CONTACT: Ann Busche, Director Public Health & Services, 218-726-2097
Governor Pawlenty vetoes St. Louis County Human Services Aid;
County-wide property tax increase of nearly 4% is feared
Last Friday, Governor Pawlenty put his line item veto pen to a provision in the Omnibus Health and Human Services Bill which could result in St. Louis County property owners paying an additional 4% in property taxes next year.
The vetoed provision, technically called the MR/RC Waiver Repayment Forgiveness, was drafted to aid St. Louis, Fillmore, and Steele counties which did not achieve state-mandated cuts to services for the developmentally disabled resulting from legislative action during the State Budget Crisis of 2003. The State has recently filed a request with the federal government to continue the program for five more years. Documentation included in the request indicates that Minnesota counties’ management of the program saves the state and federal governments approximately $400 million each year compared with the cost of serving individuals in institutional facilities.
“After counties saved the State several hundred million dollars by offering this alternative service, this is the kind of thanks we get from our Governor.” stated Bill Kron, St. Louis County Board Chair. “Since the county administers the MR/RC Waiver on behalf of the state, we are going to have to seriously reconsider continuing this partnership,” Kron added. “We must explore future legislation transferring this program back to the State. A one-way partnership is not our definition of the word partnership.”
Second District Commissioner, Steve O’Neil of Duluth, Chair of the County Board’s Health & Human Services Committee, expressed outrage over the veto, saying, “Just a few weeks ago, the Governor vetoed legislation that would have asked the most able in our state - the top 1% of wage earners - to pay a slightly higher income tax, in part, to provide sufficient services to our most vulnerable. Now, he turns around and vetoes this provision! The Governor is helping those who don’t need help at the expense of those who do.”
St. Louis County Administrator, Dana Frey, expressed special thanks to the St. Louis County Legislative Delegation for their excellent work in getting the MR/RC Waiver provision to the Governor’s desk. He especially thanked Representative Tom Huntley and Senators Yvonne Prettner-Solon and Tony Lourey for “their hard work on the Omnibus Human Services Bill Conference Committee.”
In order to deal with the Governor’s unexpected veto, Frey stated, “I will be recommending an immediate, county-wide hiring freeze as well as other belt tightening measures to the County Board. It is shameful that local property tax payers should have to pay for what technically should be a State obligation,” said Frey. “First and foremost, we want to minimize the future property tax impact that this veto will have on our property owners.”