Our view: 'Local control' should apply to school levies, too

Less government.

More local control.

Few principles are more central to Republican ideology than these — which is why we're somewhat befuddled by a proposal announced Wednesday concerning school levies. House Education Finance Committee Chairman Pat Garofalo wants the state to require school districts to have all levy votes in even-numbered years, and Rep. Duane Quam, a Republican from Byron, is expected to sponsor the bill.

Several rationales have been cited in support of such a move, including:

• Quam says that this year, many of the 126 school districts that are having levy votes Tuesday began preparing for referendums before the state's education budget had been finalized. In other words, they didn't know how much money they were going to get from the state, so their levy requests were based on incomplete information.


• Garofalo argues that schools prefer to have levies in "off-year" elections because voter turnout is lower, which improves the odds of a levy's passage. About 70 percent of odd-year levy proposals are approved, but the success rate sinks to 52 percent during even-numbered years.

• Rep. Steve Drazkowski, a Republican from Mazeppa, likes the idea of not having to spend money on off-year elections.

Let's start with that last item. If our state is in such dire financial straits that we can't afford to hold an election once each year, then it truly is time for us to implement some draconian cost-cutting measures. We'd suggest a dramatic reduction in the size of our Legislature, reducing lawmakers' per diem and forcing political parties to pay for all election recounts up front, just to make sure local governments aren't left holding the bag and will have enough cash on hand to allow residents to perform the fundamental act of democracy.

As for Garofalo's concerns about low voter turnout, we'd apply the following principle: If you don't like something, vote against it. People who don't exercise their rights on election day, regardless of whether it's an even or odd year, forfeit their right to complain about the outcome. Really, if we follow Garofalo's logic, we should postpone elections if the weather is bad and people can't get to the polls.

Finally, concerning Quam's worries about school districts planning referendums before they know their budgetary situation, we'd point out that the Legislature put schools in a tough spot this year. Rather than passing a budget in May, the process dragged out into late July. It's tough to blame school districts for trying to plan ahead, and they had no way of knowing how long the government shutdown would last, nor what the education bill would contain.

We hope Quam isn't expecting government shutdowns to become routine occurrences during budget years.

Many Republican legislators oppose any and all tax increases, even if people get to vote on them. Don't forget that just a few weeks ago Drazkowski was actively engaged in trying to kill local school levies before they'd even appeared on ballots.

DFLers, as should be expected, are lining up to oppose the Quam/Garofalo proposal. Rep. Kim Norton correctly points out that a school levy is never an easy sell, and that preparing for a referendum is an "onerous" task that school boards don't take lightly.


Even more telling is the fact that at least one prominent Republican isn't aligning herself with Quam and Garofalo. Sen. Carla Nelson of Rochester, staying true to the GOP principle of local control, says the decision about a referendum's timing should be left in the hands of school boards, not the state government.

We couldn't agree more.

If Republicans really want to stop seeing school levies on the ballot in odd-numbered years, we'd suggest a different approach: Don't "borrow" from schools, forcing them to take out loans and pay interest. Provide per-pupil funding increases that keep up with inflation.

In other words, view education as an investment in Minnesota's future.

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