Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #087. First published in the St. Cloud times online Oct. 27, 2014; in print Oct 28

Times Writers Group members aren’t allowed to make partisan political endorsements. (We can’t even write letters to the editor.) I suspect most regular readers of my column would have little trouble figuring out who will get my vote, and I’ll have to leave it at that.

However, we can express opinions on non-partisan issues — even if, in some cases, responses to those issues may divide pretty much along party lines.

A week from today, voters in this region — St. Augusta, St. Cloud, St. Joseph, Sartell, Sauk Rapids and Waite Park — will be asked to extend a half-cent sales tax for 20 years, from 2019 to 2038. On Wednesday, the Times Editorial Board, in an “Our View,” strongly endorsed a yes vote. I second that motion, and want to put it in a larger context.

The Times highlights the $90 million worth of benefits the tax has already brought to the area: St. Cloud Public Library, an improved regional airport, expanded and improved parks in all six cities, and upgraded and expanded roads in these communities. As the editorial noted, “collection of about $291 million through most retail purchases in the next 20 years” will fund similar improvements and upgrades.

State law requires that a portion of such taxes be devoted to regional projects. The three that have been adopted by all six city councils will take $18 million of the total, and will significantly enhance our common life — community aquatics center, regional airport and connecting together trails in all six cities. Every one of these will confirm that our area is indeed Greater>!

The Times goes on to emphasize how much each of the cities will gain from the remaining $273 million— St. Augusta $5.5 million; St. Cloud $159 million; St. Joseph $12 million; Sartell $35 million; Sauk Rapids $24 million; Waite Park $37.5 million. (The projected amounts are based on two assumptions: current allocation formula and 3 percent annual growth.) Ballots in each city will spell out what the city councils expect to spend the money on.

The Times doesn’t stress two things. First, this would not be a “tax increase.” We’re already accustomed to paying it. Second, because we are a regional center, a good deal of the additional revenue comes from people who live outside the six cities and shop here — it’s a net addition to the cities’ GDP.

These two things are part of the larger context, but we need an even broader canvas.

Fortunately, we have moved beyond the rigid, ideological, “taxes are evil” fixation of the Tim Pawlenty era. As I said in my column more than six years ago, “No new taxes” is nowhere to be found in the landmark book, “How to Speak Minnesotan.”

But while we no longer hear much of the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” that Grover Norquist exacted from many politicians at the national and state levels in the previous decade, his malign influence can still be detected when candidates acknowledge there’s a major issue needing to be addressed — transportation, say — but balk at any tax increase — on gas, say — that might appropriately pay for fixing the problem.

Both the U.S. Constitution and the Minnesota Constitution begin with “We the people.” If we truly respect, even revere, these documents, I don’t see why so many of us think of government as “they” who are out to “do us in.” Of course we need to be careful, vigilant. But we also need to be visionary and bold in a region that’s “big enough to make a difference, small enough to make it work.”

Not this election, but before long, we will be asked to provide major resources to the area’s largest school district, St. Cloud. How short-sighted it would be to try 21st-century education on the cheap. We can be Greater>!

A week from today, speak authentic American — vote! People have died for the right of “all of us, the people” to govern ourselves. And the way to speak classical Minnesotan is to say yes to continuance of the half-cent sales tax.