After being heard in the House Education Finance Committee and being recommended to pass and re-referred to the House Tax Committee, HF 3224 received its second hearing today; this one in the House Property Tax Division. A great set of school personnel have provided solid testimony as to what the increased equalization, increase in the local option revenue, and increase in long term facilities maintenance revenue would mean for their districts. Mark Stotts, Director of District Operations for the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District has testified before both committees on the importance of increased equalization for the operating referendum and local option revenue (and an increase in local option revenue). Seth Putz, the maintenance supervisor for Lake of the Woods School District has handled the tesitmony relating to the increase in long term facilities maintenance revenue in front of both panels as well. Background on the need to expand eligibility for long term facilities maintenance revenue to included rural cooperatives was given by Hiawatha Valley Education District director Deb Marcotte in the Education Finance Committee and Northern Lights Special Education Cooperative director Dena Hagen in the Property Tax Division. Testimony on increasing debt service equalization was provided by Kasson-Mantorville superintendent Mark Matuska in the Education Finance Committee and St. Michael-Albertville superintendent Ann Marie Foucault in the Property Tax Divison. I’ve had the honor of putting a wrap on the tesitmony by providing some historical background on how the property tax fits (and often times has not fit) in the education funding system before both committees.
One of the real plusses this year is that the equalization effort is being supported across a broad spectrum of education groups. Having worked on this issue intensely over the past thirty years, I can attest that hasn’t always been the case. So it’s really heartening to see so much of the education community working together on this bill. I’d like to say it’s because of my charm, but I fully realize that: (1) equalization has not kept pace with increases in property wealth to the point that it is causing dramatic inequities in the property tax effort required to raise revenue locally, and (2) I’m not that charming. At any rate, it’s going to take a combined effort to make progress in this area this year and I’m happy to see that happening.
A data run showing the benefits of HF 3224 was posted online today and it takes a bit of explaining. The far right hand column on the sheet shows the total property tax reduction for each school district. Because there is a $101 per pupil unit increase in local option revenue for all districts and a $120 increase in long term facilities maintenance revenue for all but 25 districts, a number of districts–particularly those with high levels of property wealth–will see a property tax increase. The increases in the equalizing factors for the local option revenue, operating referendum, and debt service categories are set at a level in the bill that more than offset the levy increases for a vast majority of districts.
SF 3554, the Senate companion to HF 3224, has yet to be heard, but I believe the Senate will want to do something in this area and with the committee deadlines approaching, we may see something materialize in the next couple of weeks.