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Published June 24, 2009, 12:00 AM

Experts: Apathy could foil half-percent tax vote

A half-percent sales tax to pay for flood control has a “pretty good chance” of passing in Fargo, thanks to little opposition, this spring’s record flood, and broad support from city leaders and the business community, two political scientists said Tuesday.

By: Helmut Schmidt, INFORUM

A half-percent sales tax to pay for flood control has a “pretty good chance” of passing in Fargo, thanks to little opposition, this spring’s record flood, and broad support from city leaders and the business community, two political scientists said Tuesday.

If there’s anything that could sink the vote, it’s apathy, say Jim Danielson and Philip Baumann of Minnesota State University Moorhead’s Public Affairs Institute.

Those who don’t like to be taxed are often more motivated to go to the polls, said Danielson, an MSUM professor emeritus.

The need to get a supermajority for passage, 60 percent or more, is another hurdle, he said.

“That’s the challenge, it seems to me,” Danielson said. “We saw that happen in the West Fargo (school vote) situation just a week or so ago.”

Baumann said the measure appears to have broad support from business and community groups in the Coalition for Protecting Fargo’s Future.

Flood control will also benefit a wide swath of the community. Taxes for road and water projects, the Fargodome and a public library have historically been approved, he said. Measures with fewer beneficiaries, such as hockey facilities or arenas, have failed, he said.

Danielson said the low impact of a sales tax versus an annual bill for special assessments or property taxes is also attractive for voters.

There is also little negative being said about the tax plan in offices, coffee shops or among neighbors.

“Usually, if people are feeling intensely opposed to something, you can feel the rumble in the informal communication network in the community,” Danielson said.

“My guess is it has a pretty good chance,” Baumann said.

This spring’s flooding has people “fairly intensely concerned about doing something about flood control,” Danielson said. “The community got a big jolt.”

Mayor Dennis Walaker, the leading spokesman for the sales tax, is also widely perceived as being knowledgeable and honest about flood issues.

“Given the fact that residents” like and trust him, “I think that serves to benefit” the measure, Danielson said.

Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir said more than 200 absentee ballots had been returned as of Tuesday.

Also, 114 people had voted by 3:30 p.m. at the early voting site at the Doublewood Inn.

Voting continues at that site from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and Thursday.

People who talked about their vote, including some who declined to give their names, said they voted for the tax.

“Has to be done,” said Verone Burbeck.

“I live on high ground. Something has to be done for people living in the lower areas.”

Gordie and Odee Maier both voted to raise the sales tax.

“We have to do something,” Odee Maier said. “There’s no way we can’t do something.”

“We agree on that,” Gordie said.

“It’s not often we do agree,” he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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