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Will property taxes finally go down?

ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans may receive lower property tax bills next year or local officials may keep those taxes the same.

It all depends on who you ask, and neither side knows for sure.

Republicans and Democrats continued their fight over taxes Tuesday as Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton announced property taxes are expected to fall 1.5 percent in 2014.

"This is reversing a decade-long trend," Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans said.

But the projection that taxes will fall $121 million statewide next year is just a best guess, Frans admitted. Since local officials make almost all property tax decisions, the Dayton administration has little say.

Republican leaders Senator David Hann of Eden Prairie and Representative Kurt Daudt of Crown said they never have seen property taxes go down, even when the state sends local governments more state aid as happened this year.

"These are local decisions," Hann said, so state officials have no way of knowing what will happen to property taxes now, months before local budgets are written.

Hann and Daudt also said that all Minnesota taxpayers will pay higher taxes under the Democratic budget, after they cut taxes when they controlled the Legislature.

Neither side could produce facts to back up the predictions.

Dayton brought up himself that his Revenue Department is not always right, citing last year's projection that allowing electronic pulltabs and bingo in Minnesota bars would bring in plenty of revenue to fund a new Vikings stadium. He found out this year that the revenue was falling far short of what is needed.

Hann and Daudt avoided commenting when asked about the fact that taxes actually increased when they approved tax cuts two years ago.

Dayton and Frans asked reporters into the governor's office to tout a new report that they said shows an expected property tax decrease.

They credited Democratic initiatives such as increasing state aid paid to cities, counties and townships. The two said that property taxes have gone up 86 percent since 2002, and next year will be the first time they have decreased in more than 10 years.

Frans said that without the Democratic tax changes, property taxes would go up $180 million next year.

Dayton promised reporters that his staff would forward information about how accurate projections such as he released Tuesday have been over the years. Nothing arrived Tuesday, and a Revenue Department spokesman said such a comparison would take days.

It did not take days for Republicans to discredit the projection. Like Dayton, they compared Tuesday's report to the stadium funding miscalculation.

"They are from the same source," Hann said.

Daudt called the governor's announcement a "gimmick."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.