Half-cent sales tax is a term Minnesotans are familiar with. They might see it occasionally on a city council agenda or read in the newspaper that the type of funding was used for a community project. However, it is not a casual issue by any means.
Sales-tax funds help fund growth and development in communities. In some cases, projects would not be able to move forward for area cities. In fact, it is so important some area cities banded together this year to lobby for an extension of the sales tax that expires in 2017.
The half-cent sales tax was first approved in a referendum in 2002 by the cities of Sartell, St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids and St. Augusta. Residents in the cities of St. Joseph and Waite Park followed suit in 2004 and voted to take part in regional half-cent sales-tax collection and distribution. In 2006, voters in those six cities voted in another referendum to extend the sales tax to 2018.
The city of St. Joseph was the first city to vote in support of hiring a lobbyist to help in an effort to extend the sales tax to 2038. A recent action by Gov. Mark Dayton has stalled those efforts, according to media reports. Dayton vetoed a GOP bill May 4 that would have included tax breaks for businesses but meant taking money from the state’s reserves.
The move halted authorization of a referendum to extend the St. Cloud area sales tax. It’s unfortunate when plans that could aid area cities get caught in the crossfire of lawmaking. Wouldn’t it be nice if issues could stand on their own and not fall with the majority? When it comes to government, that might be inevitable.
When it comes to half-cent sales tax, the impact this funding source can have in shaping a community should not be forgotten. Residents decide what the sales tax collected can be used for as a way to make sure projects serve a community-focused purpose. In these tough economic times, more time to learn about how and for what this money can be used for is a worthwhile endeavor. As lawmakers continue discussions of tax bills and the future of the state, one must hope they don’t forget about struggling cities working to maintain services and better their communities.