Mayor Carter vetoes proposed property tax levy for early childhood education

Mayor Carter vetoes proposed property tax levy for early childhood education

Mayor Carter vetoes proposed property tax levy for early childhood education

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter has vetoed a resolution that would ask voters to raise property taxes to support child care and early childhood education for low-income families.

The proposal that passed the City Council last week would put a property tax levy on the ballot as part of a special election in 2024. The proposal would raise taxes by $2 million each year over the course of a decade, adding up to a $160 annual tax hike for homeowners.

In a letter to the City Council on Thursday, Carter expressed concern that the eventual $20 million in increased revenue would be insufficient for a program that’s expected to cost $39 million a year.

“It would be imprudent for the City of Saint Paul or any other entity to take on such enormous, universal and permanent commitments — especially those which have eluded so many other early childhood professionals and systems — while possessing all of the information necessary to know that the available resources do not exist to meet those commitments,” Carter wrote.

Carter was also unsure about the city’s ability to deliver on its promises because the resolution proposes having the program be carried out by the fledgling Office of Financial Empowerment, which the mayor noted is comprised of four city employees and interns.

Other issues Carter noted in his veto letter included concerns about the program’s continuity through leadership changes and whether it addresses the city’s core needs, pointing out a “critical need of investment” in city infrastructure, an affordable housing shortage and challenges in meeting salary demands for city staff.

Kristenza Nelson, co-chair of the workgroup that developed the program and presented it to the City Council in March, called the mayor’s veto “a blow to working families.”

And while Carter pointed to funding for early learning approved by Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Legislature this year, Council Member Nelsie Yang said in a statement Thursday that it doesn’t fully address the needs of St. Paul’s youngest children.

“The legislature made large investments in early childhood this past session. Unfortunately, it falls short of reaching many of St. Paul’s poorest children under three, let alone working families that are struggling with the high cost of child care and early learning,” said Yang, who co-sponsored the resolution. “In St. Paul, we have an opportunity to close these gaps, but we have to ask where that funding will come from, since we know current funding is inadequate.”

The special levy could still end up on the November 2024 ballot if the City Council overrides Carter’s veto with five votes within the next 30 days. The council originally passed the measure 5-2, with Council Members Russel Balenger and Mitra Jalali voting in opposition.

Council Member Rebecca Noecker, the resolution’s other co-sponsor, said the program would be a boost for families living paycheck to paycheck.

“In Minnesota, we are the fourth most expensive state in the nation for childcare. So families struggle to afford it,” she told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS last week. “Parents can’t get to work, employers struggle when their employees don’t have reliable childcare. And then we as a society pay for it in the long term with health and economic and educational and societal costs.”

If the council passes again, the following language would go to voters for approval:

“In order to create a dedicated fund for children’s early care and education to be administered by a City department or office that provides subsidies to families and providers so that early care and education is no cost to low-income families and available on a sliding scale to other families, and so as to increase the number of child care slots and support the child care workforce, shall the City of Saint Paul be authorized to levy property taxes in the amount of $2,000,000 in the first year, to increase by the same amount each year following for the next nine years ($4,000,000 of property taxes levied in year two, $6,000,000 in year three, $8,000,000 in year four and so on until $20,000,000 of property taxes are levied in year ten)?”