Ingebrigtsen: DFL calling for $2 billion in tax increases
Editor's note: The following is a legislative update written by State Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.
Senate DFL leaders set the table for over $2 billion in tax increases as they released their proposed budget framework for the next two years. Senate DFL leaders are calling for even higher government spending than Governor Dayton by proposing a nearly $3 billion increase over current spending of $35.2 billion for Fiscal Year 2014-15. Despite projections that show Minnesota's fragile, but improving economy will already generate almost $1 billion in new state revenue during Fiscal Year 2014-15, it's expected the Senate DFL will call for over $2 billion in additional, yet to be detailed higher income, sales, and cigarette taxes.
Democrat legislators are still demanding tax increases that hit squarely in the pocketbooks of Minnesota's working families - from gas tax, to tax on beer, tax on snacks, and taxes on clothing and digital downloads.
On Monday, the Transportation Committee passed a bill that eliminated the requirement that driver's license applicants be legal U.S. residents. Under the bill, undocumented Minnesotans (illegal U.S. residents) would be able to get a driver's license that is identical to all other Minnesota driver's licenses. Under current law, only documented citizens can get a driver's license, and short-term residents (documented immigrants) receive a driver's license that expressly states their legal status expiration.
The Senate Education Finance Division spent time considering the intersection of property tax policy and education funding policy. Under consideration was S.F. 177, which is legislation being proposed by the Chair of the Senate Taxes Committee. According to the author, part of the education budget needs to be directed to relieving school property taxpayers of the burdens they are currently carrying for excess operating referendums and for debt service payments on debt issued for construction projects. This bill would direct state aid to those districts that are currently struggling to pay for these amounts because of their limited property tax bases. The new aid would also assist such districts in the future when they approach their voters to approve additional levies because state aid would help match the funds raised locally.
In the Senate Higher Education Finance Division, the nationally recognized and widely acclaimed Teach for America program would receive a grant of $1 million annually to support preparation of highly-qualified persons to teach in classrooms serving some of the most challenged students in the state. Teach for America has had a Minnesota presence since 2009, and, while it is growing steadily, public school requests for its teachers have outstripped capacity. The grant is proposed by legislation (S.F. 975) that was approved for possible inclusion in the omnibus higher education finance bill. Another candidate for inclusion in the omnibus bill is S.F. 308, which proposes to continue a matching grant program started last year for the purpose of providing Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MNSCU) with updated and relevant equipment in its career training programs.
Health and Human Services
The Governor signed HF 5/SF 1, the health insurance exchange bill, into law on Wednesday. The new exchange has been named "MnSure."
SF 471 ("nurse staffing ratio") passed out of the HHS policy committee this week. The bill in its current form requires hospitals to develop an extensive "core-staffing plan" which would include the projected number of full-time equivalent non-managerial staff that will be assigned in a 24-hour period to an inpatient care unit. This plan will be made publically available, be included on the MN Hospital Association website, and updated regularly.
The Environment Finance Committee continued to hear bonding and appropriation proposals this week. All projects and department recommendations were held over for possible inclusion in a larger bill. Among the proposals were recommendations for $10 million in new funding for the Minnesota TV and Film Board, $35 million in bonding for flood hazard mitigation grants, $16 million per year in new funding for Explore Minnesota Tourism and almost $95 million in biennial spending for the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.
The Environment Policy Committee considered a number of bills that were eventually rolled into an omnibus energy bill introduced on Tuesday and scheduled for action on Thursday. The highlight of the energy bill is a proposed 2% by 2025 solar energy mandate for cooperative utilities and a 4% by 2025 mandate for public utilities.
The Environment Committee also assembled and passed the annual Lands Bill and a Game and Fish Bill. The typically non-controversial Game & Fish Bill contains a moratorium on the DNR issuing any new water appropriation permits and extraordinary zoning setback applicable only to the industrial sand mining industry.
As the Commerce Committee wrapped up this week, a bill was passed this week to require that a person who shows up at a scrap metal dealer with a car the person wants to get rid of, the person must show proof of ownership. The intent of the bill (SF 934) is to help prevent car thieves from stealing vehicles and then scrapping them (along with the evidence) for money, which is not always covered by the owners' insurance. Another measure that was passed also relates to autos (SF 818).
This week a bill that would ban the use of liability waivers by recreational activity providers failed to advance in committee. The bill faced strong opposition from resort owners, ski operators, fitness clubs, and even the YMCA. For example, mom and pop resort owners in Minnesota feared that getting rid of these negligence waivers would force them to give up things like boat rentals and tennis courts on their properties, which would have put them at a competitive disadvantage with resort owners in surrounding states.
Senator Ingebrigtsen can be reached at (651) 297-8063, by mail at 143 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155, or via email at email@example.com.