Mayoral candidates debate taxes, stadium funds

Tom Ford

Taxes were the main issue Tuesday morning as St. Paul mayoral candidates Randy Kelly and Jay Benanav faced off for yet another debate.

If elected, Kelly said he wouldn’t raise taxes during his first year in office. But such a promise is irresponsible, Benanav said.

The candidates also outlined their stances on city funding for baseball stadiums in St. Paul during the debate, broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio’s “Midday” program.

As the economy continues to slow, Kelly said, any immediate tax increase would send a terrible message to residents and businesses.

While Kelly has never supported increasing taxes in his four years as a St. Paul City Council member, Benanav said he doesn’t feel comfortable making the same promise.

Benanav said consolidating city services and making government more efficient are alternatives he’s used in the City Council instead of tax raises.

While raising taxes is a last option, he said, he won’t rule it out. He said unexpected city needs, such as increased public safety funding after the attacks last month, often arise.

“It is possible that, given our public safety needs, we may have to come up with additional money just to fund police, fire and all those other things,” Benanav said. “If we do nothing to raise the funds for that, it’s possible households may need to pay an additional five dollars to ten dollars in taxes.”

Meanwhile, the candidates were split on how to fund a possible stadium.

Benanav said he would not support any general tax increase for a new Minnesota Twins or St. Paul Saints stadium. He said he is opposed to a recent Saints proposal to move out of Midway Stadium to a new downtown locale.

The city doesn’t currently have funding for the project, he said, and moving downtown would not automatically foster economic development at the new location. He said he would support Midway Stadium renovations with public subsidies.

“The first goal of any leader has to be to keep the Twins in Minnesota and the Saints in St. Paul,” Kelly said.

Kelly criticized Benanav’s stance against a new Saints stadium, saying the Council member is not in a position to dictate where the team should go.

“They’re the users,” Kelly said. “They can get up and leave.”

He said the city must talk with the Saints to find out why the team wants to move and then come up with a plan that satisfies the needs of both the team and the city.

 

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