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Rural cities rally against amendment

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is fighting a proposed constitutional amendment that would require a supermajority vote from legislators to adopt any tax increase.

Such a requirement would hurt rural cities, argued Tim Flaherty, an attorney and lobbyist for CGMC, during a recent visit to Bemidji.

The proposal would require a supermajority vote, or three-fifths support, from both the House and Senate, to enact any tax increase.

Because it would be more difficult to raise taxes, legislators would more often turn to cutting local government aid and other programs to balance the budget, Flaherty said.

If the state were to cut K-12 education funding, school districts would be forced to rely more on referendums, he said, which usually hurts rural communities because districts in smaller, property-poor districts can't raise taxes easily.

That would create school inequality, Flaherty said.

Additionally, funding cuts to the state education systems would result in higher tuitions and cuts to funding for nursing home could lead to closures and higher unemployment.

"It's going to hurt greater Minnesota more than the rest of the state," Flaherty said.

Local legislators do not appear eager to adopt the proposal.

"I don't have much support for that," said Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji.

Sen. John Carlson, R- Bemidji, said legislators need to be "very careful" in approaching the proposal and how it would affect the public in the long-term.

"We need to think about what's right for Minnesota," Carlson said.

Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji, and Carlson both alluded to the budget deal passed in July to end the 20-day state shutdown.

No one was happy with the settlement, Hancock said.

Reform initiatives, referred to as Reform 2.0, are aimed to control that in the future, Hancock said. The supermajority proposal is just one part of that.

"I don't see it as high on the priority list," he said.

"What is high on the priority list," Carlson said, "is to make sure we don't have a shutdown again."

The proposal is among dozens of constitutional amendment proposals in the House and the Senate. With Republicans in control of both houses, amendments are one way they could past a potential veto by Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat who, for instance, vetoed four lawsuit reform initiatives.

While reform ideas may have merit, Carlson said, he was not convinced that constitutional mandates are always in the best interest of Minnesotans.

"Just because the governor says no doesn't mean we have to go past him and go the Constitution," Carlson said. xxxxx