Posted at: 07/25/2012 7:08 PM
By: Laura Lee
Sales Tax for Higher Education
(ABC 6 News ) -- Residents will have a lot to consider this November.
The Voter ID Amendment, the Gay Marriage Amendment, and for residents in Rochester, a Local Option Sales Tax.
Once the polls open this November citizens of Rochester will have the power to vote yes or no to the half cent Local Sales Tax Reauthorization.
Since 1983, Rochester's Local Option Sales Tax was created to help with immediate needs like flood control and construction projects.
'It's a way to invest existing residential dollars as well as dollars of visitors who come into the community," says Craig Johnson, Director of Winona State University Rochester.
Voters have continued to re-authorize the sales tax, and over the years higher education has also become a focus of those funds.
"I don't think there is a community, maybe not one in the midwest, that the citizens step up and support the public higher education through the local sales tax," says President Don Supalla at Rochester Community Technical College.
But some would argue, some of the new projects fall outside of the description of a local sales tax purpose.
"The local sales tax has expired, we have spent it on things it was intended to be done, for us to create a wish list process is not what local sales tax was intended to do," says former State Representative Fran Bradley.
Of the ten new items on the reauthorization plan, three are focused around higher education.
RCTC wants to build a C-Tech and STEM Village fostering a secondary vocational facility combining efforts between them and Winona State University, a price tag of $6.5 million.
The college also wants to complete Phase III of the Rochester Regional stadium, the cost would be $6 million.
"I don't see it as we're spending $12.5 million, I see it as we are investing $12. 5 million in our future," says Supalla about the two projects for RCTC.
The third project involves building new academic and complementary facilities to support the University of Minnesota Rochester (UMR) in downtown Rochester.
All three -- total $26.5 million in higher education.
Supalla says a local sales tax is the best way to afford the commodities of the future. "We're going to need those facilities, somebody has to build them the project is valuable enough its going to have to be there, its just a matter of where the money will come from."
"In higher education, it doesn't make sense, its supposed to be for capital, not programmatic types of things," says Bradley.
With establishments like Mayo Clinic and IBM, Rochester is pegged as a economically driven community and that means education here should mirror that as well.
"If we do it locally, provide it locally, it'll be more likely for it to be used, and with STEM, if we use it to support K-12, it will then come back and support us," says Johnson.
"I don't have an issue with any of the particular projects, I think its a flawed process, I think there are income streams instead of meeting a really critical need with the potential of option sales tax, we go searching for ways to spend and go searching for a tax, " says Bradley.
"If you don't pay for these with a local sales tax, its one of two things, a referendum or higher property taxes," says Supalla.
It is an all or nothing deal. In order for the higher education projects to move forward, all of the other items have to be approved.
For a full list of the ten items, we've posted a link under featured links.