Citizen questions legality of sales tax bannerWhen Cloquet resident Kris Papas first drove by one of the city’s four new sales tax banners last weekend, she raised an eyebrow. “City of Cloquet Local Option Sales Tax / Building our Future / Improving our community / Vote! November 6th, 2012 / Your Vote Counts,” the sign read. When she drove by a second identical banner, also posted on city property, Papas started to wonder.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
When Cloquet resident Kris Papas first drove by one of the city’s four new sales tax banners last weekend, she raised an eyebrow.
“City of Cloquet Local Option Sales Tax / Building our Future / Improving our community / Vote! November 6th, 2012 / Your Vote Counts,” the sign read.
When she drove by a second identical banner, also posted on city property, Papas started to wonder.
“The issue for me is the banner – who paid for it and is it legal?” Papas asked, referring to state law that forbids a city or school district from advocating that voters pass a referendum, either by spending money on materials or by actively campaigning for a “yes” vote on the referendum. “I can see ‘Your Vote Counts’ but the ‘Building our Future/ Improving our community’ kind of blew it for me. I see that as advocating people vote ‘Yes.’”
Cloquet City Administrator Brian Fritsinger said the city did pay for the banners and noted that the committee working on the sales tax was careful to focus on education rather than persuasion. After all, he pointed out, it doesn’t say “Vote Yes,” just “Vote.”
When asked about the two lines that Papas felt crossed the line, Fritsinger said they are factual, pointing out that the sales tax legislation details that money raised by the sales tax can only be used for capital improvement projects to certain parks, city infrastructure and utility/infrastructure improvement costs related to the site adjacent to the intersection of Highway 33 and Interstate 35.
“The statement of ‘building our future…improving our community’ is what the vote is all about,” he said. “The parks Master Plan process is all about developing a long-term plan for improving our park system and building new elements for the future. The improvements to roads and infrastructure for retail development along Highway 33 are for the purpose of seeing new business development within the community to create jobs and property taxes that improve our community. From the infrastructure standpoint, the funds are used to improve our basic infrastructure so that we can continue to meet the needs of a growing community into the future.”
Thus, he said, “the Committee did not feel that this statement was advocating for the tax – it is advocating to get out and vote and represent what the vote is about.”
While Papas said she hasn’t yet decided how she’ll vote on the sales tax – only that she is grateful she has the opportunity to vote on the tax, unlike when local governments set property taxes – she said the bottom line for her is that it’s inappropriate and possibly illegal for the city to pay for the signs and place them on city property.
“It would be totally inappropriate for me to put a Chip Cravaack sign on the Pinehurst Park fence,” Papas said. “As much as I might be for Chip, I can’t do it. The city should not be able to do it either.”
While conceding some of the phrases could be interpreted as advocating for a “Yes” vote, Fritsinger isn’t backing down either.
“Can the phrase ‘building our future…improving our community’ be interpreted to be a slogan?” he said. “Absolutely, but it is a slogan based upon the fact that we are voting to improve our community’s infrastructure and build our community for both the needs of our current and future residents and business owners. It is not advocating how to vote, it is advocating to get out and vote for those reasons and those projects.”