The most basic tenet of democracy is that political power comes directly from the people. In this light, it would seem Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s new turbo-charged truth-in-taxation proposal is a great idea. In reality, it’s not.
The idea will put a question on the truth-in-taxation notices allowing property tax payers to indicate if they are unhappy with their property tax levy. If 20 percent indicate “Yes,” the applicable district holds a referendum.
We have a representative democracy for many reasons. For starters, it is more efficient and easier for a set group in society to be fully informed of all the complexities of public policy. Furthermore, in theory, the electorate can chose the best among us to make such decisions. Sometimes, that theory is questionable.
It’s the job of elected officials to decide on public policy. At times, some decisions might be proper to put to the population at large in a referendum. This situation is not one of them.
Asking the population to support an increase in property taxes will likely leave school districts even further underfunded. Aside from individuals’ general desire to not pay more in taxes, people who do not have children who are or will be going through public schools are unlikely to support increases in property taxes, which fund public schools.
Also, we elect people to make all decisions, including the difficult ones. This would let elected officials get out of making one of the harder decisions they face: raising taxes.
There is another large problem with this idea. Renters do not technically pay property taxes. But in reality, a person’s rent goes in part to landlords’ expenses, one of them being property taxes. The state acknowledges this fact in offering renters credits, which use the same form as the property tax credit.
But renters would not be able to affect part of this process as they do not receive truth-in-taxation notices. (They would not be allowed to vote in any referendums.) As we once didn’t allow non-property owners to vote, we are now considering cutting them out of this aspect of public policy.
This new idea threatens public education funding, relieves elected officials of doing their jobs and disenfranchises a large section of the population, many of whom are low-income individuals. As such, our legislators should reject it.