Legislative notebook: House DFL wants $250 million in property tax relief

Little Earth drummers

By Don Davis and Danielle Killey

Almost 1 million Minnesotans would receive larger property tax refunds, or their first refunds, under a House Democratic proposal.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, said the House plan would establish the homestead credit refund, spending $250 million to replace existing homeowner tax refunds and expand a renters’ refund. More than 300,000 homeowners would get bigger refunds; that is 75 percent of those who file for refunds.

Davnie said the average homeowner’s refund would rise $212.

Also, 100,000 more homeowners would be eligible for a refund, and the state would attempt to convince more to apply.

The average renter would get $179 more a year. Property tax relief would be made available to 340,000 renters.

“Providing comprehensive property tax relief will put more money in the pockets of middle-class Minnesotans and help move our state forward on more sustainable and reliable financial ground,” Davnie said.

Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said Democrats had promised to reinstate the market value homestead credit that a GOP-led Legislature ended two years ago.

“They have reneged on that promise,” Torkelson said. “The homestead credit refund is simply a renaming of the property tax refund program that has been in existence for a number of years.”

He complained that Democrats are offering “no direct property tax relief to businesses and agriculture land.”

Rep. Ben Lien, DFL-Moorhead, said rural Minnesotans’ property taxes went up eight times more than others.

Included in the DFL bill are provisions to simplify Local Government Aid the state pays to cities. The House would increase spending $60 million for cities and $28 million for counties.

Lien and Davnie said added aid will help keep down city property taxes, but there is nothing in the bill requiring that the added money be used to cut taxes.

“This bill targets the cities’ unmet needs,” Lien said.

Davnie said even with the House DFL bill, state payments to cities would remain below 2003 levels.

Stadium funding on tap

Minnesota lawmakers who oversee public sports venues plan to soon address lower-than-expected electronic pull tab revenues set to fund construction of a new Vikings stadium.

“There’s a great deal of concern in the community,” Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, said of the lagging funds.

Legislative Commission on Minnesota Sports Facilities members agreed at their first meeting Tuesday to focus an upcoming meeting mainly on the revenue issue.

“That’s something we’ll have to wrestle with in real time,” commission co-chairman Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

Republican Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont will be the other co-chairman.

Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, said the stadium project is on track so far, with the first $50 million coming from the Vikings as planned.

She said it was anticipated the new e-pull tabs program would take some time to ramp up.

So far, the state has raised less than $2 million from the electronic games. Projections show expected revenues of about $23 million next year and $28 million in 2015, a $46 million drop from earlier estimates.

Kelm-Helgen said she is confident the stadium will be built “on time and on budget.” Construction is expected to start in October.

Thousands of employees will work on the building, and Kelm-Helgen said the aim is most will be Minnesotans.

“We really are focused on Minnesota workers,” she said.

She updated the group on stadium progress Tuesday and said detailed designs should be available in the coming weeks.

“It’s going to be iconic,” she said.

Vet homes debated

A pair of new Minnesota veterans’ homes received preliminary approval Tuesday on a House committee, but without funding and only after a study is prepared about where future homes are needed.

Some lawmakers ripped a proposal to place a veterans’ nursing home in the Bemidji area.

Republican Reps. Mary Liz Holberg of Lakeville and Sarah Anderson of Plymouth said they feared that opening more veterans’ homes could hurt private nursing homes. However, Michael Gallucci of the state Veterans Affairs Department said most nursing homes have difficulty getting federal money for veterans.

Some lawmakers also complained that there is no proof that the Bemidji area is where a veterans’ home is most needed.

“I have all kinds of counties that support this,” Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, said, but added that he was not ready to defend the location Tuesday.

“The northwest region is in dire need for that,” Gallucci added, but admitted “there never has really been a blueprint where we should build homes.”

Chairman Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, of the House Ways and Means Committee convinced his colleagues to approve a study about where new homes should be opened.

Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, said a 2009 study showed the needs were, in order, Little Falls, Brainerd and Crosby. He promoted a vets’ home in Brainerd.

The Ways and Means Committee approved the Bemidji and Brainerd homes, with a Montevideo home already in the works. However, before any new home is built it must get funding from legislative public works committees.

There also has been talk of a veterans’ home in Willmar, but no formal presentation has been made.

Galluci said that completing improvements on a Minneapolis veterans’ home is his department’s top priority.

Schools’ future questioned

Two Twin Cities schools’ future rests in legislators’ hands.

A multi-school district board governing Crosswinds school in Woodbury and Harambee in Maplewood decided to give away the facilities, but Minnesota Management and Budget has ruled that the only thing it can do without legislative approval is to sell the buildings. Doing anything else needs support from three-fifths of lawmakers voting.

The Perpich Center for Arts Education wants to take over Crosswinds, which has served students in grades 6 through 10, and keep the current curriculum that emphasizes science and arts with a diversified student body.

The South Washington County School District also would like the Crosswinds building, but only has a tentative plan for how it would be used.

“This is a great, unique initiative,” Rep. Peter Fischer, DFL-Maplewood, said about Crosswinds during a Tuesday House meeting.

“It is important to continue the vision that was created years ago…” he said. “We just need some permission from the Legislature.”

Chairwoman Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, of the House Capital Investment Committee said there is confusion among competing Crosswinds interests because many do not understand that since the school originally was funded by state money that the Legislature must decide its fate.

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said that while his bill would give Crosswinds to the Perpich center, he expects a Senate bill to propose giving the facility to South Washington schools.

Hausman’s committee will further consider the schools in coming days.

Tourism ‘uncompetitive’

Minnesota’s tourism marketing spending is stuck at 1990 levels, President Terry Mattson of Visit Duluth told the House Taxes Committee Tuesday.

“That makes us very uncompetitive,” he said, making it difficult to even keep up Minnesotans’ in-state tourism.

Neighboring states spend far more than Minnesota provides, Mattson provides. He told the committee that the state “needs to spend money to make money.”

Mattson’s testimony came during debate on a bill to dedicate the 6.2 percent tax on rental vehicles to tourism marketing. The committee will consider the bill as part of an overall tax bill.

Drumming for education

The Little Earth drum group and singers of Minneapolis opened a Tuesday state Capitol rally for American Indian education.

Director Larry Pogemiller of the Office of Higher Education said Indians should be following this year’s Legislature because Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget plan calls for adding funds to education, including money for Indians on higher education waiting lists.

He also promoted early-childhood funding that Dayton and Democrats who run the House and Senate want to increase.

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