Ingebrigtsen, Anderson and Franson discuss Dayton's plans
Although it was billed as a legislative town hall meeting, a Friday gathering in Alexandria felt more like a political platform for Republican leaders to analyze the DFL's recent proposals.
Douglas County residents, city council members and county commissioners congregated at the Broadway Ballroom in Alexandria to hear local Republican leaders' takes on DFL Governor Mark Dayton's plans for Minnesota. Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen and Representatives Paul Anderson and Mary Franson shared their perceptions of Dayton's tax proposal for 2014-2015 and took questions from an audience of approximately 50 people.
Anderson and Franson distributed surveys asking for constituents' feedback on issues involving unionization of child and personal care providers, renewable energy mandates, minimum wage, hiring Minnesota veterans, budget deficit, sales tax expansion, gun control, election dates, speed limits, same-sex marriage and abortion legislation. Many of those topics were discussed during the hour and a half session.
Dayton's plan would cost taxpayers $3.6 billion in new taxes, which includes $2.1 billion in net new sales taxes by expanding taxes on goods and services, according to a brief summary provided by Ingebrigtsen. Clothing costing more than $100, over the counter drugs and services such as haircuts and auto repair services were cited as examples that would be affected by the new sales tax expansion. The $3.6 billion increase is expected to be achieved by expanding the sales tax base.
"It is a sales tax reduction from 6.875 to 5.5 [percent]," Ingebrigtsen said. "The only problem with that statement is it throws a huge blanket over...many, many things. So, make no mistake about it, it is not a reduction in tax, it is an increase of basically $3.6 billion."
Ingebrigtsen said an 880 percent excise tax would be seen per bottle at Carlos Creek Winery. At first he thought it was a typo. Tami Bredeson, owner of Carlos Creek Winery, confirmed the number.
Bredeson said Douglas County is a huge tourist area and will receive a "triple punch" from the governor's plan with a raise in minimum wage, an excise tax increase and allowing schools to start before the Labor Day weekend, which will threaten the tourism industry. Bredeson said Minnesota beer manufacturer Summit will see an excise tax increase of $1.3 million.
"The impact to us on the tourism base, is we're going to see a glass of beer go up $1," Bredeson said. Regarding Labor Day, she added, "We lose a weekend that's worth millions to us."
A $1.1 billion tax increase on the top 2 percent income earners would put Minnesota's top rate at the fourth highest in the nation behind California, Hawaii and Oregon. Married couples earning $250,000, head of households earning $200,000 and individuals bringing in more than $150,000 would be affected.
A proposed $500 per year property tax rebate for Minnesota homesteads would not be as good as it sounds, according to Ingebrigtsen, because the money would have to be taxed federally at the end of the year. Ingebrigtsen said each household member will be paying more than $347 to $357 per year on sales tax increases alone.
"That, with the federal," he said. "Basically, it's a wash."
A 94 cents to up to $1.46 per pack tax imposed on cigarette purchases would be used for the healthcare impact that is being "forced" by the federal government, Ingebrigtsen said. The bill pertaining to the cigarette tax needs to be done by the end of March.
Overall, the unemployment rate in Minnesota has dropped in the past two years, Ingebrigtsen said. Raising the minimum wage will cause people a step above a "starter job," as Ingebrigtsen put it, to want an increase as well. He agrees that people should be able to make a fair wage, but not that the government should interfere with business practices.
"I'm not sure frankly that the federal government, or the state government, should be in the business of telling Elden's or Tami out at the winery, or anybody else for that matter, what to pay employees," he said. "I just think it's the wrong thing to do."
Elliott Christensen of Elden's agreed.
"The minimum wage going from $7.50 to $10.50 would become the maximum wage," Christensen said.
Elden's employs high school students who Christensen said have limitations because of the Department of Labor restrictions. They can't perform the same job as other employees who may make more money because of their experience.
"If minimum wage were to go to $10.55 an hour, it would eliminate a lot of jobs," Christensen said. "We just couldn't afford to pay them that type of money at 15, 16 years old."
Douglas County commissioner and Fat Daddy's Bar and Grill owner Charlie Meyer added that Minnesota doesn't have a tip credit. Tipped employees are still paid at the federal minimum wage rate. Meyer said the minimum wage in Wisconsin is $2.45 an hour in hospitality because they have a tip credit.
"As a tourism state, it will change Minnesota drastically with an increased minimum wage," Meyer said.
In addition to raising the minimum wage, employers will be affected by the governor's plan through a new business-to-business sales tax that includes taxing legal, accounting and consulting services. (Dayton has since dropped this idea.)
"We know that if the minimum wage is raised, people are going to get laid off," Franson said. "Our unemployment is going to go up."
Ingebrigtsen said Dayton's administration claims that child care services will continue to be sales tax exempt. Anderson said daycare providers who have their own independent business are not the people who should be in a union.
"I haven't talked to one daycare provider yet who is in favor of [unionization]," Anderson said.
He said the daycare providers who take a subsidy will be voting on the issue and added it seems that unionization would raise rates for daycare and the amount the state pays for the subsidy.
A former child care provider, Franson was visibly distraught over the issue.
"I'm just very emotional today because the Democrats are just destroying this state," she said through tears.
Franson said child care providers should have the right to run their business without a union, to choose to be privatized and receive the subsidy.
"The union is going to denigrate the child care system as we know it," she said. "It doesn't stop with the unions; they're going after our disabled people also."
Franson said it is not only child care subsidies that are affected. The money available for care of disabled people will be cut as well.
"I need your help to start putting pressure on these Democrats like Jay McNamar," Franson said. "We need six or eight [Democrats] to stand up to their party."
In regard to the health insurance exchange, Franson said a panel of seven "nameless, faceless, people will determine the quality of life we have here in Minnesota."
Ingebrigtsen said some Second Amendment issues and gun bills are being pushed in the Legislature that are directing the government toward the registration of guns.
"We're fighting that constantly," Ingebrigtsen said. "I think at the end of the day the rural folks, both Democrat and Republican, whether Senate or House, are not going to like that bill. They're not going to want to vote for it."
Ingebrigtsen said there is a different appreciation of guns between metro and rural people. He added that many gun owners come to Douglas County and the surrounding area for hunting and fishing.
Anderson said committee meeting rooms were filled with people expressing concern over proposed bills, which helped get their message across.
"I think because of that, [Democrats] have backed off of...magazine clip limits and bills that go a lot further in restricting our Second Amendment rights," Anderson said.
Between 2008 and 2011, Ingebrigtsen said, the long-gun homicide rate in Minnesota according to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehensions, was seven people. Sixty-five people were killed with fists; 165 were killed with pistols.
"The point is, the fists killed more people than the long-guns," Ingebrigtsen said. He prefaced that by noting that the murder rate is low, comparatively, and going down each year.
Ingebrigtsen said polling indicates Minnesotans are not ready for gay marriage yet. He said there is a difference between a constitutional amendment and changing the law. Dayton has indicated he will sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.
"We got bashed pretty good last year for taking up social issues," Anderson said. "The Democrats didn't learn from our, maybe, mistakes because they're doing the same thing this year."
Minnesota has a 25 percent green energy mandate by 2025. A bill asking to increase that mandate to 40 percent has been introduced. Another bill, H.F. 880, would add a 10 percent solar mandate.
"We all like green energy. But we all have to understand these things come at a cost," Anderson said.
Ingebrigtsen said California seems to be the standard for green energy, but with some of their cities going through bankruptcy, that may not be the model Minnesota should be following.
Crystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.