Editor's note: The following is a legislative week in review column written by State Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.
The DFL will begin rolling out more specific tax proposals next week, filling in the details of their anticipated $2 billion tax increase budget. We expect their proposal to include a combination of income, business, cigarette, and sales tax increases.
Before we ask for another cent from hardworking taxpayers, we need to go line-by-line through Minnesota's budget to ensure that our current spending is as efficient and effective as possible. We can't afford for government to waste money. Minnesotans deserve better.
In other developments, bipartisan concerns continue at the Capitol over the growing gap between initial and updated projections concerning electronic pull tab revenue being counted on as a key funding source for the new Vikings stadium. During the inaugural hearing this week of the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Sports Facilities, members of both parties called for an expedited hearing on why Governor Dayton's administration revenue projections have so far been significantly off the mark. As reported, initial pull tab revenue for FY 2013 was projected to be $35 million, while updated projections have been scaled back to $1.8 million, a 95 percent reduction.
Health and Human Services
This week the Health and Human Services Finance Division began its work on putting the budget together. The Division began hearing bills for possible inclusion in the Omnibus bill, as well as parts of the Governor's HHS budget, which is SF 1034.
This week and next week, the Transportation Committee will be assembling its Omnibus Transportation Finance Bill. SF 891, a DFL transportation tax bill, will be part of this discussion. In the bill, the DFL proposes to increase the gas tax by 9.5 cents per-gallon, increase license tab fees by $90 million per year, and allow each county to assess a per-vehicle fee of any amount. These taxes would be in addition to the 3/4 percent general sales tax increase for transit proposed by the DFL in SF 927. In total, over $630 million in tax increases each year are being proposed by the DFL, with more than half of this money going to metropolitan-area transit alone; however, notably absent from these proposals is any transit fare increase.
The Senate Education Finance Division gave lengthy consideration to reinstating a statewide school property tax termed the "General Education Levy." Although it had been a mainstay for many years of Minnesota school finance, the General Education Levy was ended in 2001 in an effort to provide property tax relief and to use then-existing state budget surpluses to increase the proportion of school revenue that is paid for by the state. Proponents of bringing back this property tax argue that the state budget is subject to wide swings and is not a stable and reliable source for school funding. Further, it is pointed out that the proposed legislation (S.F. 1142 Stumpf-DFL) would reduce and/or eliminate other existing school levies. However, opponents, including representatives of Minnesota's job-creators such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Partnership, expressed their belief that future increases in the General Education Levy are inevitable in following years and that the legislation neglects to repeal a statewide business property tax that was created in 2001 as a trade-off.
Another proposal brought before the Division would provide funding to school districts specifically targeted for the payment of costs associated with the 2011 requirement that teachers must be evaluated regularly and that such evaluations must include consideration of student performance levels (effective with the 2014-15 school year).
Higher Education Finance Division
In the Senate Higher Education Finance Division, legislation to provide undocumented residents attending college with both in-state tuition rates and state financial aid eligibility was further considered and then passed to the full Finance Committee. Supporters of the measure argued that only students who have a history of living in Minnesota and attending high school will qualify. These students were typically brought into the country as children by parents who immigrated illegally. Concerns have been voiced, however, that holding out the promise of educational benefits from both the K-12 and now the post-secondary systems will likely encourage additional unlawful entry, and that Minnesota taxpayers should not have to fund additional benefits or see financial aid diverted from legal residents.
Judiciary Budget Division
On Thursday, the Judiciary Budget Division heard SF 235, which mostly contains pieces of gun crime enforcement legislation that have fiscal costs.
Environment Budget Division
The Environment Budget Division met on Wednesday and Thursday to hear more than $300 million in bonding requests including a number of regional civic centers as well as trail projects across the state. All proposals were held over for possible recommendation to the Capitol Investment Committee.