The battle over how to pay for long-term care for Minnesota's aging baby boomers has taken a new turn as some state legislators have proposed a constitutional amendment to ensure permanent funding.
Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, and Rep. Jerry Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids, unveiled a proposed amendment that would close a Social Security tax loophole that exempts those with an income of more than $118,500 a year. The additional tax money paid by those earners would be diverted to care for the elderly and the disabled.
Newton said the idea makes sense because it allows the voters to decide, rather than legislators.
"We're hoping this will take pressure off legislators," he said.
In Minnesota, the top 4 percent of earners would pay for the plan over 25 years. If those earners were taxed at 6.2 percent, more than $1 billion could be raised each year to support long-term care, according to the proposal.
If passed by the Legislature, the measure would be included on November's ballot.
"We have right now an age wave that's coming toward us — a demographic shift and change the likes of which we have never seen in world history," Eken said. "One of the things that we're trying to do here today is to shine the spotlight on the problem and to start a discussion around the solution."
With the number of Minnesotans over age 65 expected to double by 2030 — coupled with increased life expectancies — adequate funding for long-term care facilities and employees needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, Newton said.
At the same time, a long-term care employee shortage caused by high employee turnover and low pay has worsened the problem.
"The longer we wait, the bigger the problem becomes," Eken said. "Everybody knows that the baby boomer generation is coming. Everyone knows people are living longer."
The effort follows a successful push in the Legislature last year to provide nursing homes workers with $138 million in new money.
However, legislators from both parties are leery about using the state Constitution for proposals they say should stay in legislative control.
Alyssa Siems Roberson, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the proposal won't gain much attention in the Senate this year even though Bakk agrees the problem needs to be addressed.
Republicans are likely to oppose it because it involves a tax increase.
Eken and Newton said they are open to other solutions. "'No is not a solution," Eken said. "For those who are opposed or don't like this funding method … propose another option, an alternative."
The idea is not unprecedented. In 2008, a bipartisan coalition won approval of a constitutional amendment to dedicate sales tax money for arts and the outdoors.
"If we don't do something now, like this, that age wave threatens to swamp all of the other areas of the state budget," Eken said.
Christopher Aadland is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.