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Published November 05 2010

Forum editorial: Voters see wisdom of 2 taxes

Tell voters how the revenue will be spent and they usually will vote to tax themselves. That’s what happened Tuesday in the Moorhead School District and in Cass County. Voters approved two new taxes: a property tax to shore up a battered school budget and a sales tax to fund permanent flood protection. Both approvals were notable because they came in an era of strong anti-tax sentiment.

Moorhead school tax

It took two tries, but supporters of preserving Moorhead’s high-quality public education system prevailed Tuesday by a comfortable margin. Just a few months ago, the operating levy measure went down to defeat. So what happened in the interim?

First, the threatened cuts in academic and co-curricular programs were actually happening. As staff was reduced, class sizes grew. Voters had evidence that further erosion of education quality was more than hyperbole.

Second, the reputation of an excellent school system was at stake. The news coming out of the district has been bleak. Funding shortfalls and subsequent program cuts stood in sharp contrast to the more-than-adequate funding and growth at public schools across the Red River in Fargo and West Fargo. Young families looking for a place to live always examine the schools. If Moorhead schools did not measure up in their eyes, there were excellent options nearby.

A “yes” vote for Moorhead schools was a vote for public education and a healthy community.

Cass flood tax

The countywide half-cent sales tax for a proposed Red River Diversion and associated projects needed only 50 percent plus one to pass. It received 64 percent of the vote, a surprisingly high approval considering the pre-vote rhetoric from opponents. That level of support was more than enough to even clear the 60 percent-plus supermajority that would have been required had the vote been limited to Fargo.

A map of voting patterns shows the tax lost in outlying areas of the county but won big in Fargo, West Fargo and neighboring suburban and rural districts. The “no” vote in most of rural Cass might have been expected because residents in those areas don’t believe they will benefit from a diversion. That perception is flawed, but it nevertheless translated into opposition to the sales tax.

Furthermore, the rural “no” vote was disappointing in that it suggests the warm-and-fuzzy North Dakota notion of helping your neighbors is a myth.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.