Key Minn. GOP lawmaker wants to limit school districts' levy votesby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — State Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, says schools should only hold levy votes in even-numbered years, when turnout is already higher for other elections.
He plans to push for such a requirement in law when lawmakers reconvene in January. Garofalo, who chairs the House Education Finance Committee, says the levy bill will be the first his committee will discuss.
"Everybody knows that next Tuesday we're going to see unbelievably low voter turnout," Garofalo said. "The irony is at the same time we're seeing so much press about a $300-million state subsidy for a Vikings stadium, there's going to be $900 million in tax revenue on the ballot next Tuesday — and there's been very little coverage of it."
Voters in 126 school districts will see tax questions on the ballot next Tuesday. Garofalo cited data from the state Education Department that finds more than 70 percent of referenda pass during odd-numbered years, a number that falls to 52 percent during even-numbered years.
But critics say the reason for that has nothing to do with low turnout or trying to 'slip tax questions' pass voters, but rather the ability for districts to get their messages out for why they need the tax funding.
"The school election gets lost in all the campaign noise," said Scott Croonquist, a lobbyist for metro-area school districts. "For a little school district to try to get its message out in that atmosphere is really tough, if not impossible."
Garofalo's bill would not apply to so-called bond votes, which raise funds for construction projects on school property. Districts that are in what's called 'statutory operating debt' and need to balance their books also would be exempted.
Garofalo was joined at a Capitol news conference Wednesday by fellow Republican lawmakers Rep. Sarah Anderson of Plymouth and Rep. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa. Also appearing was former legislator Phil Krinkie, who is now president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota
Drazkowski also questioned the operations of odd-year school votes, which are usually held inside school buildings instead of precinct polling places.
"The elections are actually farther from the people — further removing their availability to participate in those elections," he said.
Critics counter the school building polling places consolidate resources to save taxpayer money. Other groups opposing the proposal, including the Minnesota School Boards Association, called it an attack on local control.
Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, said communities should be trusted to make their own budget decisions.
"I have not heard from a single Minnesotan who feels she needs to be protected from her predatory locally-elected school board," she said in a statement.
- All Things Considered, 11/02/2011, 5:50 p.m.