By Rep. Dean Urdahl
Omnibus bills pertaining to two of the House’s top priorities – school safety and taxes – have now received initial passage with bipartisan support, setting the stage for negotiations with the governor.
The project of assembling a tax bill is complicated by sweeping tax changes recently enacted at the federal level. Conformity with the federal tax changes alone would translate to higher taxes at the state level. The plan the House is working on would not only hold harmless as many Minnesotans as possible as we achieve federal conformity, but also simplify the tax code and gain middle-class relief – all at the same time.
The bill which passed the House accomplishes all of those things, including a historic income tax rate reduction. More than 2.1 million Minnesota filers would benefit from the House’s proposal in tax year 2018. The second-tier income tax rate from 7.05 percent to 6.75 percent by tax year 2020. That would be the first reduction to our state income tax since the turn of the century.
The governor’s overall budget plan is not as favorable for taxpayers. A tax incidence study by the Minnesota Department of Revenue shows his supplemental budget would increase taxes on Minnesotans of every income level, hitting households making $32,000 or less the hardest.
One key area where the House and governor share common ground is in supporting tax relief on qualifying equipment purchases to help farmers and Minnesota businesses.
The omnibus education bill approved by the House features numerous provisions geared toward improving building security and providing greater mental health resources for our schools. The House’s approach is to provide local citizens and school officials with the resources and flexibility to make decisions that suit their particular needs. The House proposal provides:
- School resource officers, student support personnel, and other school security programs funded through increased Safe Schools revenue, including a floor level of funding for small schools.
- School building security upgrades, and expanded use of Long-Term Facility Maintenance revenue for security projects, including emergency communications systems.
- School-linked mental health programming to ensure better outcomes for all kids.
- Physical security audit grants to provide state assistance to review facility security and crisis management policies.
- Suicide prevention training for teachers to help educators learn how to engage and assist students experiencing mental distress.
- School-based threat assessment teams established to assess, intervene, and report threats facing students, teachers, and staff.
There is one more provision included in the House’s omnibus education I would like to mention: a measure I personally authored to help address what can be best described as a lack of civics knowledge among our children having reached crisis levels.
My measure requires schools to offer a civics class for credit to either juniors or seniors. Aggregate data would be collected by the Department of Education, in large part to help us learn more about our students’ overall civics awareness.
As I noted on the House floor, recent studies show only one in four Minnesota students are proficient in civics knowledge. In other words, we are failing 75 percent of our children by not adequately teaching them about the system and principles that comprise our great nation’s foundation.
Those feeble statistics are partially the unintended consequences of civics and social studies having been de-emphasized as priority is placed on science, technology, math and engineering curriculum. My goal is to restore some balance and this proposal would help point us in the right direction.