Election 2021: Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation

The Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation has six members: only two are elected directly to the BET. The others are the Mayor, the City Council President, another City Council rep, and a Park Board rep. The BET sets the tax levy for the city — basically, they decide how much all of city government is going to cost, and it’s the cost is split up based on the value of property you own. You can play around with the property tax estimator if you’re curious what other people’s bills look like. The BET can also sell city bonds.

BET Candidate Pine Salica has a more detailed explanation of what the BET does on their site. Here’s the city’s page with their explanation.

On the ballot:

Pine Salica
Steve Brandt
Samantha Pree-Stinson
Kevin Nikiforakis

Minneapolis will be electing two people to the BET, but you get to rank three on your ballot. Here’s the MPR video explaining how ranked-choice voting works in a multi-seat race.

tl;dr I would go with #1 Pine Salica, #2 Samantha Pree-Stinson, #3 Steve Brandt. I feel the strongest about Pine; this post took as long as it did because I’ve been waffling about Steve vs. Sam, so read on for more.

Ideally in this job you want people who are (1) nerdy about budgets and finance; (2) detail-oriented; (3) politically progressive. It’s generally a lot easier to find politically progressive people than detail-oriented budget and finance nerds. (This may be less true some places, but if you’ve ever tried to recruit someone to be a treasurer for a small volunteer-run organization, you’ve probably encountered the “detail-oriented budget and finance nerds are in short supply” problem.)

Pine Salica is all three. They’re exactly the sort of person I am excited to see in this position: progressive, nerdy, detail-oriented, ready to show up and learn. They’ve done jobs that are both money-related and QA related; they have a bunch of detailed “what-even-is-the-BET” information on their website complete with a pie chart; they’re in favor of the public safety charter amendment. I would absolutely put Pine as my #1.

Steve Brandt solidly has the “nerdy about budgets and finance” piece down. He’s a former Star Tribune reporter (now retired); as a reporter, he read the entire city budget, then “asked hundreds of questions of city officials to make sure that I understood it. I’ve attended Board of Estimate meetings, and then interpreted the board’s taxation decisions for readers.” He decided to run in part because retiring BET member Carol Becker suggested he’d be good at the job. That’s a complicated endorsement: I don’t like Carol’s politics (which have extended into some really weird behavior) but I think she might be fairly savvy regarding the skillset needed for the BET job.

Steve’s politics clearly swing left of Carol’s: he mentions on his website that he has door-knocked for three candidates since retiring from journalism, and in his interview with John Edwards he said they were Raymond Dehn for mayor, Mark Haase for County Attorney, and Andrea Jenkins for City Council. On the other hand, he’s in favor of the strong mayor charter amendment and against the policing charter amendment. And he’s endorsed by an impressive parade of Minneapolis conservatives, including Barb Johnson, Jackie Cherryhomes, Mark Andrew, Peter McLaughlin, and Phyllis Kahn. (He’s also endorsed by Raymond Dehn, who’s much more of a lefty, and by Alondra Cano, which … how do you even describe Alondra’s politics at this point?) Steve is also endorsed by the DFL Senior Caucus.

(How much does it matter whether he’s for or against the charter amendments? I honestly don’t know. Arguably his stance on the policing amendment suggests that he might not use the tools available to the BET to force changes on law enforcement, if that opportunity arises.)

Samantha Pree-Stinson is definitely progressive (and supports the public safety charter amendment / opposes the strong mayor charter amendment). One of the weird things about her campaign is that her LinkedIn makes a better case for her credentials than her campaign website — she worked as a policy aide and advisor to Phillipe Cunningham, and also worked for a startup credit union, Village Financial Cooperative. (That link leads to a FAQ page that says it didn’t launch when it was originally planned to due to mismanagement, but since Sam stayed well past the “had to reorganize leadership” point I think it’s fair to assume she was not the problem.) (ETA: a reader sent me a link to a news story about VFC’s issues and added, “Sam did yoeman’s work on Village Financial.”) In various threads and interviews she’s complained about people thinking she’s not qualified for the job. She’s clearly qualified! But you wouldn’t know it from her campaign website, where she says, “my professional experience in healthcare, the military, politics, the nonprofit sector, and the education system have all shaped me into the person I am today,” but doesn’t give the key specific that she was a policy aide for a City Council rep for multiple years.

I got in touch with Phillipe Cunningham to ask about Sam, and he said that he loves her and thinks she’s great: “She’s super brilliant and would be a great addition to the BET.”

Sam declined to participate in the Strib questionnaire and missed the LWV questionnaire deadline due to a death in her family. (I asked if she could fill them out and post them on her site; she said she would, but if she did, I can’t find them.) She did respond to a questionnaire from the Northeaster newspaper, which means you can read and compare responses from Pine, Steve, and Sam. One of the standouts was the response to the question, “why does the homestead exclusion go down when the market value goes up? If it’s owner-occupied, isn’t it still a homestead?” Steve and Pine both talk about how the homestead exemption is basically designed to give the less-rich homeowners a break on their taxes by taxing very valuable properties more heavily — it makes the property tax a little more progressive. Sam’s response is, “This is part of why I’m running for office. The system works against the people it’s supposed to serve. There are far too many loopholes and gray areas.” Which is an odd response, since the loophole here is designed to cost the wealthier residents more to the benefit of the less-wealthy. (If I’m correctly understanding the property tax estimator info, the cutoff where you no longer get a discount for living in the house is $400,000. There are currently 1,223 homes for sale in Minneapolis, of which 859 are under $400,000. The lower end of the houses over $400K includes some nice but modest houses in desirable neighborhoods, so possibly this is an argument against overtaxing seniors, or possibly it’s an argument against taxing rental properties more since that gets passed along to renters, I’m not sure.)

(Pine and Steve both responded to both the LWV and the Star Trib and you can read their responses if you’d like. Strib guide to both. Pine’s LWV; Steve’s LWV.)

You can watch a long interview with Samantha here.

Minor but weird: her website says she’ll be in the seat for two years; it’s a four year post. (The City Council reps all have to run again in two years but BET is at-large.) Anyway — I’m convinced that she’s progressive and I’m convinced that she’s qualified.

The fourth candidate on the ballot, Kevin Nikiforakis, had no website that I could find until I took one last look just now and found it. Having looked it over, his platform is for City Council or maybe State Legislature, not the Board of Estimate and Taxation, and also I wouldn’t want him for City Council or State Legislature. (Also, he has filled out zero questionnaires and didn’t get his website up until earlier this month.)

One final note about this race: the DFL endorsed Christa Moseng, who then had to drop out because she took a job that doesn’t allow you to do politics; another candidate who had a bunch of endorsements had dropped out and didn’t get back in. Anyway, if you have vague memories of seeing names of people running for BET who aren’t in this post, it’s because this race saw a surprising amount of late-stage turnover.

Anyway: Pine Salica for #1 is an easy pick. For #2, I would put Samantha Pree-Stinson. Phillipe’s enthusiasm was reassuring. I also think Steve is clearly qualified, and I’m pretty sure he’s less conservative than the people who are enthusiastically endorsing him. I would rank him #3.

Did you know that I had a book released this April? Chaos on CatNet is a sequel to Catfishing on CatNet and takes place in a future Minneapolis. Signed copies are usually available from Dreamhaven and from the current mail-order-only incarnation of Uncle Hugo’s. Books make great holiday gifts, but should be ordered early this year — Tubby & Coo’s bookstore explains why.

I do not have a Patreon or Ko-Fi, but you can make a donation to encourage my work! I get a lot of satisfaction watching fundraisers I highlight getting funded. My readers have now helped buy a refrigerator for the school nurse at Olson Middle School, outfitted 8th grade Algebra students at Olson Middle School with binders to stay organized, bought a 3-D printer for students at Humboldt high school in St. Paul, equipped a classroom at Whittier with an air purifier, bought a pug mill (a clay mixer that allows you to reuse dried-out clay) for art students at Andersen United, bought copies of We Are Not From Here for North High students to read in 9th grade English class, provided a book/curriculum set to students at Green Elementary that would thoroughly upset a lot of pearl-clutching Republicans, and funded snacks for kids at Jefferson, Folwell, and Lucy Laney. Here are some other worthwhile fundraisers for high-poverty Minneapolis and Saint Paul schools.

In Minneapolis:

A first-year teacher at Bryn Mawr would like a variety of classroom supplies, including individual dry-erase boards, a big easel, a classroom rug, a selection of books, and some educational games.

An elementary school teacher at Folwell would like to be able to feed her students mid-morning snacks.

In Saint Paul:

Two science teachers at Washington Technology high school in St. Paul would like learning materials for their chemistry classes: glassware and microscopes, and equipment that will allow students to “see how adding nanoparticles to a conductive solution affects voltage.”

Crossroads Elementary needs a large stock of disposable face masks. (This doesn’t seem like something you should have to fundraise for, does it? but apparently it is.)

And a Head Start teacher would like snowpants, mittens, and hats for her students to wear to play outside in the winter!

And a different kind of school fundraiser (again, in Minneapolis):

Kaytie Kamphoff is a special education resource teacher at Patrick Henry High School and the co-director/producer of Henry Drama Club. (Christopher Michael is her co-director and their full-time theater and dance teacher.) She initially asked for funds on Twitter just so the Henry Drama Club could stage a couple of plays this year. Ms. Kamphoff has now set her sights higher: she’s hoping to raise enough to run a summer theater program for Northside kids, free for participants, paid for the recent grads/Drama Club alums who work. You can donate to her by Venmo or Paypal: Venmo is Henry_DC and PayPal is Kaytie.Kamphoff@gmail.com. Note “Henry Drama Club” in the memo and if Paypal insists you need the last four digits of her phone number, it’s 5548.

Her Twitter thread is solidly worth reading if you’d like some heartwarming stories of the transformational power of theater in the lives of high school students.


2 thoughts on “Election 2021: Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation

  1. I was waiting for your take on this race, but just decided to go for it. I went the exact opposite of you, I went 1-3 Steve, Sam, Pine. I thought Steve sounded the most qualified based on what on could dig up prior to reading this. I feel good about my ranking, but would be fine with any of the 3 of them winning.

  2. I listened to most of Steve Brandt’s WedgeLive interview with John Edwards. Describing George Floyd Square, Steve said “I don’t think you can hold the neighborhood and the larger commuting infrastructure of the city hostage indefinitely.” Comparing an autonomous community memorial and protest space to a hostage crisis is a very interesting way to characterize it, and that has me concerned about Steve’s politics.

    While it’s true that not everyone agrees with the ongoing street closure, GFS was and is the creation of neighbors who live there. They’ve held community meetings and worked out specific demands they want city hall to meet, which by and large, it has not done. The city hasn’t even really negotiated in good faith. Instead, they’ve rather clumsily tried to buy the compliance of some community groups and marginalize others.

    Steve says he’s visited GFS at least half a dozen times, and helped with voter registration there. That’s nice, but it’s also the kind of “working within the system” that has failed, over and over again, to produce any real accountability for what the police do in this city. He follows that innocuous statement with what sounds like code for, “it’s time to send in the cops and clear these people out.”

    Ideally, the BET is not the most “political” of positions. It doesn’t set city policy; it tries to ensure that budgets set by the mayor and council can be funded adequately, sustainably and legally. However, that sometimes puts them in the position of saying “you can’t do that, at least not that way.” I share your concern that someone with law-and-order politics in that job “might not use the tools available to the BET to force changes on law enforcement”, should this question arise.

    I don’t think I’ll be ranking Steve at all.

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