The Minnesota House and Senate, both controlled by Republicans, have each passed bills to lower taxes for most Minnesotans and bring the state’s tax code in line with the recent federal tax overhaul. Now, lawmakers in both chambers must reach a compromise that can win final approval from DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who made his own proposal earlier this year and has been critical of both bills. All of this needs to happen before the 2018 legislative session ends on May 21.
Here’s what you need to know about the proposals, what they could mean for taxpayers and what comes next.
What’s at stake?
Every year, the Legislature has to change the law to bring the state tax system into alignment with federal law, an exercise known around the Capitol as "conformity." Minnesota is one of just six states that bases state taxes on an income figure plucked from the federal filing called federal taxable income, which then becomes the starting point for determining Minnesotans' taxable income.
If the Legislature takes no action, Minnesotans could face a complex task next year filing their state taxes because of the changes at the federal level passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump. Taxpayers would have to use the old federal rules, leading to confusion for the taxpayers and complexity for the Minnesota Department of Revenue. And because of the loss of some federal deductions, about 300,000 Minnesotans would face a state tax increase.
However, if Minnesota adopts the federal rules in full, about 870,000 Minnesotans would face a state tax increase averaging $489, according to the Department of Revenue, because of the loss of deductions such as the personal and dependent exemptions.
Notably, all three proposals on the table would sever the state’s income tax system from the federal government’s, giving Minnesota more autonomy in the future.
What’s in the House plan?
The House plan passed on April 30 combats the potential state tax increases created by the federal overhaul by retaining the personal and dependent exemptions in the Minnesota tax code and cutting income tax rates.
It would lower individual income taxes for about 2.1 million Minnesota filers by increasing the amount of tax-free money that married filers can earn by $1,000, as well as lowering the second-lowest income tax rate from 7.05 percent to 6.75 percent, phased in over two years. The bill would also lower the corporate tax rate from 9.8 percent to 9.64 percent this year and then to 9.06 percent in 2020.
Thirteen DFL lawmakers crossed the aisle to join the entire Republican caucus in approving the bill.
Does the House bill have an official song?
Funny you should ask. It is Brothers Osborne's "It Ain't My Fault," according to the bill's author, House Taxes Committee Chair Greg Davids, R-Preston. Interpret that as you will.
What about the Senate bill?
While it doesn't have an official song (yet), the Senate plan that passed May 3 on a party-line vote would use $176 million from the state’s projected $329 million budget surplus to make it possible to lower the bottom tax rate from 5.35 percent to 5.1 percent beginning this year. It would also keep in the state tax code deductions that were eliminated by the federal government such as personal and dependent exemptions; reduce estate taxes for wealthy heirs, a provision that drew criticism from Senate Democrats; and enact automatic triggers to cut taxes if the state has a surplus and economic growth, which Dayton has criticized.
And Dayton’s proposal?
The tax plan Dayton outlined in March would cut taxes for most income tax filers while raising them on many businesses. It would create a new tax credit for those who make less than $140,000 — or $280,000 if married — cutting taxes an average $117 for more than 1.9 million Minnesotans, according to an analysis by the Department of Revenue. It would also expand the Working Family Tax Credit.
Minnesotans would be able to take the simpler standard deduction on their federal tax return while taking itemized deductions like charitable donations on their state return, which they are currently prohibited from doing. Dayton’s plan would take many of the deductions stripped out by the federal overhaul and put them in the state code, such as unreimbursed business expenses that fall on workers.
The bulk of the tax increases in Dayton’s plan would come on businesses, including restoring an automatic increase in statewide commercial and industrial property taxes; limiting the interest costs businesses can deduct; and taxing foreign income.
It would also reinstate an automatic increase on cigarettes that the Legislature repealed last year, and which he signed. He would eliminate a tax cut — also passed and signed last year — for wealthy estates that would affect about 1,000 families per year.
Separately, Dayton would also keep in place a health care provider tax, which is set to expire at the end of 2019, to continue funding a health insurance program for the working poor called MinnesotaCare. Republicans have criticized this proposal as an extension of what they call the “sick tax.”
What are the revenue implications for the plans?
The Senate bill would reduce revenue to the general fund by $265 million by 2021, according to Senate fiscal analysts. Under the House plan, the general fund would see an $84 million reduction in revenue during that time period, according to the House Fiscal Analysis Department.
Under Dayton’s plan, revenues would remain mostly flat in the first year, but would increase nearly $410 million in the second two years, according to the Department of Revenue.
Where does Dayton stand on the House and Senate bills?
The governor and his revenue commissioner have both voiced opposition to the bills in their current forms, but Dayton has not issued a veto threat.
What happens next?
A group of lawmakers from the House and Senate will enter a conference committee to negotiate a compromise between the two bills that will need to be passed by both chambers. Then, the bill will go to Dayton’s desk for either his signature or veto.
If no bill is signed into law before the May 21 end of the legislative session, assuming Dayton does not call a special session to continue negotiations, the debate will resume next year with a new governor and, potentially, a new balance of power in the House following the elections in November. In the meantime, those previously mentioned headaches for taxpayers and the Department of Revenue would go into effect.
This post has been updated.