Hennepin, Dakota Counties approve sales tax hikeby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
People who live in and shop in another two Twin Cities-area counties will pay a higher sales tax, starting in July. The Hennepin and Dakota County Boards approved the tax today.
St. Paul, Minn. — Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka and Dakota Counties have voted to raise their sales tax starting in July. Carver and Scott counties rejected the idea.
Washington County is saving the closest vote for last. The board is meeting right now, and the final vote is all but guaranteed to be 3-2. The only question is which side gets the three.
Everything seems to be resting there on Commissioner Dick Stafford, who wasn't sure, even after the board met twice for so-called workshop meetings.
"I made up a T-square and I put plusses on one side and minuses on the other. At the end of two workshops, my plusses and minuses were darn near equal," said Stafford.
"What's the dilemma is I understand the people who are against it; I understand the people who are supporting it. It's not a comfortable spot but I'll tell ya, I'm not a coward."
For Stafford, this will easily be his most important vote... He has been on the board only a few weeks and was not even elected; he was appointed to the post after the last commissioner died.
Stafford's vote will cap two weeks of voting by the seven metro county boards who all had to decide whether to raise sales taxes a quarter percent to pay for mass transit, an issue that has generated a number of emails and phone calls to commissioners in every county.
Last week, Ramsey and Anoka said yes, Carver said no. Today, Hennepin and Dakota said yes, Scott said no.
And the arguments today on both sides of the issue were similiar to those made last week.
"It is a tough economy out there and I think this is really bad timing to try to do this, as much as people have worked for this," said Hennepin Commissioner Penny Steele, who voted no.
"The traffic has grown so appreciably in my district, on Interstate 35," said Dakota Commissioner Michael Turner, who voted yes. We have to find alternative ways for people to get across the river and get to their jobs and get to where they're going."
"This really does start a new level of government and we've already got a number of bodies with taxing authority that could take care of this issue, and now we're going to add another one to it," said Scott County Commissioner Bob Vogel, whose board unanimously rejected the tax.
Vogel was so personally opposed to the sales tax, he got the board to take out a line in this morning's resolution that said Scott County might re-consider the vote in the future.
For the four, maybe five, counties that raise the tax, that money will now go into one pot and a new board will be created to decide how to spend the money.
That board will include commissioners from participating counties, but their votes will be weighted, depending on a county's population and how much tax money is generated.
In other words, Hennepin and Ramsey County will have more say in what gets funded. That was a concern raised by some commissioners in smaller counties, where they feared not getting back as much money as they put in.
And that's likely to be a point being debated right now, in fact, in Washington County.
Commissioners are including a chance for public comment at tonight's meeting, and at least two commissioners say they expect a big crowd and a late vote.
- All Things Considered, 04/01/2008, 5:20 p.m.