Mayoral candidate Pat Harris today pledged to fight the growing property tax burden in St. Paul. Harris criticized the recent proposed tax hike for 2018. “I would not have raised the tax levy by 24%,” Harris said, noting that he understands the pressure put on the budget by a recent court ruling prohibiting assessments. “There were other options, but it seems like raising taxes has become the first and only response from City Hall. That’s wrong and it’s time we start doing things smarter.”
Harris was known as a budget expert during his 12 years on the City Council. He has nearly 20 years in public finance, including his current job as a Senior VP for Government Banking at BMO Harris Bank. He is uniquely qualified to handle the growing pressures on the City budget. “Taxes are a huge competitive disadvantage for Saint Paul,” said Harris, “we pay 14% more than West Saint Paul, 7% more than Roseville – and even 3% more than Minneapolis.
Harris cited several risks that make it critical for the next Mayor to have strong financial skills. The ruling on right of way assessments that partially caused the current crisis is only the most recent example. Harris cited uncertainty with local government aid at the state level – which has dropped from 32% of the City budget to only 23% over the past decade. “I am the only candidate for Mayor who has helped the City steer through a budget crisis caused by lost funding,” he said. “Handling curveballs to the City budget is right in my wheelhouse.”
Harris announced that within his first three months, he will create a task force of business, community, school and county leaders – as well as city workers – to review the City budget and recommend ways to hold down property taxes. This task force will be guided by Harris’ own principles, which he listed:
- Baseline City services such as police, fire, snow plowing, parks and libraries will be top priority.
- Sharing resources with the County and School District will be explored.
- Adding commercial tax base to the City. “I will focus on commercial and industrial tax base,” said Harris. He noted that Saint Paul’s tax base was 48% commercial, compared to 55% for Minneapolis. “If we can get commercial development downtown and in the neighborhoods, we can not only grow jobs, but we can keep taxes down for home owners throughout the City.”
- Managing the City efficiently and smartly will be a top priority. Fund balances, debt policies, business services, and all financial mechanisms will be reviewed for maximum efficiency and innovation. “As a City Council Councilmember, I used my public finance background to save the City hundreds of millions of dollars while preserving and even enhancing services,” said Harris. Among many cost-saving projects, his effort to consolidate debt on parking ramps alone will save the City over $8 million.
“I am excited to bring my financial skills, my experience, and my record of getting things done to City Hall as we work hand in hand with the community to keep our City a great – and affordable – place to live and work.”