We have to give Rep. Paul Torkelson high marks for honesty. At a Chamber of Commerce Hot Topics Breakfast Friday Torkelson faced a roomful of business owners who were incensed over the property tax increases they will be facing this year, increases that come as a result of changes approved by the Legislature in the heat of the government shutdown last July.
As part of the budget bill compromise, Republican legislators approved, and Gov. Mark Dayton signed, a law that removed the state's Homestead Property credit, and replaced it with something called the Homestead Market Value Exclusion system.
One of the unintended consequences of this change is its impact on the local tax base. Instead of the state paying a portion of a homesteaded property's tax bill to the county, the method lowers the valuation of a homesteaded property. So the property owner pays less tax. But the local units of government still need x number of dollars, so the burden shifts to other properties, especially high value homes and commercial properties.
Torkelson admitted that many legislators didn't realize the impact of the bill they voted for. It was worked out quickly among the government leaders and ramrodded through.
It's not the first time legislators and Congress have passed faulty legislation due to the need for speed as legislative deadlines loom. It happens all too often these days. Minnesota has an incredibly complex system of property taxation. You can't just tweak it without examining the consequences. Last minute fixes usually result in breakdowns somewhere else.
But as long as legislators refuse to sit down and hold rational discussions on the issue of tax policy, we expect this kind of legislation will be the norm.