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Liebling: Rochester council should have final say on $5 million for small cities

ST. PAUL — The fate of $5 million of Rochester sales tax money earmarked for surrounding small cities may rest with the Rochester City Council.

Rochester DFL Rep. Tina Liebling amended the House tax bill during a House Taxes Committee hearing to require that the Rochester City Council pass a resolution in support of sending those dollars to small cities. It also gives city officials the option of adding four other cities to the list of 17 small cities getting a piece of the funding.

"What I am doing here is letting the city council make the decision. If I was on the city council, I would vote no. But I think that's a decision that they, as local officials, should be making," she said.

The amendment drew opposition from Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston. The former Republican tax chairman last year came up with the requirement that $5 million of Rochester's $139.5 million sales tax extension be dedicated to area cities for economic development. Rochester voters approved the sales tax extension in November.

"Changing a vote of the people to me is very disconcerting," he said.


Liebling had previously threatened to rescind the $5 million. Representatives from the city, Mayo Clinic and Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce had asked her not to do that. At the same time, Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, has been pushing legislation that would give four more cities a piece of the sales tax pie. He said Altura, Grand Meadow, Mazeppa and Wanamingo were improperly left off the list of qualifying cities.

Davids attempted to amend Liebling's proposal by requiring a unanimous vote of the Rochester City Council and the support of the mayor in order to rescind the money. That amendment failed.

While Liebling's provision is part of the House tax bill, it's far from certain it will become law. The bill still needs to clear the House floor and will likely change as the final bill is negotiated with the Senate.

Rochester City Council President Randy Staver said Rochester voters knew where the money was going when the sales tax proposal was approved and would rather lawmakers leave the issue alone.

"I would just be a bit disappointed if it came back to the city council for any sort of formal decision process," he said. "I would just as soon see us go forward and honor the language."

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