Political notebook: New senator pushes tax reform as budget solution

First-year state Sen. John Howe thinks he has the answer to ending a budget impasse at the Minnesota Capitol: Pass a bill temporarily continuing spending slightly less than current levels and spend time the time that gains to eliminate the state income tax.

The Red Wing Republican says an expanded state sales tax would provide enough money and make for a more stable state funding source.

“I think we need to take the opportunity to redesign how we fund government operation,” Howe said in an interview.

The former Red Wing mayor’s idea is to expand the sales tax to all sales other than food, prescription medicines and clothing, but the lower the tax to 4 percent, down from the current 6.875 percent.

Income and property taxes are not stable, Howe said, making it difficult for governments to know how much money will be available. The sales tax, on the other hand, is much more predictable, he added.

Howe’s suggestion is for the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton to agree on approving what some call a “lights-on bill” to keep state government running after the current budget ends on June 30. “Maybe by the end of the year have something in place and look at how we can move away from this unstable and volatile funding environment.”

A side benefit to shifting to the sales tax, Howe said, is that “you get away from this class warfare.”

Much of the budget debate has centered on Democrat Dayton’s desire to raise income taxes on the highest-earning Minnesotans. In a sales tax plan like he proposes, Howe said, the rich naturally will pay more because they buy more items and buy more expensive goods.

“’Tax the rich’ is not a healthy debate,” Howe said. “It divides us, it doesn’t bring us together.”

Howe said legislative interest in his idea is growing, and he pitched it in a private lunch with Dayton.

“It is times like this when you can move these ideals forward,” Howe said.

Serious on Bachmann

NBC news reports that there are reasons to take U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota seriously as a Republican presidential candidate.

The network’s “First Read” blog said she should be taken seriously because there is clear evidence she is running, she can raise lots of money, she will stand out in debates, she may be the only woman in the field and she can win over former Donald Trump and Herman Cain supporters.

The blog reports that she appeals to the Tea Party end of the GOP.

“This segment of the GOP wants a candidate who will carry the Tea Party banner, who talks strongly about his-her religious faith, and who will take the fight to President Obama,” the network’s political experts reported.

Ethics hearing set

Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, goes in front of the Senate Ethics Committee Monday.

An ethics complaint, filed by Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, alleges that Hoffman “misled the public by writing and publishing a statement which falsely describes Senator (Barb) Goodwin as personally using derogatory labels for those with mental illnesses.” Rest said that violates Senate ethics rules.

Hoffman is accused of violating Senate ethics rules by tweeting that Godwin called mentally ill persons “idiots and imbeciles.” However, Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, said she was talking about a term that used to be part of the titles of mental health facilities.

Rural emphasis

The Obama White House has said little about rural America until it announced the establishment of the first White House Rural Council.

President Barack Obama recently signed an executive order establishing the council to develop rural communities’ economic potential.

“Strong rural communities are key to a stronger America,” Obama said.

The council is to coordinate programs across government to improve the economy and quality of life in rural areas. It is to be led by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor.

In the coming months, the council will focus on creating jobs and increasing the flow of money to rural areas.

Bachmann yes, Tpaw no

At last report, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota will take part in the Iowa Tea Party bus tour for presidential candidates, but former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will not.

The tour begins Monday in southwest Iowa’s Council Bluffs, with stops across the state through July 2.

The Iowa presidential caucuses are the first in the country.

License changes

Drivers with violations in other states may discover they cannot get a Minnesota driver’s license after June 28.

That is when a federal law kicks in forbidding states from issuing licenses to anyone with unresolved serious violations or sanctions such as license suspensions in other states. Minnesota’s Public Safety Department warns that it will not issue new licenses or renew existing cones in such cases.

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