.

Arvonne Fraser (0) (2) (5) (8)

Interesting in that on the one hand he wants more consolidation at the state level and on the other less.

Bill Kuisle (0) (0) (0) (0)

Bigger purchasing pools does not always mean cheaper or better. Local units of government having other taxing authorities will only create a mess of taxes that will have to be cleaned up in the future.

Donald H. Anderson (5) (5) (2) (0)
Our present governmental structure doesn't lend itself to any appreciable changes without changing our Constitution. We have to live within our existing structure, namely federal, state, county, city and school districts. We currently have to many have and have not governmental structures.

David Broden (7) (7) (7) (4)

Question 1:  Changes in the approach to LGA must be part of State Government Redesign. I however do not support doing the elimination or signficant reduction in LGA without consideration of the impact of these cuts on the uniformity of quality of life, health, and safety of the people across Minnesota. We as a unified state society have a responsibility to maintain certain functions and standards for all the population. The thought of dropping LGA will without consideration of public good is not in the best interest of all of us. There are however many uses of LGA funds that can and should be local discretionary decisions and thus locally funded. 

Question 2:  Again this needs to be addressed only in the context of redesign of the role of government at various levels town, townships,city, county, region, state etc. Doing a tax change alone will cause more problems than it will fix. 

Question 3:  Authority must be given to the local units but this must be done without risk of building competitiveness that threatens communitiies and does not yield improved or maintained quality fo life. 

Question 4:  This is one of those ideas that seems good per the  old idea "bigger is better". Could be better but it certainly needs some detailed assessment before going ahead. Local options that allow participation in a well structure pool may offer the same benefits. 

David Dinnel (0) (5) (5) (10)

A complete loss of local government aid would be the final nail in the coffin of many small, outstate communities/  Because of the difficulty for local residents and business owners to cope with additional fees and taxes, communities would be forced to drastically cut back on needed services, such as public safety and maintenance of streets, alleys and sidewalks. And consolidation is not the panacea many suggest. In some cases, the cost of consolidated services has increased.

In regards to local government aid, to some it may be the "Minnesota Debacle" but to many of us it's still the "Minnesota Miracle." Recent reductions in LGA have impacted negatively on communities. And county governments and local school districts are also beginning to feel the pinch.

Rather than hearing from Twin Cities pundits/experts who propose to have answers for outstate Minnesota, I would enjoy attending meetings and hearing from those of us who are close to the problems and how they are coping with it. I would remind you that we are only part-time city council members and mayors. Some of us are limited in the experience needed to deal with the budgetary and other related problems being faced by many of us small community leaders.

David Dinnel, Mayor, City of Ortonville

Mike Hanson

Thank you for the opportunity to ruminate about change in local government aid ----I am a 4 term Cty. Commish that sees a system that will eventually be unsustainable ---- The County I represent could be accused of being a welfare Cty. because of the need and absolute reliance on State & Federal assistance - if we continue on the current road the fine folks that will follow me will have little flexibility other than continue to raise property tax  ---alterations have to occur - change is paramount ---I support your advocating for the "discussion".
Commissioner Mike Hanson - Kooch

Wayne Jennings (4) (6) (7) (8)

I like the fresh ideas but don’t have the knowledge to fully evaluate them without hearing other experts’ comments on each. Thanks for having these conversations for us to stir our thinking.

In the area of redesign, I’ve been thinking about education and believe we can accomplish more with the same or fewer dollars. It would take major change, probably best approached with pilot program incentives. This applies to both K-12 and higher education.  Dr. Tom Abeles would be good on higher education and the use of technology.

Dennis L. Johnson (7) (0) (8) (10)

Question 1 Only if State income taxes are reduced to offset local increases!

A good discussion but with too much emphasis on the revenue side and too little on reducing expenses. Since one could spend years redesigning a better statewide tax system and then see it not passed by the legislature anyhow, I think it would be a better idea to simply push for an amendment to the state constitution capping all taxes at an agreed level, preferably lower than at present. Then make sure the constitution continues to require a balanced budget each year.

This approach is being considered by several States, especially Indiana, where it is popular. Under the KISS approach (Keep It Simple, Stupid) this means one fight rather than a years long battle grinding away at details of balancing state and local tax loads, etc. I think this would be a common sense approach which  could prove quite popular and even pass. This would simplify the annual budget battle and force the necessary decisions to be made at all levels to meet constitutional requirements.

Keith Swenson (0) (0) (0) (0)

This is just a blatant attempt to rip off the taxpayers by shifting the traditional method of municipal funding and allowing the State to avoid real budget decisions.  This will require enormous property tax increases.  Why don't we just abolish municipal government and permanently mobilize the National Guard to provide emergency services.

Bob Fenwick (8) (8) (8) (2)

Question 2: A property tax with a circuit breaker is not so regressive and the best budgeting tool.

Question 4:  If it is anything like what the Teacher’s groups have been proposing for the past few years, do not go there. This is a far more complex issue than  this simple statement would indicate and is not guaranteed to lower costs. They may in fact go up.

Malcolm McLean  (6) (8) (8) (9)

I don't know about this.  Mr. James's proposals for change are far-reaching and I can't get myself around all of them.  I do favor much of what he recommends.  Uncertain of this one.

Bert  Press (10) (5) (10) (10)

Charles Lutz (5) (5) (9) (10)

Glen Skovholt (1) (_) (3) (10)

Clarence Shallbetter (4) (8) (4) (3)

Question 1:  Should consider when  the disparity in property tax wealth is  built into the system. Maybe should  consider  permitting cities to raise revenues  only from residents who can vote so that there is a line of political accountability for revenue raising decisions.

Question 3:  Same concerns as  with #1.

Question 4:  Not sure this would do much. It would create a massive bargaining organization with insurance companies. but not sure the cost savings would be much less beyond a certain point. Maybe should try it by regions of the state for school districts to see what difference it would make. How would this compare with the cost of health insurance  federal employees receive?  Such a step would remove a cost for every unit of government except the  one that  purchases the insurance. How much would this reduce the cost of services for local unit s of government? What assurance is there that they would not take  the savings and  increase their revenues by maintaining the same levies on the property tax?

Bert Lemunyon (5) (5) (0) (10)

Peter Hennessey (7) (0) (10) (0)

Another policy wonk, tinkering at the edges. How about keeping things simple and fair, so people will worry about business, not an ever more complicated tax code?

Question 1. This is really two questions in one.  State government must fund all mandates it imposes on local governments, especially those which they would not undertake themselves but the State forces on them.  On the other hand, local governments must be free to raise their own revenues for their own purposes.  State "aid" to local governments is just a slight-of-hand. All money comes from my pocket as a taxpayer. The fact that one level of government takes more from my pocket and another one takes less, and may or may not hand the excess to a third one, makes no difference to me.

Question 2.  What property tax increases? Who says local government (1) should rely exclusively on this form of extortion (pay up or we take your home), (2) will raise taxes rather than find ways to cut costs, (3) can't find or would not be allowed to find other sources of revenue?

Question 3. Local governments should be free to determine their own needs and decide how to pay for them. In another message I have explained how sales taxes are the most fair of all forms of taxation.

Question 4. Absolutely not. Reduced costs come from competition, not from a monopoly. The entities identified in the question vary greatly in terms of demographics, for example, and therefore their needs and usages of health care services are different. At the very least they need policies tailored to their own needs. One size does not fit all, and costs everybody more.

Try the free market for a change. Government does not have to have all the answers for everybody, even if they could come up with the right answers, which they have a track record of not having ever done, anywhere anytime in history. The government that governs best governs least (per Jefferson, Paine and Thoreau). Let businesses worry about what to offer and let customers figure out what they want to buy. Do not impose uniformity, do allow diversity and competition among businesses and among localities, so customers will have choices, and if nothing else helps, could vote with their feet. But if there is no competition, no choice, then everyone is trapped and everything stagnates.

Ton Kuefler (10) (0) (10) (10)

David Detert (0) (4) (3) (8)

The case for continuing local government aid was made by Mr. James in his comparison of property tax in Edina and Brown’s Valley.  I am a family physician and even though we have a hospital in our community 80% of all of the money spent on health care goes to the metropolitan area because that is where all the expensive health care is located.  The same is true for retail and other factors in the economy.  The economy is set up to funnel wealth into the urban area and unless we have some way of returning some of the wealth to outstate Minnesota in the form of local government aid we have no future.

Health care is the key to controlling state expenditures in the future.  To control the government obligation is to have a single payer system for all Minnesotans not just government employees and the government obligation should be only for basic health care and not the high tech expensive care. The election in Massachusetts makes that unlikely as people are unlikely to accept limits on health care.  Is there any hope?

Shirley Heaton

What I believe is absent from the 'equation' of obtaining more funds for the public coffers are the possibilities of seeking grants from well-heeled foundations. And then, of course, if one wants to put one's political future on the line, one might try to 'make a deal' with gambling 'institutions' throughout the state like our dear Gov. Charlie Crist (who. at present, also happens to be running for the U.S Senate) is trying to do....Just a thought. And by the way, love the new format -- very professional!!!.

Kevin Edberg (3) (7 (7) (5)

Roger Wacek (10) (5) (6) (0)

Question 4:  Health insurance (sickness insurance) should not be purchased for any employee. Cost control will never be happen when the patient is out of the payment loop. Ask former state Senator Dick Day about this!

Alan Miller (5) (2) (9) (9)

Vici Oshiro

All good suggestions, but I am unwilling to support any without further consideration and understanding the interconnections.  And I did read "Finding a Way Forward" and "MN Fiscal Situation."  I do support urging governor and legislature to take these suggestions very seriously. 

State Rep. Bev Scalze (10) (10) (10) (10)

Chris Stedman (5) (3) (7) (10)

Rich Collins (0) (5) (5) (10)

Scott Halstead (5) (5) (5) (10)

Public employees should receive discounts for being healthy.  Individuals that smoke, abuse alcohol/drugs, are overweight, and blood pressure is not managed would pay higher costs.  The State of Minnesota should  have several providers but the service levels should be identical

Corky Ebeling (0) (5) (10) (5)

Rick Bishop (10) (10) (8) (8)

Pay as you go/user fees also for those that can afford.

Dennis Fink (8) (5) (8) ( 5)

It would be unfortunate if Civic Caucus sees local government as only cities as indicated in questions 1 & 3. Eliminating state aid to local governments would be well received if the state
suggested the services that were to be provided and gave the communities the option to provide them (allowing us to eliminate costly Mandates).  To offset the loss of state aid, the state could eliminate its quest for property taxes as a source of its revenue but that would require that the state live within means provided by income, sales and the other taxes not reserved for local governments.  I agree with James that we need to be thinking about redesign not the shifting of resource distribution.

Dan Schultz (0) (5) (7) (10)

No unfunded mandates.

Ken Smart (X) (_) (_) (X)

It's clear that to truly get a handle on govt spending, one must look at restraining compensation increases for govt employees to better match changes in private sector.  The single largest expenditure line for government is employee compensation (salaries, wages, and benefits). 

Tom Swain (8) (5) (8) (10)

James offered much

Ray Schmitz (10) (10) (10) (10)

Question 3:  They are already doing so via fees for services, street lighting, sewer, water, storm water and others.

Question 4:  But why stop there, allow small businesses and individuals to buy into this common plan, thereby reducing costs for them also.  Or, and this could be a better step, the state can self insure, hiring a management firm, if necessary to administer the plan.  Olmsted County, among others has done this for years, the benefit is that health insurance is just claims + management + profit, self insurance cuts out the profit.  The management firms compete for the business since it is basically risk free from them which also reduces costs.

Gary Bloedel

I am a seasonal property owner (lakeshore) and a member of the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Seasonal Property Owners Coalition (MSRPO).  As non-homesteaded property, I am already being taxed approximately 1/3 more on an equal valued property than are my “homesteaded neighbors who receive significantly more local services than I.  Is this fair taxation?  I suggest that we pay 1/3 less in taxes-that would be fair.   I (we) have real no voice in local election process where people are elected who make decisions that significantly affect seasonal property owners.  Also, there seems to be a prevailing attitude among local politicians and legislators think we cabin owners are all “rich city folks” who can well afford the runaway valuation and taxes.  The valuation of my homesteaded property in Cottage Grove (2000 sf) declined 1.9% for 2010 while my modest cabin property (768 sf on 100 ft shoreline) in Aitkin county rose 18%.  My cabin, where I receive virtually no local services, is now valued only $300 less than my wonderful house in Cottage Grove with exceptional city services.  

Now you suggest giving local governments more tools to stick it to us even more and still without allowing us to vote on these issues.  I have no problem supporting local governments where I am homesteaded but not in two locations as you propose.  I don’t think it’s fair taxation that I have to support a portion of schools in my “seasonal” county.  There is nothing wrong with state aid if it is funded and given to local governments.  Aitkin County has far less of a tax base to support costs of their government than do “richer” counties.  What we really need is perhaps ½ the number of counties we have now.  As you should agree, there is far too much duplication of services within our 87 counties.  We should be pursuing the elimination of the homestead exemption and tax a house or cabin as a house or cabin regardless of whether or not the owner lives there all the time – check South Dakota.

Taxation without representation (those word ring don’t they) is happening now for seasonal owners – we don’t need to increase that burden.

I agree with consolidation of health care purchase for state and local government employee. 

Dick Angevine (5) (6) (6) (8)

Bright Dornblaser (5) (8) (8) (10)

Question 1:   Not clear whether this would be fair, some communities have more capacity than others. 

Question 2:   Need to know more about how this would work

Question 3:   Does this disadvantage the poorer communities?  Not clear from presentation.


The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Core participants include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

   Verne C. Johnson, chair;  David Broden, Charles Clay, Marianne Curry, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje,  Jim Hetland,  Marina Lyon, Joe Mansky, John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  and Wayne Popham 

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
8301 Creekside Circle #920,   Bloomington, MN 55437.
Verne C. Johnson, chair, 952-835-4549,       Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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