Greetings from the Capitol!
Last week, the House passed a bill that would establish a one year moratorium on MnDOT’s ability from implementing new ditch-mowing regulations. MnDOT released a statement late last year that stated they were planning to change the statewide permitting standards for mowing and bailing ditches along state roadways. Many of the new provisions laid out in their statement are ridiculous and in need of further examination by the Legislature. While my preference would have been to support legislation that does not allow MnDOT to ever enact these regulations, we needed to pass a bill that can be approved by the Senate and signed into law by the Governor. This issue will need to be revisited at a later date.
The House has also begun voting on budget bills and preparing for negotiations with Governor Dayton. One of the budget bills that was taken up for a vote on the House floor last week was a $1.35 billion tax relief proposal.
As I have said previously, the state government’s budget has exploded over the past decade and unfortunately, the current Governor has no interest in slowing down this rapid growth. I am hopeful that with a new Governor being elected in 2018, he or she will be more committed to cutting Minnesotans’ tax rates.
Highlights of the bill include:
- $269 million in relief for Minnesota’s senior citizens by increasing the income limit at which social security income is taxable. Under current law, seniors making more than $32,000 for a married couple or $25,000 for an individual must pay taxes on social security income. Under the House proposal, that threshold would increase to $61,000 for a married couple and $46,500 for a single filer in tax year 2018 and $72,000 for a married couple and $56,000 for a single filer in tax year 2019. As a result, by 2019 nearly 284,000 senior citizen tax returns (single and married filing jointly) would be eligible to receive a tax exemption on their social security benefits with an average tax reduction of $710.
- More than $125 million to address college affordability through a first-in-the-nation tax credit for student loan payments, along with subtractions and credits for families saving for college using 529 Savings Plans. Through the student debt tax credit, 77,500 students will receive on average a $640 reduction in their taxes.
- $42 million in relief for farmers by reducing the burden farmers and agriculture land owners pay for school bond referendums. Approximately 240,000 farmers could receive property tax relief to reduce their disproportionate share of school district debt service. Farms will also benefit from a measure conforming the state death tax to the federal exclusion.
- $35 million for families with young children by modifying the child & dependent care credit. A family of four earning $50,000 a year will receive an addition $1,200 toward their childcare expenses.
- $203 million in relief for hometown businesses by exempting the first $200,000 in property value from the extra tax on businesses and freezing its automatic inflator. This helps every business owner reinvest in their business, protecting 30,000 Minnesota jobs.
- $100 million in direct property tax relief for homeowners and renters.
- Full funding for Local Government Aid/County Program Aid at current levels.
Environment and Natural Resources:
On Thursday, the House also passed the Environment and Natural Resources Omnibus Bill. This bill streamlines environmental review, reins in government spending through agency efficiencies, and protects farmers and landowners from government overreach.
Some highlights of the bill include:
- Reforming the funding process of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) by creating more transparency on where and how efficiently funds are being used.
- Reforming the permitting process of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the MPCA, ensuring these agencies abide by the longstanding rulemaking process and don’t overstep the scope of their authority.
- Reforming the makeup of the Environmental Quality Board from statewide appointments to appointments by congressional district and narrows the focus of their work to environmental review and permitting, as it's a critical issue area that needs attention. Additionally, appointees will be required to have knowledge or experience in environmental review, so the input that is gathered is from people with real-world experience in these very complicated processes.
- Making changes to the buffer law.
- Prohibiting the DNR from further restricting the use of lead shot.
On Friday, the House passed a Transportation funding bill that invests $6 billion over the next decade, with $2 billion being spent in the next two years alone, without raising the gas tax. The bill is funded through bonds and a re-appropriation of auto-related taxes to be spent exclusively on transportation projects.
Some key provisions in the bill that benefit Greater Minnesota:
- Dedicates $25 million over the next two years to a small cities assistance program that allocates funding to cities with fewer than 5,000 residents for local road improvements
- Creates a special fund of $25 million for 97 bridge projects recommended by MnDOT
- Allocates $35 million for rail grade crossings to improve rail safety
- Requires counties or the County Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) to fund 100% of operating and future capital costs for light rail
Additionally, the House passed the Education Finance Omnibus Bill, which increases funding for our students and schools by $1.1 billion, including more than $300 million for early learning programs; $22 million for a targeted academic achievement initiative that funds before school, afterschool, and summer programs to help low-income students who are falling behind; and $40 million for enhanced school readiness aid that gives 74 school districts with voluntary pre-k more flexibility to either continue the program or fund other early education needs.
Other highlights include:
- Continuing efforts to strengthen teacher recruitment and retention, especially in areas with teacher shortages
- Repealing the “last in, first out” (LIFO) default in state statute to allow schools and local bargaining units to negotiate mutually beneficial staff retention decisions that better serve students, teachers and schools
- Protecting kids by permitting school districts to provide child sexual abuse prevention instruction
There is more good legislation being heard later this week, I will keep you posted with details.
If you ever have any questions, comments, or concerns regarding any issue related to state government, please feel free to contact me at either 651-296-3201 or email@example.com. I would love to hear from you.
I truly represent the best!