An article in the Rochester Post Bulletin has local Tea Party Patriots boiling over. On Saturday morning, political reporter Heather Carlson reported in Frustration boils over on Rochester sales tax cuts:
Lawmakers got an earful Friday from Rochester leaders who were angry that some House lawmakers stripped $58.5 million out of the city's local option sales tax proposal.
Speaking at a Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Chub Stewart told House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, and Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, that lawmakers should stop meddling with the city's tax proposal.
"Rochester is fully capable of making intelligent decisions as to how we want to spend our money, and don't tread in that area is my recommendation to you because it is a hot subject in town," Stewart said to applause from the audience of roughly 50 gathered at the Rochester Golf and Country Club.
After listening to multiple speakers upset about the cuts, Dean apologized to the audience.
"It sounds to me like this process probably got sideways somewhere along the way and there were probably communication problems" he said. "I just want to apologize for that with the city and the folks who brought these (concerns) forward."
This is fascinating stuff. The history of what lead to Dean's apology is long, but worth reading for what it tells us about Republican "leadership" in the Minnesota House. Let's walk it back.
March 9: Rochester Chamber and Tea Party speak to tax extension
It's not as if Majority Leader Dean assists Speaker Zellers in running a legislative chamber that lacks for public committee hearings where the Chamber and other leaders from Rochester can testify. Indeed, Carlson reported back on March 10 in Tea Party members blast sales tax proposal:
. . .the measure also has a long list of supporters, including the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce. Chamber President John Wade told lawmakers that he is “about the last person who would come here to advocate for a tax,” but that the sales tax proposal is key to the city’s future.
“What I do believe is that this measure, the local option sales tax, has been well thought out, locally developed and proven results,” he said. “We believe if we get things right in our community, over the next 10 years we will grow some 8,000 jobs.”
Other backers writing letters of support include Mayo Clinic, Rochester Area Economic Development Inc. and the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Before the city of Rochester can put the sales tax proposal before the voters, it needs to get authorization from the Legislature. Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, and Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, are the chief sponsors of bills seeking that approval.
Their testimony can be viewed at archives for the March 9 Joint meeting of the Minnesota Senate Committee on Taxes and the House Committee on Property and Local Taxes Division. Of course, they weren't alone--two Rochester residents spoke against the proposal on behalf of the local Tea Party Patriots.
Their testimony, rather than that of representatives of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, the Mayo Clinic and other local business and non-profit groups, grabbed the headline in the Post Bulletin. TPP leader Cindy Maves said in part:
Members of the Rochester Tea Party Patriots ripped Rochester's proposed sales tax extension on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to vote against letting the city put it before the voters.
Cindy Maves and Max Sullivan, members of the Rochester Tea Party Patriots, said the sales tax would be used for fluff projects. Maves said the sales tax originally passed in 1983 was worthy of support because it funded needed flood control infrastructure projects. But she said this latest plan includes projects not worthy of taxpayer dollars.
"We are not renewing for infrastructure. We are renewing for frosting,” she said. . . .
March 16: Davids' committee follows Mave's advice
Apparently, the objections by the local Tea Party to allowing local citizens to vote to extend or not extend a sales tax--scheduled to sunset in 2012--took hold over the wishes of the Chamber of Commerce and its allies. On March 16, Carlson reported in $58.5 million cut from sales tax proposal:
What happened? A key House committee cut Rochester's sales tax proposal by $58.5 million for a total of $101.5 million. Axed from the proposal was $26 million for a senior center, $3.5 million for a youth center and $11 million for library expansion. It also included $18 million in cuts for economic development programs including $5 million from the Destination Medical Center, $5 million from the Rochester Area Economic Development Inc. and the entire $8 million for the downtown master plan.
Mind you: these are not projects to be paid by revenue from state taxes, but local sales taxes that would have to be approved by local voters. Carlson reports:
Members of the House Property and Local Tax Division made the cuts. The proposal heads to the Taxes Committee, chaired by Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston. Davids said he backs those cuts because the city of Rochester’s $160 million proposal was simply too big.
“The problem with the Rochester sales tax was the size. It was enormous,” Davids said.
Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede said he was disappointed by the lawmakers' actions. He said state law requires the city to get the Legislature’s approval to extend its half-cent sales tax, but the measure still has to go to the voters and they should be the ones to decide.
“(The Legislature’s) job is to only say yes you can take it to a referendum, and why they are now micromanaging an area they don’t need to be involved in is beyond me,” Brede said.
Later in the article, Davids used reasons for some cuts that are drawn from Cindy Maves' testimony.
Sales tax not a contested issue in 2010 Rochester Lynch-Nelson senate race
All of this is quite curious stuff. Extending the sales tax didn't seem a make or break issue in Rochester's state legislative race last fall; in fact, the Post Bulletin reported that both former state senator Ann Lynch and senator Carla Nelson, who defeated her, supported keeping Rochester's sales tax (Heather Carlson, "Lynch, Nelson differ on how to support jobs, economy," Post-Bulletin, October 21, 2010, Nexis All-News, accessed 3/27/2011).
March 25: Country Club Republicans
But while the Republican leadership might turn a blind eye to Davids' committee cutting projects on because Cindy Maves said so, after a luncheon meeting at the Rochester Golf and Country Club, Dean has learned that leadership also means always having to say you're sorry (if it's Minnesota's third largest city and a swing city that's playing a huge and "fishy" role in 2012 election calculus).
For Downey, it means promising something else:
Downey, a member of the House Taxes Committee, pledged to the audience that he would personally work on addressing Rochester's concerns by putting together a closed-door meeting between city officials and lawmakers to come to a solution. That promise won applause from the audience.
March 26-27: A Tea Party Urgent Action Item
Naturally, this offer--served up at a country club, no less--drew the ire of Rochester's Tea Party Patriots, who issued the following urgent action item (typography preserved from the original post; email contact info redacted to prevent spamming of lawmakers' accounts)
Urgent Action Item!
We need Emails and Phone calls to go out NOW!!!!!
Country Club, Closed Door Meetings to Discuss the Rochester Sales Tax Extension!This bill and other Tax bills will be voted on Monday in House of Representatives.
Tea Party Patriots Must take action to Call and Email House representatives Now and Early Monday Morning to tell them "No new Taxes! We want you to keep your Promises".
Did you see the Saturday night front page Rochester Post Bulletin article "Frustration boils over on Rochester sales tax cuts"? Rep. Matt Downey was blasted at a Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Country Club because the House cut 58.5 million dollars out of the Rochester City Sales Tax Extension. Downey pledged to personally put together a "Closed Door Meeting with City officials and lawmakers to come to a solution".
Will our Legislators Cave to the Country Club Chamber of Commerce members and City Officials to add the 58.5 million dollars back in to the Sales Tax bill?
NO NEW TAXES!
The key Members to contact are:
House Majority Leader: Matt Dean (R) 651-296-3018 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 651-296-3018 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Rep. Mike Benson (R) 651-296-4378 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 651-296-4378 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Rep. Duane Quam (R) 651-296-9236 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 651-296-9236 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Rep. Gregg Davids (R) 651-296-9278 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 651-296-9278 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Make sure you tell them you are from the Rochester area and this effects YOU!
Rochester Tea Party Patriots have already made a difference by getting 58.5 Million dollars cut from this sales tax! We Need YOU to keep the pressure on!
To sum up
Personally, I'm all for letting the citizens of Rochester vote the sales tax up or down as originally proposed. What's fascinating is watching Dean, Downey, Davids and the rest of the Republican majority in the House pretzel themselves as they try to serve two masters--the business community and the Tea Party Republican base that swept them back into power.
Photos: Rochester Tea Party Patriot leader Cindy Maves raves at the joint committee hearing on March 9 (above, via PB); House Majority Leader Matt Dean (below, via PIM).