Minnesota property taxes will go down about $49 million for residents who qualify to state aids and credits this year, according to a new report.
The report by a nonpartisan legislative office shows that property taxes would go up $124 million without aids and credits, but new property tax and renters credits will more than offset the increases.
The report has set off a new round of high-stakes political fighting in St. Paul. Legislative Democrats have pledged to lower property taxes through more state aid to local governments and through direct property tax relief in the form of aids and credits.
In a letter to constituents, House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, credited Democrats' work for lowering property taxes for the first time in 12 years.
Homeowners will get some of the largest reductions in property taxes in 2014, about $171 million, or about 5.2 percent lower than last year. But owners of agricultural property, public utility land and commercial property could see their property levy edge up.
Republicans are zeroing in on a similar property tax report for 2015. That report shows property taxes will go up next year, even with aids and credits. However, analysts caution the 2015 numbers are highly speculative and make a rough guess and what local governments will do with their property tax levies.
“We knew farmers and rural landowners were going to be hit hard with property tax increases, but now it appears that homeowners in all tax brackets can expect to pay more despite promises the Democrats made over the past two years,” said state Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, who sits on the House Property and Local Tax Division.
Minnesota’s property tax rates are a combination of levies of local government, schools and the state, which means they can vary wildly from community to community.
“The Democrats raised taxes on Minnesotans by more than $2 billion, and vowed this would actually help property taxes go down,” said state Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, ranking Republican on the House Taxes Committee. “This report proves they didn’t keep their word and now Minnesotans are going to pay an even steeper price.”
The lead author of the report cautioned that the figures for aids and credits are only estimates based on their best guesses as to how many Minnesotans apply for the tax relief.
The year-to-year comparison for actual taxes paid between 2013 and 2014, the numbers Republicans are highlighting, are the only numbers analysts know for sure, said Steve Hinze, a legislative analyst in the research department of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Calculating aids and credits, as Democrats are counting on, gets murkier, he said.
The numbers “are actually pretty speculative because there is a new initiative aimed at getting more eligible taxpayers to apply for refunds this year, and no one really knows how successful it will be,” Hinze said.
Democrats say the only number that matters is what Minnesotans actually pay, which will be lower once they receive their aids and credits.
Many Democrats are especially happy that the some of the steepest tax reductions for homeowners and renters are in the rural areas.
Rep. John Persell, DFL- Bemidji, wrote a letter reminding constituents that property taxes were soaring as former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty cut millions from local governments.
Now, he said, legislators and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton “moved Minnesota in a different direction” and are lowering property taxes for the first time in years.
Minnesota and Wisconsin residents who live in one state but work in the other could soon have their income taxes dramatically simplified as part of a new tax reciprocity proposal.
Minnesota revenue officials on Thursday offered to lower Wisconsin’s annual payment by $1 million if the Badger state approves of the agreement by Sept. 30.
‘That millions dollars is part of Minnesota’s strong desire to reinstate income tax reciprocity,” said Sen. Roger Reinert, a Duluth Democrat who has worked with other border legislators for an agreement. “This really is us extending a hand and saying, ‘Work with us.’”
Wisconsin and Minnesota have not been able to broker a new arrangement since the four decade old income tax reciprocity agreement lapsed at the end of 2009. Suddenly, 80,000 residents who lived in one state but worked over the border had to file income taxes in both states.
Wisconsin revenue officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The deadlock has come down to money.
Minnesota revenue officials studied the issue and determined that about 56,000 Wisconsin residents work in Minnesota, more than double the amount of Gopher state residents who cross the border for work.
Minnesota's study concluded that Wisconsin needs to pay about $92.5 million a year due to the difference.
The problem is, that’s about $4 million more than Wisconsin officials believe they should pay.
Minnesota made similar offers in 2012 and 2013, but both offers included the $4 million gap. Wisconsin officials rejected both proposals.
This year, Minnesota legislators decided to see if an additional $1 million might sweeten the deal.
“It really is a desire on the part of border legislators who are trying to make it a little smoother,” said Minnesota Department of Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans.
Differing tax rates between the two states also aggravates the problem.
Minnesota limits the credit it offers consumers for taxes paid in another state to the amount they would pay if they lived in state. Frans said he does not believe Minnesota taxpayers should subsidize Wisconsin’s higher effective tax rate.
Wisconsin officials have said their residents already pay enough.
Reinert and other border legislators said they still routinely hear from residents frustrated with having to file two state income tax forms.
Business owners, Reinert said, are just as frustrated that they have to keep two sets of tax records for employees who live across the border.
The issue boiled over in 2009 as the economy tanked and budget officials in both states were desperate for money.
Wisconsin delayed its payments to balance the state budget, creating a deeper hole for Minnesota's budget officials.
Then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty grew frustrated and let the program expire, saying that Wisconsin’s 17-month delay was too much for Minnesota’s shaky budget.
The new agreement allows Wisconsin to make four equal payments a year, minimizing one-time blows that can be difficult in a sagging economy.
For state leaders, the issue has become a balance between protecting state money and promoting convenience for taxpayers.
Frans said the governor authorized the new $1 million dollar offer, but they refuse to make a deal unless it is fair for all Minnesota taxpayers.
Minnesota still has reciprocity agreements with Michigan and North Dakota.
A bill mandating smart phones to be enabled with a “kill switch” that would render the device useless if stolen passed the Minnesota Senate by a wide margin Friday.
The “kill switch bill,” which passed 44-14, would mandate any new smart phones after 2015 to be loaded with the functionality or provide the opportunity to download it. The measure was authored in response to a national epidemic of smartphone thefts, which are stolen and quickly resold for easy cash.
Locally, smartphone thefts have figured in a series of high-profile robberies on and around the University of Minnesota campus in recent months, and Mark Andrew, a former Hennepin County commissioner and unsuccessful Minneapolis mayoral candidate, was badly beaten by thieves who stole his phone at the Mall of America.
Despite its initial reluctance, the wireless industry announced last month that it would pledge to equip all smartphones with kill switch functionality in 2015. The bill’s author, Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL- Newport said the bill, coinciding with the pledge is meant to help deter future crimes from occurring and shows that the state is serious about stopping smartphone theft.
Under the bill, the “kill switch” feature could only be activated with the owner’s consent.
The bill was rolled in with a separate measure by Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, that would require retailers who buy used smartphones to keep a record of the sellers and limits payouts to electronic transfer or check—not cash.
The measure heads next to the House, where its sponsor, Rep, Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said it’s likely to pass. He said the bill, coinciding with the wireless industry’s pledge to install the functionality, as a “belt and suspenders” arrangement to ensure the functionality is equipped in phones.
Allison Sherry and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
WASHINGTON -- Former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty said early Wednesday on MSNBC's Morning Joe that Republicans should back a minimum wage increase.
"If you're going to talk the talk about being for the middle class and the working person, if we have a minimum wage, it should be reasonably adjusted from time to time," the former presidential contender said on the morning cable program. "There are some basic things we should be for."
Pawlenty's comments come ahead of a Senate vote later today on a proposal supported by President Obama to boost the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 in three steps, concluding in 2016. The measure is supported by DFL Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, both of whom have made floor speeches in the last two days in support.
Obama will also make remarks on the minimum wage later today. The vote is not likely to be taken up by the GOP-controlled House. Neither GOP Reps. John Kline or Erik Paulsen's office responded to questions on the wage hike Wednesday.
As Democrats were trumpeting Pawlenty's comments, the former governor made clear that his support for a minimum wage increase does not mean he backed the $10.10 an hour plan.
"The proposal being presented by the Senate majority goes too far and too fast,” Pawlenty said in an email to Politico.
Pawlenty, who is now the CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, has a significant history with minimum wage increase proposals.
As governor back in 2005, Pawlenty signed a Minnesota minimum wage hike. That measure lifted the state's wage floor from $5.15 an hour, where it had stagnated since 1997, to $6.15 an hour for large employers.
At the time, the hike had bipartisan support and primarily Republican opposition. Among the Republicans who voted against it -- then state Rep. Paulsen, who is now in the U.S. House.
In subsequent years, Pawlenty vetoed legislators' attempt to raise the state's minimum so it remained at $6.15 an hour, even as the federal minimum went up to $7.25 an hour. Since then, Minnesota has had one of the lowest minimum wages in the country.
But this year, the DFL-controlled Legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton set out to change that.
After considerable debate, they approved a minimum wage increase. Earlier this month, Dayton signed into law an measure to raise the state's minimum to $9.50 an hour by 2016. Future increases would be tied to inflation, meaning the state's lowest wage workers would continue to get paycheck boosts after 2016 except in times of significant economic downturns.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Franken said the oft-repeated argument among Republicans that the minimum wage doesn't help businesses isn't true.
"People who earn minimum wage spend the money they're earning," he said. "Workers who are better paid are better workers and are less likely to quit ... It helps business."
State Senate Republicans want to increase tax relief for Minnesotans this year by proposing more than $360 million in permanent sales tax relief.
“Sales taxes affect everybody,” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. Sales tax relief “is abundantly fair.”
Senate Republicans want to lower the state sales tax rate to 6.375 percent, from 6.875 percent.
The proposal comes as DFL leaders who control the Senate finalized more than $500 million in tax relief for consumers and businesses. The measure is expected to get a final vote Thursday.
Legislators are wrestling with a $1.2 billion projected budget surplus, which comes largely from the state’s strong economic performance.
Republicans have argued that Democrats raised too many new taxes last year. They have proposed returning nearly all of it to taxpayers, which could dramatically wipe out projected surpluses in the following years and potentially send the state into deficit again.
Senate Democrats are taking a more cautious approach and are trying to spend the money in ways that doesn’t blow a monster hole in the budget it future years. The Senate strongly supports using some of the surplus to bolster the state’s reserves by another $150 million, bringing the state’s rainy-day fund to around $750 million.
Senate Taxes Committee Chairman Rod Skoe said he does not want a repeat of the last decade, where the state was locked in cycle of deficits and emergency budget cutting that damaged the state's credit rating.
“We don’t want to go through that again,” said Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook. “A little bit of caution is in order.”
Republicans oppose building up the reserves, saying the tax money should be in the economy, not sitting in the state’s bank account.
“We are better off letting people keep their money in their pockets,” Hann said.
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