To the editor:
The Legislature is required to adjourn May 19, but there still is a lot to be done before the gavel falls on the current session.
To name a few top items of business, we have a $935 million budget deficit to balance, education policy issues to sort out, and several tax-related questions to answer.
A supplemental budget bill to balance our bottom line is among the most important topics on our agenda. Negotiations have been ongoing and Gov. Pawlenty on Wednesday announced plan to resolve the deficit.
The latest offer from Republican leadership includes Gov. Pawlenty's proposal to cap property taxes at the lesser of 3 percent or the Consumer Price Index. The governor has consistently said the best way to hold down property taxes is to cap them, as has been done in several other states.
The offer also outlines the conditions under which the governor and legislative Republicans would be willing to accept inclusion of the Central Corridor project. Funding for that light-rail project was line item vetoed from the Bonding Bill this session, but the project could be revived.
Also, as included in the previous offer, Republicans would agree to meet DFLers halfway and use $125 million from the surplus in the Health Care Access Fund to help balance the budget. The offer also notes that there will be no new taxes included as part of a budget agreement.
In the world of jobs and taxes, the House Tax Committee debated the majority party’s most recent property tax relief bill Tuesday. Some testifiers – including DEED Commissioner Dan McElroy and Revenue Commissioner Ward Einess – pointed out their concerns with the proposal.
DFL legislators have implied the vast majority of Minnesota homeowners would benefit under their plan. However, Einess presented information illustrating that nearly 600,000 Minnesota homeowners would actually have a net tax increase under the House DFL property tax plan as currently drafted. In fact, there would be 1,042,238 homeowners who would see a tax increase under the DFL plan, while only 448,301 homeowners would see a tax decrease at current participation rates under the property tax refund program.
Meantime, McElroy also testified in front of the Committee on the JOBZ provisions in the bill. McElroy said JOBZ is an important economic development tool that has added over $600 million to the property tax base that will remain after the JOBZ status of the projects expires. Commissioner McElroy did acknowledge that the program could be improved; and stated he supports reform and refinement efforts, including those included in the recent Legislative Auditor recommendations.
It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.
As for education, provisions removed from the omnibus education policy bill Monday have been revived as part of another bill.
Maybe most notably, high school seniors who do not achieve a passing score on their reading or math Graduation-Required Assessments for Diploma tests would be able to file an appeal. By April of their senior year, the student could appeal and that student’s high school administrator along with other staff would have to formally decide if that student could graduate. The bill will now go to the House Ways and Means Committee.
We must make acceptable progress on these and other important issues to avoid having a special session called. The ball is in the court of the majority party to make sure this happens.