Henn. Co. Board discusses proposal to increase sales tax

On Tuesday, the Hennepin County Board heard the last public feedback on the proposed increase to sales taxes.

The sales tax would have residents paying a quarter of a penny more on every dollar they spend in the county.

Estimated to raise $125 million, the change would help pay for Hennepin County's portion of a number of new and existing transit projects.

The money would also support the building for the proposed southwest light rail line and the Bottineau bus line extension along with future operating costs of those lines.

Transit supporters such as Rachel Callahan with the American Heart Association are in favor of the tax.

“The new tax proposal opens up the opportunity to fund both the significant transit needs of the county, but also the active transportation needs," she said.

However, there is equal opposition.

“Don’t be so arrogant or ignorant or both that you think you can just lay on tax after tax after tax and people will not start to move," said Frank Lorenz of Edina. 

Despite the complaints, Hennepin County was partially pushed into this by the state legislature. Republican lawmakers made it quite clear this session that they did not want the state paying for the operating costs of any future transit projects in the Twin Cities.  So, they allowed counties to raise this tax so they could pay for it themselves."

But, the southwest light rail project still awaits final federal approval and funding, and perennial mayoral candidate Bob Carney, Jr. warned county commissioners they should have a back-up plan.

Carney advised the board to “hold your fire in terms of committing to this money […] until you know what's going on with the federal money and until you know what some of the other options are." 

The new sales tax does not apply to new car and truck purchases. Instead, there is a flat $20 fee that's already on the books.

The county board will vote next week on this new sales tax, and if they approve it, it takes effect October 1st.