- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014
2 takes on Minnesota property taxes blur picture

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - New projections about how much Minnesota homeowners, businesses and others will pay in property taxes this year have set off a dispute among Democrats and Republicans.

The Department of Revenue released figures late Friday, but the feud carried into Monday and will undoubtedly persist into the fall campaign.

Democrats insist they’ve reversed a tide of ever-rising property taxes. Republicans say it’s sleight of hand, and they point to the overall amount that will be collected.

There is truth to arguments both sides are using, but plenty of context is being left out as they angle for advantage.

Here are some questions and answers that might help sort through the spin:

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Minn. property tax report paints scattered picture

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The final tally of property taxes due this year presents a mixed bag, with levies rising in some places but falling in others.

The Minnesota Department of Revenue has posted jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction details on levies approved by counties, cities, townships, school districts and other taxing entities.

According to the data, levies are up in 58 counties and are flat or falling in the remaining 29. There are 470 cities that imposed at least some levy increase while 378 have no change or are cutting their levies.

Value, location and type of property determine individual property tax bills.

In all, taxing authorities will collect $125 million more than in 2013. But lawmakers also approved $133 million in extra refunds and credits that qualifying homeowners can claim.

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Senators back higher bar for voter amendments

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Constitutional amendments favored by one political party but not the other, like the two failed measures from 2012 to ban gay marriage and require photo identification for voting, would become much less frequent under a proposal a state Senate committee backed Monday.

Bill sponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, told the Senate State Government Committee that the state constitution should have a stronger cushion against partisan pressures. Right now, a simple majority vote of the House and Senate sends an amendment to the statewide ballot; the governor has no power to stop it. Bakk’s amendment, if it makes the 2014 ballot and is approved by voters, would require that all proposed amendments clear a 60 percent supermajority in the House and Senate in order to make the ballot.

“I think this is a discussion the Legislature should have this year,” said Bakk, DFL-Cook. “Amending the constitution is really, really important business.”

In 2012, Republicans who controlled the House and Senate sent the voter ID requirement and gay marriage ban to the November ballot over the objection of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL legislators, then in the minority. Voters defeated both measures. In 2006, Democrats used the legislative majority to forward an amendment to require that the state’s sales tax on motor vehicles only be spent on transportation projects, which passed.

Sen. Dick Cohen, sponsoring a bill similar to Bakk’s, said none of those amendments would have made the ballot under a supermajority requirement.

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Couple dies of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning

CROOKSTON, Minn. (AP) - A rural Crookston couple has died of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning in their home and two of their daughters are being treated.

Polk County sheriff’s authorities say 49-year-old Kent Ostgaard and his 51-year-old wife, Natalie, were found dead after a 911 call Monday morning.

Twenty-two-year-old daughter Aryanna Ostgaard was unconscious but still breathing. Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Jim Tadman says she is in critical condition at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

Tadman says a 17-year-old daughter was treated and released from RiverView Health in Crookston.

The Crookston Daily Times (http://bit.ly/1c2fZ9Yhttp://bit.ly/1c2fZ9Y ) reports the Ostgaards also have a middle child who attends the University of Minnesota Duluth.

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