Tuesday, May 16, 2006

When and why should we vote, indeed.

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:56 PM |  

The PiPress misses the point in this editorial --

We count on legislators to strike a balance

Voting is sacred, second to nothing in a democracy. But when and why should we vote?

This is one of the central issues underlying the stadium debate at the Capitol. The leading plan to build a Twins ballpark has been approved by the Hennepin County Board, whose citizens would be taxed to help pay for it, and by the Minnesota House.
That plan could get the bulldozers moving in downtown Minneapolis without a direct vote by Hennepin County residents.

A competing plan in the Minnesota Senate includes Vikings and Twins stadiums along with transit improvements. It taxes the entire metro area at a higher rate than the Hennepin-only plan. As it came out of the Senate, it includes a referendum — a metrowide vote on whether to impose the tax. Only if voters approve could the work begin.

The Legislature requires cities and counties to get legislative approval and to hold referendums in order to raise a local sales tax. No such barrier would be imposed for a statewide tax hike to build a stadium (which would be much smaller and much fairer — but that's another issue).

Let’s pause right there to look at the parenthetical. Smaller and fairer? That’s the philosophy that has been employed to make Minnesota one of the highest taxed states in the nation. Keep taking a nickel from people that don’t really notice it and give it to the guy that hollers the loudest for government aid. Pretty soon those nickels add up.

And what is fair about taxing a person in Duluth for a stadium in Minneapolis, the consequences of which are he doesn’t spend the equivalent of the tax on something he would rather have, depriving the seller of that product or service of his legitimate profit?

You bet that’s another issue.

We are hesitant to deprive voters in Hennepin County or anywhere else of a trip to the ballot box. But voting is primarily a matter of electing the right officials — not in voting on every decision those officials make.

We agree with a comment made by House Speaker Steve Sviggum, in responding to a negative poll about the Twins stadium, who questioned whether state voters would support a bridge in Warroad, a theater on the Minneapolis riverfront or any local project. This is government, not "American Idol." Throwing every issue up for general referendum would be chaos.

Worse — it would be California, the land of 10,000 ballot initiatives.

We elect a governor and a Legislature to get well-informed on our behalf, to balance needs and desires with principles and resources, to duke it out and make decisions. If they get the balance wrong, they get tossed. By popular vote.
The PiPress is mixing apples and oranges on this one. The ballpark referendum in Hennepin County has nothing to do with initiative and referendum as practiced in California, which is, indeed, a bad idea. Minnesota has a law that says Hennepin County residents should vote on any increase in sales tax. The stadium bill passed by the house EXEMPTS the stadium from the existing law. On what criteria? Without criteria the exemption is arbitrary.

Sviggum questions whether voters would support “a bridge in Warroad, a theater on the Minneapolis riverfront or any local project.” First, let’s understand what state government should fund and what it shouldn’t. A bridge in Warroad is infrastructure. If it’s necessary, it should be funded. Theaters and like local projects are nice not necessary. They should be funded, if at all, locally.

The Hennepin County stadium plan is not a bad plan (building materials should be taxed, however). If I lived in Hennepin County, I’d be tempted to vote for it. But it should not be forced on the residents of Hennepin County without a vote.

And finally the argument that we can vote officials out of office if they don’t like the proposal. That’s well and good except the damage of a 30-year commitment is already done and can’t be undone. Voting out the perpetrators is small consolation.

Sooner or later, the cities as playgrounds philosophy is going to have consequences.