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Published 11:09 am Thursday, December 23, 2010

Daily Herald Editorial

There is much more to Mower County’s 3 percent tax levy increase for 2011 than meets the eye. Like every other local unit of government, from townships to schools to cities, much of what the county does is simply fulfill requirements set for it by state law. And at least to some extent, the coming tax levy increase is a result of those state laws — often known as unfunded mandates. Were it left to the taxpayers of Mower County to decide how much government they wanted, and needed, it would undoubtedly be a much less costly proposition.

State lawmakers have, for untold decades, been able to “do something” about the day’s hot issues by simply requiring other units of government, or in some cases businesses, to do the work. Seldom does the state provide money to pay for that work. In the case of counties, these unfunded mandates range from seemingly simple administrative rules to complex requirements for delivering a wide variety of social services. At the local level, counties can seldom do much to control those costs, and have no choice but to levy sufficient taxes to pay for them.

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Likewise, local government leaders are constrained by residents’ demands for basic services — like snow plowing, to name a current example, public safety and clean water.

All of which is not to say that local leaders should not take responsibility for their decisions. Taking responsibility is what they were elected to do. But it is well worth remember that, in Minnesota’s system, state legislators in reality may have more to say about local taxes than do local representatives.