Legislative notebook: GOP tax cut bill draws heated debate

A Republican bill cutting statewide business property taxes received mixed, and at times heated, reaction Tuesday in its first committee hearing.

A House Taxes Committee vote is expected later this week.

House Taxes Chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston, introduced the bill as a way to help produce jobs by cutting business taxes.

The bill would immediately reduce the statewide business property tax and phase it out over the next 12 years. That would cut state revenue $40 million this year and $316 million in the next two years.

The state’s two-year budget tops $30 billion.

The state would pick up $70 million by reducing renters property tax refunds.

Also in the bill is a change in how corporations operating in other counties are taxed, bringing the state nearly $22 million in revenue.

“You are raising some taxes,” Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, told Davids.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, told a small-business lobbyist that cutting the renters refund takes money out of Minnesotans’ pockets, so they have less to spend.

Business representatives told Davids’ committee that they support the plan to lower business property taxes, which Tom Hesse of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce said, remain high in comparison to other states.

Committee members fought about who is to blame for rising property taxes.

“You stuck it to the middle class,” Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, told Democrats.

Rukavina shot back that he always has supported lower property taxes.

“If you guys get control of this state, Katie bar the door,” Garofalo said.

“You guys stick it to people” who do not have much money, Rukavina responded.

“Don’t you lecture me, young man, about what the hell is going on around here,” Rukavina added.

Avoiding shutdown impact

The Senate has approved three bills that would keep some state agencies running if there is another government shutdown like last year.

And legislative committees are considering more bills to do the same.

In a Monday night session, senators decided state colleges and universities, the Minnesota Zoo and electric inspections should continue if other agencies are not funded due to a budget impasse.

All three bills passed with mostly Republican support and Democratic opposition.

Unions target lawmakers

Minnesota’s unions are airing radio and television advertisements complaining about a Republican-backed right to work constitutional amendment.

A Senate committee Monday narrowly approved the bill, which overturns a state requirement that workers belong to unions, or pay dues, in union shops. Its future is uncertain.

The commercials focus on public safety workers and nurses and call the right-to-work proposal “unfair, unnecessary and unsafe.”

Other commercials are aimed at GOP Sens. John Carlson of Bemidji, Joe Gimse of Willmar, John Howe of Red Wing, Carla Nelson of Rochester, John Pederson of St. Cloud and Ted Daley of Eagan in an effort to get them to vote against the proposal.

Stadium bill up

A Vikings stadium bill’s first stop is 1 p.m. Thursday in the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee.

The panel is to discuss the bill, in the works more than a year, and take a vote by 2:40 p.m. If it passes, it would have hearings in several other committees.

The House version of the bill, meanwhile, has not been scheduled for a hearing because many questions remain on using electronic pulltabs and bingo to fund the state’s portion of construction.

Ski bill hits hole

Ski area operators would receive some relief from legal liability under a bill a Senate committee considered Tuesday, but senators raised enough questions that the bill was postponed.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said 95 percent of American ski areas fall under similar laws that spell out when ski areas may be sued. But Minnesota law is silent on the subject.

“This is not blanket immunity,” said Dave Byrd of the National Ski Areas Association.

However, he added, it is important to protect ski areas: “Ski areas are the economic engines of rural areas.”

Attorney Mike Hall said that Ingebrigtsen’s bill would mean ski areas would no longer need to specifically warn skiers about holes in slopes, for instance.

“We believe that the bill just goes too far,” said Joel Carlson of the Minnesota Association for Justice.

But Byrd said the proposal basically says that skiing cam be a dangerous sport and skiers should take responsibility. “It tells everyone in this state … that these are your responsibilities.”

Against supermajority

Former Finance Commissioner Tom Hanson says he objects to a Republican proposal to require votes from three fifths of legislators to increase state taxes.

Hanson, a Mahnomen native who now is a lobbyist, said: “While I am a fiscal conservative who has worked hard in my career to limit government spending and cut taxes, I oppose this proposed amendment because experience has shown that it does not accomplish either of these objectives.”

Among Hanson’s clients is Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, which opposes the supermajority requirement. Several Republicans want to require a supermajority approval for tax increases to make the action harder.

Hanson said states with such a requirement find problems balancing budgets and local property taxes in some states with supermajority requirements have gone up.

“Further, states that adopt supermajority constitutional amendments are likely to see an increase in political gridlock and budgeting through the constitution,” Hanson said.

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