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Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Letters to the Editor

To the editor:

Though most of us stopped wearing the uniform years ago, American Legion veter­ans have a deep-seated need to continue serving their com­munities. Two Harbors Post 109 is one of 537 American Legion posts throughout Min­nesota, 193 of them having charitable gambling opera­tions. We use the funds to car­ry out our four pillars: Veter­ans Affairs & Rehabilitation, National Security, Children & Youth, and Americanism. That is why The American Legion Department of Minnesota op­posed the state legislature’s changes to e-pull tabs last year so strongly, alongside many other organizations with chari­table gambling.

Veterans service organiza­tions, athletic associations, fire-relief associations, non­profits, bars, and restaurants with charitable gambling op­erations became very con­cerned about their futures with the passing of the Minnesota legislature’s tax omnibus bill. The new law specified that e-games with all fea­tures, bonus games, and free plays needed to be taken off the market by December 31, 2024.

In this legislative session, charitable gambling received support from an unexpected source: sports betting. Rep. Zack Stephenson’s bill, HF 2000, was heard in the House State & Local Government Finance & Policy Committee on March 21. The A21 amend­ment contained the language to fund cuts to charitable gam­bling taxes in a phased ap­proach resulting in about $40 million by the third year. State taxes on sports betting will fund these charitable gam­bling tax cuts.

Our more than 50,000 Amer­ican Legion Department of Minnesota members agreed to prioritize advocating for these tax cuts because we think this will have the biggest impact. The funds we donate help fi­nance honor guards at burial ceremonies, outdoor recre­ation for disabled veterans, sui­cide prevention programs, and stopgap funding for homeless veterans. We donate to area school programs to support our children. We also partner with nonprofit human services or­ganizations near our posts. We fund youth sports scholarships and equipment for local fire departments. Funding is also provided for local parades, fireworks displays, county fairs, school flags, marching band uniforms, football head­sets, international sister-city efforts, and wheelchair-friend­ly playground equipment. The Two Harbors local American Legion Post 109 has donated more than $31,000 annually to support veterans charities, local schools, youth programs, homeless shelters, and food pantries.

What I am describing to you represents the best of Ameri­ca, and these traditions need to continue.

I hope your readers will join us in supporting HF 2000 and its Senate companion, SF1949. Contact your state lawmak­ers in both the House and the Senate today to let them know you expect these tax cuts to go through under the sports bet­ting bill, to the benefit of all Minnesotans.

Chris Belfield
Commander, Anderson-Claffy American Legion Post 109
Two Harbors, Minnesota

Seasonal Tax Base Replacement Aid is Needed for Education Fairness:

The 2001 legislative session saw major changes to the state’s property tax system and one of the results was that seasonal properties, “cabins” if you will, were taken off the school district operating levy tax rolls. The result was an impoverished local tax base for schools to try and convince local voters to levy against. The legislature wasn’t so gen­erous with the seasonal prop­erties either as they now pay into the state’s general busi­ness levy. Yes, the state col­lects property taxes as well as those of local governments. The result is a $40 million infusion into the state’s general fund from seasonal property tax revenue and on the flip side, 92 school districts, primarily in central and northern Minnesota, are struggling to generate operat­ing levy funds.

Operating levies were creat­ed to allow voters to decide if they wanted to have “extras” for students as they journeyed through their educational ex­periences. However, with state funding for education failing to keep up with inflation over the last 20 years, operating levies are now used to simply pay the bills, for basic staffing, support services, and supplies. This is at a time when schools are being asked to do more for students and families.

State aid for school district levy equalization was the in­tended program to level the playing field for operating lev­ies, aimed at helping property poor school districts. Howev­er, the state has significantly backed away from its share of help in this program. In 2018 the state was pumping in al­most $150 million towards $625 million of local operat­ing levies, about 24% of the effort. Fast forward to 2023 and the state’s share has fall­en to less than $28 million on just over $810 million in local operating levies, about 3.4% of the effort. All this addition­al financial burden on local taxpayers is one of the rea­sons that passing a local op­erating levy has become more difficult to pass, especially in “lakes country.”

Asking the legislature to re­store hundreds of millions of dollars into levy equalization is a tall order and yes, it’s a long-term goal they should make progress towards. How­ever, in the meantime we see a more targeted and cost-effec­tive approach being offered in this legislative session.

HF4986 (Rep. Dave Lisle­gard) & SF4995 (Sen. Grant Hauschild) would create a “seasonal tax base replace­ment aid” that would send state general fund dollars to school districts that have voter approved operating levy au­thority in place, with further action required by the legisla­tion that the school must then reduce the price of the operat­ing levy locally, based on the aid they receive. The amount of aid is determined based on how much seasonal property is in the school district. Some schools in central and north­ern Minnesota could see local levy burdens reduced by up­wards of 50%.

The legislation is triggered by the existence of voter ap­proved authority and it doesn’t matter when the vote occurred therefore, existing levies would see an immediate reduction of $8.5 million around the state if the bill is passed into law. The legislation doesn’t change how seasonal property is taxed and it still requires voters to approve an operating levy. The growth of this program would be slow as communi­ties discuss the new program and its potential impacts on educational services and tax­es. It’s a pragmatic approach that comes with a cost of sev­eral million to the state instead of hundreds of millions to the state when compared to tradi­tional levy equalization pro­grams. Lastly, the legislation is a recognition of the state’s taking of this seasonal proper­ty and that it is needed to cre­ate more fairness in our educa­tion funding system.

What can you do? Contact your State Representative and Senator. Ask them to become co-authors on HF4986 and SF4995. Ask them to also ad­vocate for the passage of this bill. You can also spread the word about the bill. Ask others to also get engaged in help­ing get this much needed bill passed.

All students in Minneso­ta deserve fair and equitable funding, and the disparities in school levy programs must be addressed. Our children are our future and the education we provide them in every cor­ner of the state is the best in­vestment we can make. It will take all of us to make sure this bill comes to fruition, but the seeds have been planted. Now, let us continue to water it and watch it bloom and grow. Our children are counting on us, so let’s get it done!!

John Ward
Baxter, MN

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