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Lawmaker seeks to broaden voting power of farmers, business owners

A Byron lawmaker has proposed a constitutional amendment that he says would give farmers and small business owners a voice on local property tax issues.

Republican Rep. Duane Quam is sponsoring the amendment, which would allow farmers and small business owners who own multiple parcels of land in various communities the right to vote on local levies and referendums. Quam said the idea came from farmers who told him they believe it is unfair that they do not get to vote on these levies even though the results might mean they pay higher taxes.

"I know quite a few farmers that because of the need for more acreage and to have a larger operation to be a viable farm, they own land in multiple school districts and counties, and they don’t have a voice in these referendum issues," Quam said.

If approved by the Legislature, the amendment would go to voters in November 2012.

Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, said he is concerned that the proposal violates the principle of one person, one vote.


"This is the very definition of double voting. It is being able to vote twice in different locations," Dean said. He said the legislation would give these property owners unfair electoral influence.

"Legislators are right now hurting the power of the poor, and what this bill does is expand the power of the rich to vote, and I think that is a misguided principle," he said.

Quam said it is inaccurate to portray his bill as giving people multiple votes. He said it simply means that landowners in a school district, city or county could vote on levy proposals there.

Chris Radatz, director of public policy for the Minnesota Farm Bureau, said his organization hasn't taken a position on Quam's bill. He said he has heard concerns before from farmers about not being able to vote on levies in areas where they have land but don't live.

Whether Quam's bill moves forward will depend on the Republican legislative leadership. He said GOP leaders want to limit the number of amendments the Legislature passes so that the 2012 ballot is not overloaded. These proposed amendments do not require DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's approval.

Pawlenty supports Wisconsin governor

Potential presidential candidate and former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty issued a statement in support of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in his battle with the state's public employees.

"Gov. Scott Walker is making tough choices needed to avoid financial ruin," Pawlenty says in the statement. "The nation's governors don't need a lecture from a president who has never balanced a budget. All levels of government need to bring public employee compensation in line with the private sector.


"The gig is up for public employee groups who demand better benefits than the taxpayers who are paying the bill. I'm confident Gov. Walker's reforms will succeed in Wisconsin. Stand strong, Scott — average taxpayers everywhere are rooting for you."

He also urged followers on his Twitter account to sign a petition in support of Walker. This comes after Democratic President Obama said the effort to get rid of public employees' collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin could be interpreted as "an assault" on unions.

The president also deployed his political operation to help public employees protesting in Madison. His grass roots campaign organization, "Organizing for America," worked with state and local unions last week to help get thousands of protesters to join in the rally in Madison and to organize rallies in other state capitals.

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