By Don Davis
The Minnesota House passed a $500 million tax cut Thursday and the governor announced he wants to trim taxes $616 million, but the Senate is headed for smaller cuts.
Democrats said the bill representatives passed 126-2 would provide tax relief to nearly 1 million Minnesotans, in a large part by matching most Minnesota tax law to federal law. That “federal conformity” means $301 million less Minnesotans would pay.
Federal conformity would lower taxes on married couples $115 on average because federal law taxes married couples less than Minnesota law. That would go to 650,000 couples, mostly those who earn less than $75,000 annually.
The bill also would provide an average tax cut of $300 to low-income Minnesotans who file for the working family credit.
The House voted to cancel taxes placed on businesses last year: warehouse storage, farm equipment repair, some business equipment repair and telecommunications equipment.
The bill also simplifies and cuts the estate tax and provides some tax credits to people who invest in new companies and high-technology businesses. Gov. Mark Dayton would like to add a few more tax cuts.
House Democrats and Democrat Dayton said their tax-cut plans especially help middle-class Minnesotans.
Money to fund the tax cuts comes from a $1.2 billion budget surplus state financial officials announced a week ago. Dayton on Thursday said he wants half of that surplus to be used as tax cuts, $162 million for what he calls additional “essential” spending and the rest going to enlarge the state budget reserve.
House Tax Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski, D-Bloomington, said her tax bill mostly deals with taxes being collected now, or soon will be. She and Dayton said that is why quick action is needed.
“This is the time-sensitive stuff we need to do right now,” she said.
Dayton said he will keep the pressure on senators for quick action.
House leaders said a second tax bill may include further tax cuts, including some property tax relief.
Not so fast, Sen. Rod Skoe, D-Clearbrook, said.
While it is important that the state match federal law, the Senate Taxes Committee chairman said, there is no need to rush.
“I would rather move a little slower to make sure we get things right,” Skoe said.
Skoe said the Senate could pass a tax-cut bill by the end of the month.
However, he does not agree with House leaders and the governor who want a second tax-cut bill. In fact, he added, the House $500 million bill cuts too much.
Skoe said he was especially happy with Dayton’s proposal to increase the state budget reserve $445 million, to more than $1 billion.
“We have had 10, 12 years going from one deficit to another,” Skoe said, and a bigger reserve is needed in case that happens again.
Skoe would not say what tax cuts he wants to see in the Senate bill.
House Republicans criticized Democrats for raising taxes $2.3 billion last year, and coming back this year with a $500 million tax cut. They said that still is a $1.8 billion net tax increase.
Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove, a GOP governor candidate, said a gift tax enacted last year hurt farmers who wanted to hand farms down to their children. He said that lack of consistency is hard on Minnesotans.
Even though they complained about Democratic taxes, Republicans liked the cut.
“The best thing we can do with this surplus is to put it back in the pockets of those who need it most,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said.
House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, D-St. Paul, said last year’s tax increases, mostly on rich Minnesotans, allowed the state to increase education funding and provide more aid to local governments. The changes improved the state economy, Democrats said.
“Today, we have the opportunity to take another step forward,” Murphy said.
The only two who voted against the bill were Democratic Reps. Jason Metsa of Virginia and Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley.
Metsa said he voted against the bill because he would rather see money spent for property tax relief, nursing homes and state aid to local governments. For Winkler, the vote was because “the tax cuts were too large and not the right priorities for Minnesota this year.”