Two Brainerd area lawmakers have differing takes on what the 2001 Legislature's property tax reform will mean for their district.
Rep. Dale Walz, R-Brainerd, said area residents will see a drastic reduction in their property taxes and area businesses will see reductions of about 10 percent.
"The average homeowner in the state will see close to a 25 percent reduction," Walz said today.
The education bill includes $381 million in additional funding for state schools, three times what Gov. Jesse Ventura had requested, Walz said in a news release.
Sen. Don Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd, supported the tax bill but with many reservations. He termed the legislation as short-term gain and long-term pain.
"Everyone knew these bills had to pass," Samuelson said.
Throughout the legislative session he warned that the property tax reform would adversely affect rural Minnesota in years to come since the biggest gainers were businesses and the owners of high-priced homes, most of which are in the Twin Cities area.
"The metro area made out like thieves in the night," he said.
Samuelson predicted that in two years the state will require increased revenues to pay for its takeover of education funding and the beginning of a takeover of out-of-home placement costs for children and court system costs.
The Legislature said no to Ventura's plan to expand the state sales tax but it may be hard to say no in future legislative sessions because the state will need the money, Samuelson said.
Another change related to the shift in education funding from property taxes to the state is the loss of the property taxes from this area's seasonal-recreational properties.
Samuelson said another example of rural Minnesota losing out to the metro area is the mass transit bill with $95 million going to the Twin Cities area and $6 million to outstate Minnesota.
Of the 30 cities in his district, Samuelson said 26 came out with less state aid in this session. Cities can levy taxes but in certain areas the small city residents just don't have the ability to pay increased taxes that will be necessary to keep up with inflation and provide services, Samuelson said.
For Walz, who completed his first legislative session, the experience was a great one. He said that at some times, however, the process was frustrating and overwhelming.
"In the end, there were good, balanced bills and we did not shut down any parts of state government," Walz said. "I'm glad we got done."
Walz authored a bill that allows full-time military personnel who are stationed out of Minnesota but who claim state residency an exemption for their military pay. He was unsuccessful in exempting the first $3,000 in military pay for National Guard and Reserve members, but said he'll try again next year. Such a provision was in state law from 1942 until 1987.
Another bill Walz successfully authored provides outstate law enforcement agencies with $500,000 worth of grants to apply for in their efforts to curb meth labs. Walz is a captain with the Baxter Police Department.
"There are a ton of them and we've got to get a handle on them," Walz said.
Walz said he understands the frustration people felt as they watched the legislative process go into overtime.
"When people look at what we did accomplish I think they will, hopefully, be forgiving," he said.
Successful legislation identified by Samuelson that will affect District 12 includes $79,000 for the military museum at Camp Ripley, $50,000 for the Little Elk historical preservation site in Morrison County and $150,000 for a one-time matching grant for a technology center in Ironton. In addition, the Legislature authorized an expenditure to remodel space at the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center that is used for a Brainerd School District special education program. The school district will reimburse the state. Also, the Little Falls School District received a $400,000 loan to help it out of financial troubles.
"There's always some good and some bad," Samuelson said of the legislative session. "There'll be a lot of fixing to do in the future."
Rep. Steve Wenzel, DFL-Little Falls, could not be reached for comment this morning.
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