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Manifesto for Change

This will be a difficult election year. People are angry with government that is both unfair and unaccountable—government that allows special interests and millionaires to pay no taxes while working and middle class families struggle to send their kids to college and save for retirement and seniors on fixed incomes face property tax hikes and assessments that force them out of their homes.

They’re angry with government that squanders tax money chasing development, that hires consultants and spends huge sums for long-range plans, that tolerates million dollar cost overruns on road projects; government that destroys neighborhoods and takes people’s homes for road improvements based on traffic projections, not immediate need—road “improvements” which encourage still more development and traffic congestion and all the environmental degradation that comes with it.

They distrust government that gives lip service to “a small town feel,” but is so greedy for tax money and growth and development that it promotes the opposite. It’s government that gives cars more respect than people and their homes.

Like the speech in the movie, “Network,” People are “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”

No, it isn’t the federal government, and it’s not about Donald Trump. It’s Prior Lake. It’s about special interests, development and accountability, and it’s a manifesto for change come November.

On March 9, in a precedent setting decision, The Prior Lake City Council in a 3-2 vote gave away potentially millions in future tax dollars when it agreed to not contest an application by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) to place more tribal owned land in trust, taking it off the tax roles forever. Mayor Hedberg and Councilmember’s McGuire and Keeney voted yes. Councilmember’s Morton and Thompson were opposed.

The SMSC is a successful, profitable business. It is owned and controlled by a small group of millionaires that make a fortune on casino gambling. It owns a hotel and a casino and 1,886 acres of land in Prior Lake of which 986 acres are already in trust and off the tax roles. It plans to expand its business and wants more. It does all of this under the guise of a 1934 Depression era law that was passed by Congress to help impoverished Indian tribes.

The SMSC is not impoverished. It is among the wealthiest tribal businesses in the United States, yet it wants a tax subsidy from other businesses and families and seniors on fixed incomes.

It asserted in an earlier draft proposal to the City that it did not intend to purchase “any” additional property in the City. In the final document the ”any” was changed to “significant.” This is only the beginning. The SMSC will be back, and it will ask for more because, after Council inaction, it knows it can get away with it.

Still, let’s not blame the SMSC and make them a villain in all this. They’re a business, and they’re taking advantage of a federal law just as any business would take advantage of a law that gives it a tax shelter. They would be foolish not to. The law has to be changed, but that’s up to Congress.

Meanwhile, ask Mayor Hedberg and Councilmember’s McGuire and Keeney why they chose to not oppose the SMSC application when a vigorous opposition likely would have caused the Bureau of Indian Affairs to reject it. Keep in mind, SMSC applications have been opposed before and rejected by the BIA.

Ask the City Manager and the Mayor why they did not recommend, and immediately proceed with eminent domain, to acquire right-of-way through the Menden property before SMSC made its trust application, thereby setting up the ”hostage” situation they found themselves in?

Do Mayor Hedberg and Councilmember’s McGuire and Keeney represent the residents of Prior Lake—the families and seniors who pay taxes—or a wealthy business that uses its clout and influence to avoid paying them?

The same question should be asked of Scott County Commissioners and School Board Members. None made objection. Yet, the School District in May, will ask voters to vote, “yes,” on a $129 million school bond issue and a $2.125 million, ten year tax levy, none of which will fall on the SMSC because its real estate holdings are exempt from taxes. Consider this when you vote on the referendum.

SMSC is important to Prior Lake. It has been very generous, but it is a business relationship, and in a business relationship some things are non-negotiable. Paying property taxes is one of them.

By John Diers
Prior Lake