Sept. 18, 2006

Lobbyist advises against vehicle sales tax amendment

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Nancy Larson of Dassel, a lobbyist with the Coalition for Greater Minnesota Cities, advised Dassel Area Chamber of Commerce members to vote down the proposed motor vehicle sales tax constitutional amendment in November.

The coalition of the Farmers Union and Farm Bureau don’t support it because the wording is misleading, said Larson, who recently switched to the coalition from the Minnesota Association of Small Cities, MASC.

Larson was a lobbyist with the association for the past 18 years, but MASC also worked with the coalition she works for now, she said. Larson spoke at the chamber meeting Tuesday in Hojies Grill & Smokehouse in Dassel.

The coalition is against the amendment because the transportation funding it provides previously has been going into the state’s general fund. As a result, a cutback in general fund revenue will hurt pressing needs like education and health care. It could also lead to possible tax increases to fill the gap, she said.

The second reason the amendment should be voted down is because it tricks and misleads voters into thinking 60 percent of the money raised from the motor vehicle sales tax will be guaranteed for roads. It won’t. Only the 40 percent used for public transit is guaranteed, Larson said.

The 60 percent that voters think is going to roads might be used for additional mass transit funds, roads only in the metro area, rest stops, or other uses instead, she said.

The coalition prefers a different division of the funds, guaranteed 40 percent for mass transit, guaranteed 40 percent for roads and highways, and 20 percent for flexibility, Larson said.

More people die in vehicle accidents in rural Minnesota than in the metro area because of bad roads. Larson recalled a recent trip across the South Dakota border in which it was obvious she went from good roads in South Dakota to poor roads in Minnesota, she said.

Also, Minnesota has roads all over the state. It’s not like in Arizona, where people are clustered in cities, and roads are concentrated there, she said.

Larson also detailed the coalition’s other goals for greater Minnesota. The coalition wants to restore Local Government Aid, LGA, to the level in which cities provide “the services that you have to have,” she said.

Dassel has to be a community where people want to settle, Larson said.

Little things, such as flowers on the corner, or fixing up the fronts of the downtown businesses, make a difference. Volunteers can help, but cities still need that LGA funding. Larson said.

The coalition gathered property tax information after the state cut LGA a few years ago. Property taxes went up 13 percent in rural areas, 11 percent statewide and 10 percent in the metro area, she pointed out.

School funding is the second critical component of healthy Minnesota cities. Dassel Cokato school district’s good schools attract people to the community, she said.

The challenge for Larson as a lobbyist has been “How can we sell our stuff?” she said. “We tend to not have as many speaking out for rural.”

Many legislatures appear to ignore issues that are important to rural areas. To get their attention, MASC members published a mini-newspaper about issues important to them. “Some people (legislators) got so furious,” Larson said about the many who read and looked at the newspaper.

“It made a big impression,” she said.

The association also published candidate survey forms and set up candidate forums.

“It’s important that all of you talk to your legislators,” Larson said.

People in the metro area can send lobbyists to the legislature everyday because the Capitol is nearby. In rural areas, on the other hand, residents are far away from St. Paul or live in very large legislative districts, she pointed out.

The third goal of the coalition is economic development in greater Minnesota. The people who process grant applications always ask whether it will benefit residents statewide. They usually don’t consider economic development in Dassel as a “statewide” benefit. The coalition wants to change that, Larson said.

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