Rochester DFL Rep. Tina Liebling has taken to Twitter and Facebook to urge voters to contact Rochester City Council members and ask them to vote against sharing $5 million in Rochester sales tax money with 17 surrounding small cities.
The council is slated to vote during its 7 p.m. meeting tonight on whether the money should go to these small towns. If they don't vote by Sept. 1, that money would automatically go toward covering the city's $128 million local share of the Destination Medical Center project. Otherwise, the money will be divvied up among the small towns to be used for economic development projects.
On Facebook, Liebling called the $5 million sales tax sharing plan the "Great Rochester Giveaway." She also sent the following tweet: "Will #rochmn council vote tomorrow to give away $5 MILLION of Roch tax money? Call your council member if you care."
In 2012, Rochester voters approved extending Rochester's sales tax to raise $139.5 million for a wide range of projects. Included in that provision was a measure pushed by former House Taxes Committee Chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston, that required $5 million of that money go to the small cities surrounding Rochester. During the recent legislative session, Liebling initially sought to rescind the money outright. She later came forward with the proposal that requires the Rochester City Council to vote on whether to share the money.
Davids said it is "unfortunate" that Liebling is campaigning against sharing the $5 million. He said if that provision had not been part of the sales tax proposal, the then-GOP controlled Legislature would never have given Rochester the OK to seek a sales tax extension in the first place. He calls the provision the "Greg Davids Good Neighbor Policy" and said it will help build good will between Rochester and the surrounding towns.
Davids said he is hoping the city council "does the right thing" and approves sharing the money.
"It's very problematic and unfortunate that Rep. Liebling thought her opinion was more important than the voters of Rochester and the 65 percent who wanted to do that," he said.
Liebling counters it was unclear to Rochester voters how those dollars would be used when they cast their votes. She said the ballot language only listed $10 million for an economic development fund, not noting that half of that money would be going to other cities. She said she wanted to get the word out because she cannot be at tonight's council meeting because she has to attend a meeting of the state's sex offender task force, of which she is a member.
In the end, Liebling says she fully expects the council will vote to share the money because they don't want to anger anybody. But she said it is important they be held responsible for their votes.
"I've been told, 'Oh well, we're buying good will with this money.' Well, the nature of pork is it buys good will but that doesn't mean it's an appropriate use of the community's money," she said.