BET Basics

The Board of Estimate and Taxation is one of the less-understood boards in our city. Here, I’ll shed some light on what it is and does.

Q. What is the BET?

A. The BET is a board established by the city Charter.  One way the city covers costs to operate and improve services within its boundaries is to levy property taxes (see below).  In brief, the mayor recommends a budget, and the city council and various boards adopt a budget based on that recommendation.  However, before any budget can be adopted, the BET sets the maximum property tax levy for certain funds.  These funds include the City, the Park Board, and the Public Housing Authority.  The BET also approves the issuance of municipal bonds (see below).  Basically, the BET is a fiscal oversight board.

Example: The BET sets a maximum levy of $1000 for the park board.  The park board could not adopt a budget with a tax levy of $1300 as this is above the maximum levy set by the BET.

The BET has members that have a stake in many facets of the city’s tax levy and revenue sources, ensuring that no single represented interest or entity has exclusive control over the issues subject to its jurisdiction.

Q. Who are the members of the BET?

A. “(1) the Mayor; (2) the Council president; (3) the Council member who chairs the Council committee whose charge includes the budget; (4) a commissioner elected by and from the Park and Recreation Board (or, if the Park and Recreation Board has not elected a commissioner, its president); and (5) two members elected by the voters in a regular election held in each year following a year whose number is evenly divisible by four.” (Mpls. Ord. No. 2016-086 , § 5.)

Or, if you like charts:

a pie chart with 5 slices. Mayor, City Council President, City Council Finance Chair, Park Board, and a 2-slice-wide At-Large Seats.

Q. Can you explain how property tax works?

A. First, check out how the City of Minneapolis explains it:

Property taxes are determined by

  1. Determining how much to collect, and then
  2. Allocating that amount to be collected among the various classes of properties, using property-class weighting that is determined by statute (the “classification rate”). (Minn. Stat. § 273.13.)

Property classes correspond to different types of uses, such as residential, commercial, etc.

The tax on an individual property is calculated using property’s appraised value relative to other properties in the jurisdiction, after that value is adjusted by applying its classification rate. Adding properties that are subject to property tax (e.g., adding residential units) decreases every other property’s relative share of the overall levy because the same tax is being spread among more payers.

When considering the income streams available to the city, property taxes are the least regressive. (see 2021 Minnesota Tax Incidence Study, pp. 33, 67.) Higher property tax burdens correspond closely with higher incomes, low-income property taxpayers (owners and renters) get refunds through the state tax system, and low-income seniors enjoy a property tax deferral option that can be used in conjunction with that refund. (Minnesota Department of Revenue M1PR instructions. – file your M1PR if you qualify!) In a way, property taxes are more like a wealth tax than any of the other alternatives available to the city.

A chart showing the effective tax rate paid by various income levels of people. Aside from the first decile, it's remarkably flat.
Chart from page 67 of the 2021 Tax Incidence Study. The Department of Revenue notes that “Because the information for the first decile includes data anomalies and measurement problems … effective tax rates for the first decile are not reliable.”

In plainer language, the effective tax rate for property taxes is nearly flat, which is much closer to equitable than sales taxes which have a higher effective tax rate for lower income people.

Q. Can you explain what a municipal bond is?

A. A municipal bond is government borrowing against future revenues to provide funding for current needs. They are tax-advantaged investments and are generally seen as reliable and safe investments, making them attractive to investors.

The City’s cost of bonding is determined by the bond market at the time of issuance, together with issuance fees. The market is influenced by factors such as the broader economy and the city’s bond rating, which is a subjective measure reflecting various information about the city’s overall financial health, and is in a sense a municipal credit score. According to EMMA, Minneapolis’s 2020 general obligation bonds are rated AA+ by Fitch, and AAA by S&P. (Electronic Municipal Market Access.) Generally, municipal bonds allow the city to borrow at rates below the market for a comparable commercial loan.