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Column: A correction, and more reasons to not trust Ag2School

By Don Brink and Rob Kremer, Co-chairs, Worthington Citizens for Progress WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington Citizens for Progress Committee stands opposed to District 518's $68,500,000 school building proposal for a wide range of reasons. Even if th...

By Don Brink and Rob Kremer, Co-chairs, Worthington Citizens for Progress

WORTHINGTON - The Worthington Citizens for Progress Committee stands opposed to District 518’s $68,500,000 school building proposal for a wide range of reasons. Even if the Ag2School tax credit for agricultural landowners was guaranteed to be funded for the life of any bond, it wouldn’t aid beleaguered homeowners and small businesses who face large new property tax increases. And, keep in mind, Ag2School would only cover an estimated 19.6 percent of the district’s annual debt service levy in the first full year.

 

We do need to correct a recent public and unintended factual error we made - an error we think detracts little from our point, but is our error nonetheless. We thank the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) for bringing it to everyone’s attention in their recent editorial in The Globe. We did not know that “annually appropriated” meant a type of appropriation that was fixed into the budget process and could not be removed without an active vote of the legislature. We took “annually appropriated” as an adjective describing an action verb, meaning the appropriation had to be made each year. Our recent editorial characterizing the nature of any legislative “vote” was wrong, and we apologize to the voters of District 518 for our mistake.

 

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But more has since come to light! District 518’s recent mailer is quoting only a part of Sen. Bill Weber’s statement on the Ag2School credit. He provided us the full statement, and here below is a part the school district left out. “In past years, the habit of dipping their hand into education funds has been something for which the legislature has been soundly criticized. That does not mean it cannot happen, but a future legislature will need to look at such action with the knowledge that they would be accused - and rightly so - of raising taxes by removal of this provision.”  

 

Habits are not known to be occasional occurrences. What habit is Sen. Weber referring to?  We’ve been cautioning for the last year that the “season of plenty” for the Minnesota state budget could come to an end. Media reports this week state that budget forecasters are now seeing a possible $586 million shortfall in the state’s annual budget three years out. There is plenty in the state’s rainy-day fund for now, but how soon might this “habit” again come upon the legislature - especially when the state’s unfunded pension liabilities of $33.4 billion dwarfs this rainy-day fund?  

 

More so, we asked Sen. Weber to distinguish between the criticism the legislature received in the past where funds were pulled from all Minnesota schools as opposed to the limited criticism they’d receive when Ag2School would be pulled from just rural farmers. He hasn’t answered us yet. Keep in mind this “habit” would not be like pulling state aid from metro schools. And more importantly, the rural schools would still get their money when the state doesn’t fund Ag2School. The only people left to criticize the state legislators will be a handful of farmers.

 

Contrary to the Minnesota Rural Education Association’s (MREA) assurance in their Globe editorial, once their special interest benefactors (bond dealers and big contractors) get the rural areas of Minnesota buried in school debts and property taxes, what further interest would they have in annually monitoring or fighting to maintain Ag2School when this legislative “habit” starts back up?  

 

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Keep in the mind the MREA held a breakout session at their state convention last month (Nov. 13), which was co-taught by an engineering company and ICS Consulting Inc. on how to pass school referendums in rural Minnesota. One point they spent time on was how to overcome opposition committees like ours.  The MREA is training school personnel on how to defeat rural taxpayers! And worse, the ICS company doing this training is the very company helping Superintendent Landgaard try to pass District’s 518’s $68.5 million proposal Feb. 13, 2018.   

 

And this brings us back to the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. The MCGA is the only ag group listed as an associate member of the MREA. The Minnesota corn growers we’ve spoken to are stunned to learn their check-off money is being spent to support the MREA’s political training of school officials on how to raise massive land taxes on corn growers. We’ve written the MCGA and asked how much they’ve donated to the MREA over the past five years. We’ve not heard back from them nor expect to.  

 

Further, President Hettver’s rebuttal in The Globe to our claim of the MCGA’s ineffectiveness on the buffer law confirmed our very point. Hettver boasted of all the work they did to “address concerns with the buffer law.” Exactly right! They only addressed concerns after it became law and did little to nothing to stop in the first place. In fact, when Hettver took the microphone at a buffer law meeting held last Thursday on a farm near Johnson, he made the same remarks regarding MCGA’s working on alternative practices and other concerns with the law. Marshall County farmer Brad Berg stood up and replied, “The alternative practices are not working and the Corn Growers Association really did nothing to stop the buffer law from getting passed in the first place.” Others in the room report most of the 75 farmers in the meeting broke out in applause in support of Berg’s criticism of the MCGA.  

 

With the MCGA not fighting for corn growers on the buffer law - while at the same time paying for the political training of school administrators wanting to raise unwarranted land taxes on Minnesota farmers - we have no confidence they, nor the MREA, will annually work to protect Ag2School.

 

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In the end, the WCPC believes the shaky Ag2School (no matter the savings) should not be used to justify a school building proposal which is extravagant, profligate, and far beyond our needs and means.

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