Examining Taxpayer League claims: An insatiable need to spin


The Taxpayers’ League of Minnesota (TLM) is supporting a charter amendment that would cap the rate of spending growth in the City of Greenfield, Minn. Such spending restraints are generally a bad idea. Local officials – elected by city residents – are in the best position to gauge the need for spending increases or spending reductions. Hardwired caps cannot anticipate the myriad of factors that determine the appropriate level of public expenditures.

Whatever the residents of Greenfield decide regarding the proposed charter amendment, their decision should be based on the facts, not spin. The old adage, “you can’t believe everything you hear” is sage advice, especially when what you hear is from the TLM.

For example, in its most recent e-mail to the faithful, the TLM asks rhetorically, “Will the Greenfield City government let anything stand in the way of it’s insatiable need to spend?” Here are the facts regarding Greenfield spending based on the most current data available from the State Auditor:

  • In a state where per capita city spending is below the national average, the per capita spending of the City of Greenfield is well below the state average. City of Greenfield spending in 2008 was $715 per capita – 44 percent less than the average for all Minnesota cities.

  • Of course, Greenfield is a small suburban community and does not have the same spending requirements as core central cities or large regional centers. However, the per capita spending of the City of the Greenfield is 29 percent less than that of other similar high-growth metro suburbs.*

  • Since 2000, spending growth in the City of Greenfield has been significantly below the rate of inflation, despite the fact that the population of the city has increased 12 percent and the number of households has increased by 15 percent.

The most current year for which final city spending data from the State Auditor is available is 2008. “Revenue base,” which is the sum of city levies plus state aids, is a proxy commonly used in the absence of audited spending data. From 2008 to 2010, the revenue base for the City of Greenfield has declined.

The residents of Greenfield should make their determination regarding the merits of the proposed spending cap based on the facts, not based on blather from the Fact Slayers’ League.

Speaking of facts, Minnesota 2020 is rolling out its 2010 property tax this week. The report uses Department of Revenue and Minnesota Management & Budget data to examine the real cause of statewide property tax growth over the last eight years. Here’s a sneak preview: real per capita growth in statewide property taxes is not driven by local government spending increases, but by decisions made by state policymakers. For the full report, visit www.mn2020.org.

*The League of Minnesota Cities has used a statistical technique known as “cluster analysis” to group cities together based on shared characteristics. Based on this methodology, Greenfield was classified as a “high-growth metropolitan city” along with 33 other metro communities with similar characteristics. Click here for a description of the League’s cluster analysis and a list of the other high-growth metro cities.