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 Response Page - Triplett  Interview -      


These comments are responses to the questions listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Tom Triplett Interview of
12-18-09.
.

 
The Questions:
 

1.  _9.1 average response_____ The Governor and Legislature should stop shifting expenses to the following biennium as a temporary budget balancing device.

2.  _4.8 average response_____ The state should discontinue property tax relief and state aid to local governments.

3.  _6.2  average response_____ To replace lost state revenue, cities should have the right to impose their own local sales or income taxes if approved in local referendums.

4.  _
7.3 average response_____  Minnesota's precinct caucus endorsement process hinders the emergence of strategic, forward-thinking candidates for Governor. 

Scot Housh (8) (6) (6) (8)

The caucus system encourages polarization at various ends of the political spectrum.  We need more moderates in government.  They are not considered by either party. 

David Broden (10) (3) (7) (0)

Question 1:  Shifting solves nothing only is a soft solution. Shifting should only be considered if it is part of a longer term fix for which a more positive resolution of the issue is addressed and is certain to occur. 

Question 2:  This topic deserves much in depth consideration. A redefinition of how the state interacts with the role of local government and what is state funded vs. what is local is a must. We must however not trade of the quality of key services such as water, sewer, public safety, and similar services at the expense of changes to who pays what--the MN quality of life must be maintained and should be a good guide. If however the LGA is focused to services such a parks or special buildings etc. that could be local expenditures that is a different issue. A rigorous review of what the relief does and what is LGA purpose will set a new focus  that can benefit all. 

Question 3:  Very logical and reasonable approach. Recommend that some well thought out guidelines that will keep some sense to uniformity across the state as to how this is used, what is taxed etc., what items or services the local government can tax vs. the state etc. must be part of the package. 

Question 4:  Rather than criticize the precinct caucus process which I strongly concur is broken-- we need to suggest that the process has the capability to work in a  better way--it is up to concerned and involved people to get into the process and make it work and for the leaders of the political parties to  get off the political focus and onto good government focus. It may seem off base to believe that this can work but strong leadership can shift the approach to how caucuses are used. I would rather spend time discussing the issues and getting more people to work the caucus participation than to spend months restructuring something that is broken and then still not have better public dialogue. 

Chuck Slocum (10) (5) (5) (10)

It is clear that we need to do things differently, beyond “no new taxes and cutting spending,” as Tom notes.  I welcome the debate about state spending and expanded local taxing authority; no doubt that property taxes are frequently unfair. I am uncertain about the new tax “mix” but it will likely need to include major changes, i.e. sales tax expansion to clothes, services, etc.. The containment of the “entitlement driven” growth of public spending, too, is essential to achieving balanced budgets. (See Mike Vekich editorial commentary from the Strib 1-11-10.)

Paul Cumings (10) (0) (0) (5)

Discontinuing property tax relief programs like LGA, CPA and the PTR would not be advisable. While the formula is far from perfect these programs shield communities from the regressive nature of property and local sales tax.  It also allows small communities the ability to provide a basic level of service.  If aids were taken away and local governments were given the option of local sales or local income tax most would apply those taxes leaving a patchwork of local taxes that would be far from equitable.  Some municipalities would be able to raise so much more than others.  Small communities and property/commercial/income poor communities would have to levy a large % in taxes in order to receive the same amount of money.   At first glance this proposal makes sense but it is very inequitable and very regressive.

Brent Olson (10) (0) (5) (7)

We need to have an honest, open, budget process – accounting tricks have gotten us in a huge mess – we need to spend less or tax more – we need to decide what we want to give up or how much we want to be taxed.  I don’t see any current politician willing to lead that discussion.  State aid should be cut only if mandates are removed and state taxes are cut dramatically – the state can’t tell us to do stuff and then not leave a mechanism for paying for it.

 John Cairns (6) (3) (8) (5)

Bob White (10) (5) (5) (8)

About questions 2 and 3: Tom is probably right that it's time to dissolve the MN Miracle of sending magical money to local governments, which in turn would get more authority for their own levies.  But doing this wisely and fairly is a huge challenge.   As he points out, the equalization principle is important even though too often overridden.  Also, the issue of communities with large tax bases vs. those with small ones can't be solved by local levies alone.  And other issues need attention at the same time: for instance, the sheer number of local authorities, and the possibility of redesign for greater sharing of services.  My ratings of 5 reflect my view that  multi-faceted changes are necessary.

Shari Prest (9) (5) (_)  (9)

Question 3:  No, inadequate state funding has forced schools districts into this situation. There are several dangers: Referendum campaigns are resource consuming; they are rarely representative of the population; local gov funding is so complex that people rarely understand the impact of flat, decreased, or increased funding. Through the years of "no new taxes" people have actually been and would be taxed at higher levels but it would be done in such a way as to diminish the impact on state level politicians. This is not governing with integrity. People should understand that good roads, schools, social services, health care, etc. come at a cost and the burden to provide the resources resides with the people of the state. There is no honor in no new taxes. 

Comments: Public Strategies group is not universally noted as one of the best in the nation. It is the darling of fiscal conservatives.

Mark Ritchie

Another very useful summary - thank you.

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

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

Judy Swanson (10) (8) (10) (10)

Chuck Lutz (10) (6) (10) (7)

Robert J. Brown (10) (10) (5) (10)

Question 1:   Because they have gotten us in such a deep hole it may take more than one biennium to get back on a pay as we go basis, but there has to be a plan to do it even if we have to stretch the catch up period to two biennia.

Question 2:  We too long have detached the authority to spend from the responsibility to tax. We have allowed local government units to be irresponsible.

Question 3:  There has to be some means for local government to have the money they need to operate. Local option taxes are not the best way, because those with wealth (e.g., Bloomington with a sales tax at the Mall of America) will have an unfair advantage. Some type of power equalizing formula needs to be created that would allow the locals to raise more money if it were tied to an equalization formula in which the state participated on the basis of need and of local effort relative to the tax base.

Question 4:   Unless we can get the parties to support a multiple endorsement system, the current precinct caucus system is allowing the extreme elements in the parties too easily to control the selection of candidates. We need a system that encourages broad participation. Too many people have been driven away from the caucuses by organized small groups with narrow interests.

Lee Munnich (10) (0) (10) (0)

Bert Press (10) (0) (10) (10)

Paul Hauge (10) (4) (3) (7)

Carolyn Ring (9) (7) (8) (5)

Obviously, I pretty much agree with 1. 2. and 3.  The problem is in working out the details of revenue replacements and change in design.  As for caucuses  they are no longer functioning as intended.  However, they can be useful if broad based enough in searching for the best candidate and not relying just on money and the media to influence voters.

Vici Oshiro (10) (5) (2) (3)

Question 2:  Depends on what else you/they/we do.

Joe Mansky (10) (5) (1) (7)

His most interesting comments relate to local government aid, etc. The issue for us becomes (I think) this: is there a better way to target state resources to solve specific problems rather than the generic fund transfer system now in place? Should each community in the state be required to have some base services and be provided with the necessary funds?

Bob Fenwick (10) (10) (10) (7)

Question 2:  Requires an immediate reduction in state collections equal to the total aid. This is easy to calculate for cities, but far more difficult for counties and would have to include elimination of mandates and maintenances of effort. It would also require a state budgeting process where revenue collection is a function of a transparent link to needed deliverables, not the reverse as they perform presently.

Question 3:  Should not be contingent on referenda because, unlike the state, counties already use a budgeting process that asks for revenues based on deliverables. This can be done because they levy annually against property value based on need, and therefore; the property tax should not be ignored as a source for additional local revenues. Because of this transparency  a real referendum occurs every two years.

Assuming that these and other safeguards can be put in place so that we don’t just end up back where we are today, separating intergovernmental finances as Mr. Triplett recommends is an absolute necessity. There are many more problems to overcome if we are to accomplish this; however, this should be one of the bases for real governmental redesign.

Fred Senn (10) (5) (5) (10)

Clarence Shallbetter (3) (3) (2) (8)
Question 1:   I gather this device while financially unwise apparently does not result in dropping the state's credit rating and it eases the political cost in trying to balance the budget.   Unfortunately it imposes some cost on local governments who do not have reserves sufficient to carry them for the month but maybe that is something local units that receive state funds will need to include in their budgets.

Question 2:  Something to consider but major reform of the number of units of local government and of the property tax system will be needed before this step can be taken. Maybe reduction in the value of deductions on income taxes for home mortgages and property taxes should be considered before reducing or eliminating property tax relief.

Question 3:  Only if the number of cities is reduced and their boundaries or individual tax wealth is included in this step. These changes will require some time. Tom noted such a system apparently operates in Iowa but is effective only after a referendum approving the tax. If cities are given permission to access a new source of taxes why not school districts, counties, and special purpose districts. How in all this is the citizen supposed to know who they can hold politically responsible at elections?  What happens when some cities have lots of retail activity and therefore the possibility of lots of sales taxes and other cities have few retailers? Will we need another form of fiscal disparities?

Question 5:  Re-design of the revenue side of the budget is worth considering but the spending side is what is escalating at rates in excess of the cost of living.

James L. Weaver (10) (0) (0) (_)

Jan Hively (10) (4) (7) (4)

Donald Anderson (8) (5) (7) (10)

The idea of cities imposing their own sales or income tax leaves one to wonder how you could get any consistency between adjoining cities.

Glenn Dorfman (5) (10) (5) (1)

Question 3:  If we support state redesign of services and programs, why would we take the easy way out with local governments (raising revenues). Shouldn't they redesign their programs and services to make them more efficient and effective? On the matter of local revenue, two requirements: (1) the referendum be held only on a state election day (2) the state is prohibited (in the Constitution) from "equalizing local revenue" across rich and poor jurisdictions or between ones that pass the referendum and ones that cannot (like they currently do with school aids and referendums.)

Babak Armajani (10) (10) (10) (7)

Triplett's ideas restore the possibility of accountability in local government spending.  If the legislature gets out of the so called "property tax relief" business, people can actually know better who is accountable for what.

Ray Cox (10) (10) (10) (10)
LGA, after over 30 years of tinkering, should be discontinued. We do need some type of equalized solution so that small poor tax cities can continue public safety programs.    Budget shifting should be restricted to one biennium----if there is an unpaid shift from the previous biennium then no additional shifting should be allowed and all shifts should be limited to a certain percentage of the total funding.   Local sales taxes are a way to get taxing back to a local level.  I believe we should also undo the 100 percent state funding of schools and go back to an 80/20 mix between state and local taxpayers. Local taxpayers need to have some 'skin' in the game with their own schools.

Mina Harrigan (10) (4) (4) (10)

Bill Kuisle (5) (5) (0) (5)

Question 1:  This can be used as a short term borrowing tool and has been successful in the past if used right. But it takes restraint on spending.

Question 2:  It needs more reform than we did in 2003 and reduce the amount the state shells out.

Question 3:  Horrible idea. It will just bring more disparities between regional centers  and the rest of the state. We need a more uniform tax system to attract businesses and grow jobs. Not a patchwork of taxes that will only become another maze that will cause businesses to leave
Question 4:  Simple solution. Run in the primaries.

Alan Miller (9) (0) (9) (9)

John Adams (10) (_) (4) (10)

Question 2:  Discontinue property tax relief—yes; discontinue aid  to local governments—no. Local governments that rely disproportionately on property taxes have widely varying tax
capacities.  That's why we have the fiscal disparities law.  As far as property tax relief is concerned, we should not use the tax system as a welfare device.  The same argument holds for sales taxes.  A city  that hosts a regional shopping mall is lucky.  Support for essential
services should not depend on luck.  

Wayne Jennings (9) (3) (5) (8)

Kent Eklund (10) (8) (9) (10)

I think the precinct caucus system rewards intensity and the intensely connected this early in the process are the wings of the parties (left and right) and not he broad moderate middle -- part of the problem of being moderate is that politics is not a full time activity.  Until we change the process we will have the extremes in the party outlooks.  I believe we should abandon the precinct caucus system and look to a system based on primaries in the late fall and time for run-offs -- or something different than we currently have.

Tom Swain (10) (5) (10) (2)

E. Christine Schultze (10) (5) (5) (5)

George Pillsbury (10) (5) (0) (10)

Lou DeMars (10) (3) (3) (10)

In the early 70's when the state wide sales tax was passed part of the agreement was that a portion of the sales tax was to be returned to the local units of government. The cities go through all  kinds of efforts to generate business and from that business comes Sales tax revenue to the state with very little effort by the state in generating the local business.----- SO it must be replaced but I'm very suspicious of the ability of local government to get the people to pass referendums. Also those who need it the most will probably have the hardest time passing anything ---- we have too many units of government so some sort of consolidation must happen--- too many police and fire chiefs, administrators, Planning departments city councils. school boards, mayors, engineering departments etc.

Dave Hutcheson (8) (8) (8) (8)

Question 2:  discontinue only gradually, over a period of say 5-6 years.

David Dillon (10) (5) (10) (10)

Dropping state aid seems like a right idea but dropping it 100% seems like too much too fast.  I’d want to see this modeled / projected before I could be fully supportive.

David Detert (10) (0) (0) (5)

Jack Paul (6) (10) (9) (8)

Question 2:  For some smaller counties, this is indeed needed.  Otherwise, we'll continue to lose citizens to metro or move out of MN.

Question 5:  It is so frustrating to watch partisan politics in America today, which says Party 1st, the country or state 2nd. That is a failure of our democracy and it stinks.

Connie Morrison (10) (5) (10) (10)

You'd need to eliminate fiscal disparities (and you should) to make the local taxing option work.  Try to get former Gov. Arne Carlson involved in the solution.  He and Triplett are two of the state's leading creative thinkers in times like these, and should be listened to. 

Robert A. Freeman (10) (6) (7) (4)

Question 2:  Within reason – it might be better to reform the program rather than eliminate it.

Question 4:  States that have primaries don’t produce any better candidates for governors.  Problem clearly goes deeper.

Triplett makes a very good point about the pressures on health care made by individuals in the last 6 weeks of life.  We need to have an open conversation about this issue in the legislature and support the concept of living wills to ensure families have these conversations with their loved ones ahead of time so they can honor their wishes instead of medical science doing everything it can to save them if it is not what they wished for.  Medicare and Medicaid should reimburse doctors for having these conversations with relatives and enable people die with dignity.

Larry Schluter (9) (6) (8) (9)

I am almost neutral on #6 as a lot more discussion is needed here.  We have been doing property tax relief so long now that it needs to be looked at to see if should be continued, is it doing what it was suppose to do and how can it be improved.  There is probably too much of property tax relief being done. 

Dan Schultz (9) (1) (5) (7)

Bill Hamm (10) (10) (6) (10)

Question 1:  Now with that said, as your speaker said, how are you going to make it happen in today's real world. Pie in the sky doesn't do anything for us or your credibility.

Question 2:  As well as the rest of the Socialist "Minnesota Miracle" and its total failure. Do you have the courage to back that?

Question 3: The proof is in the details, so the support is very little until those details are seen.

Question 4: What is your proposal to end endorsement influence?

Sometimes I find myself wondering just how much real political experience exists in this group's leadership. Repeatedly I hear the same kind of proposals from this group that I hear from politically naïve folks on the street, get involved, participate and attend the political caucuses. We need more that the 1 out of 400 or so now attending.

Larry Connery (10) (_) (0) (5)

Question 2:  The State should fully fund state mandated programs.

Terrence Overlander (10) (0) (10) (5)

I am just so sick of partisan politics; it's time the elected officials put the welfare of the State ahead of their parties!

Ray Ayotte (5) (8) (10) (10)

Steve Pierce (10) (_) (_) (_)

Shifting is the most irresponsible thing I have seen in recent years...Simplify the property tax system then leave it alone.

Jake Sieg (10) (6) (8) (10)

If the state discontinues property tax relief and state aid to local governments, the state should also relieve local government of state mandates for certain programs.  This will give elected local government officials the ability to make decisions to balance loss of LGA with cuts in programs vs. increases in property taxes.  I would also add that local government (at least in rural MN) officials make decisions that are good government first and good politics second.  Therefore, one could argue that our voters would be better served if more authority rested in the hands of local government and state government contracted.

David Johnson (10) (0) (8) (8)

Jack Swanson (8) (2) (8) (8)

 Scott Halstead (10) (10) (10) (10)

We need to look carefully at consolidated school districts that serve multiple communities or parts of communities.

Amy Wilde (10) (2) (8) (10)

Lyall Schwarzkopf (9) (5) (6) (9)

Dennis Fink (9) (4) (6) (5)

Questions 2 & 3 are a bit simplistic.  By themselves, they tend not to provide solutions. If they are combined with offsetting recommendations that eliminate or allow local units of government some flexibility from existing mandates, a reasonable argument could be made for discontinuing the revenue.  Simply substituting one revenue stream for another does not represent redesign as defined in these documents.

Shirley Heaton (_) (_) (0) (_)

Question 3:  This business of extending taxing rights to localities begs the question of how deep is the 'income well' of middle and lower income groups? It seems to me there must be some way to mandate the  current taxing institutions to abide by the allocation of  funds. Creating a new layer of taxing requires spending more money to administer the process. I'll never forget while in Detroit as a planning consultant I met with a group of locals who wanted to 'get in on the gravy train of the Urban Renewal Program program' to renovate their main street only to learn that the administrative costs were exorbitant and unnecessary if they formed a consortium and did the job themselves.(Which they did, by the way).

Irene Koski (8) (2) (5) (9)

I think local sales or income tax should be applied state wide and then let the local jurisdictions decide to collect or no.

Rodney Bounds (5) (0) (5) (4)

Terry Stone and John Carlson (8) (8) (7) (3)

Question 1:  A case could be made for shifting expenses only if there is reasonable expectation that the next biennium budget was projected to have a substantial increase in revenues.  It would be more palatable to shift expenses one time than to amass large rainy day funds at the expense of the taxpayers to meet temporary one-time budget shortfalls.

The current trend of continually shifting expenses is nothing more than an unacceptable failure of the legislature to do its job and balance the budget without shifting expenses.  This unfortunate political behavior would be less likely if our legislators had the courage to tackle budget problems as they arose; without regard to reelection concerns or their fixation on who gets the credit for legislative initiatives.

Much like a citizen’s financial responsibility to maintain a cash equivalent reserve of three to six months of expenses, the State would be well served by a similar reserve; making it less likely to need a budget shift.

Political scientists have vigorously advocated the idea of a larger state financial reserve.  When the Minnesota budget was “balanced” in 2008, about 80% of the $625 million in state reserves was depleted.  Assuming a $60 billion biennial Minnesota budget (remember, this is dedicated funding plus the General Fund) the state was carrying a reserve of less than 8 days of operating capital.

The $125 million remaining after the 2008 “balancing of the budget” represents about 36 hours and 30 minutes of operating reserve; not quite the three to six months recommended by financial planners for personal financial responsibility.

These grim statistics support the idea of a 2010 legislative session with no bonding bill. Legislators simply need to step away from the checkbook.

As much as Minnesota politicians are currently trying to make both the 2010 session and the 2010 election all about “jobs, jobs, jobs”, sustained employment is best created by the private sector; not by following the runaway-spending model of the federal-level government. A retrenchment of common sense and the willingness to feel some pain is in order.

For the past thirty years, the Legislature has been creating Departments of Happiness. Every time a special interest group alleged unhappiness, the Legislature threw money at the situation and established a bureaucracy to administer the tax money. Now we suffer a state government that is bloated and choked with Departments of Happiness. Our “most vulnerable citizens” are now the Minnesota taxpayers.

Question 2:  Control of spending, quality of life and the proper role of government are best done at the local level. Discontinuing property tax schemes born of social planning initiatives and discontinuing LGA would greatly reduce the size and cost of state-level government.

The end of local government on autopilot would end the homogenized nature of local government where every community has about the same taxes, about the same fuel costs, about the same labor costs, about the same income tax and about the same sales tax. Communities and counties could compete for residents with real disparities in quality of life; instead of competing with homogenizing LGA money given to the community a few miles away.

Question 3:  Cities should have more local autonomy in revenue sources.  Of the 36 taxes that the State of Minnesota chooses to collect for its own operations, it is unclear why only sales and income taxes would be proposed for municipal implementation; particularly home rule charter cities.

A city may want to tax electric “green” vehicles. These heavy battery vehicles use and ablate transportation infrastructure without paying a dime of fuel tax. A city so inclined should have that authority.

Expanded municipal tax authority would bring a level of public discourse and political accountability not seen in recent times. Local politicians would need to monitor the pulse of the taxpayers far more closely. Clearly defined municipal public policy would evolve. The idea that who one votes for makes a difference would have a welcome resurgence.  There would be no more lazy summer Monday nights at City Hall.


Question 4:  Candidates aren't endorsed at precinct caucuses. Delegates to the state convention are elected at precinct caucuses.  It is these elected delegates that endorse State-level candidates at the state conventions of each party. Usually informal and nonbinding straw polls are taken at precinct caucuses; this year for the Governor's race.

In any given election cycle, and in any given race, a case can be made that the endorsement process hinders the emergence of the best candidate.

The people who will show up to a February Minnesota party caucus are a long way from average voters. Caucus attendees will put down their remote controls, start the car, travel to a public facility in likely sub-zero weather, walk across a likely icy parking lot and spend two hours in quasi-organized pandemonium. These are the uber-voters; the extremists of both parties. Little good comes from the present caucus system. It serves the party hacks of each political party very well. It’s entrenched from the precinct to the State Capitol and very hard to change.

One of the more colorful parts of the caucus system is the straw poll. These straw polls are very useful to the parties. This year’s poll will address the governorship. If the caucus attendees agree with the party mandarins, the straw poll results are a useful promotional tool for the candidate of choice.  If dissident interlopers (like rural moderates) swamp the caucuses, the parties can still override the straw poll results at the state convention.

Both parties have gubernatorial candidates plugged into their respective party power brokers and both parties have self-made public servants competing with the party machines. It will be interesting, if not useful, to observe the caucus system impact on what the party insiders have in store for us this year.

 

    

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 


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The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
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Verne C. Johnson, chair, 952-835-4549,       Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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