Greetings Friends and Neighbors,
Here is the latest news from the Capitol.
SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET BACKGROUND
While we await a supplemental budget proposal from the Senate, the House and Gov. Mark Dayton have each put forth their plans.
Before we examine some of the details, I want to remind everyone that full bipartisan budget was passed in 2015, which fully funded our state for the current biennium. The budget cycle ends June 30, 2017. The supplemental budget we are considering this session is a mid-biennium adjustment to account for revenue changes that have taken place during the last year.
A key component in these supplemental budget discussions centers on the state's $900 million projected surplus. The projected budget surplus was adjusted downward from the previous $1.2 billion since, in accordance with state law, one-third of the surplus revenue generated is required to be placed into a reserve account. The reserve account is currently funded with $1.75 billion deposited to it.
The governor issued his supplemental budget plan in mid-March. He proposes increasing state spending by $581 million, providing $117 million in tax "relief" and leaving $202 million from the surplus on the bottom line.
I refer to "relief" in quotation marks because, while the governor is proposing $117 million in tax relief, he is also proposing to raise the gas tax at the wholesale level by a minimum of 16 cents per gallon, which would rise as the wholesale price of crude oil rises. The governor's proposal would raise taxes by at least $900 million per year at a time when the state has a surplus of the same amount.
SUPPLEMENTAL HOUSE PLAN
The House takes a different approach, proposing budget adjustments that have a net-zero effect. We are reprioritizing existing spending to focus on our priorities instead of simply increasing spending. In fact, the $900 million surplus remains fully intact so we can put it toward top-ranking issues such as tax relief and providing a long-term transportation plan which focuses on roads and bridges.
The House passed bills pertaining to taxes and transportation last year and they remain in the hands of conference committees so we can revisit them this year. The tax bill would provide tax relief a number of ways, including ending the state tax on seniors' social security benefits, along with and military pay. There also is property tax relief for farmers and small businesses. The transportation plan spends $7 billion on roads and bridges over the next 10 years without an increase in the gas tax, and would repair or replace more than 15,500 lane miles of road and 330 bridges statewide.
Committees in the House are now assembling their budget bills and, once the Senate releases their budget blueprint next week, the stage will be set for the negotiations needed to bring the session to a close.
The governor criticized the House supplemental budget, in part, because it does not provide as much spending for education as he proposes. But, as mentioned earlier, taxpayers funded more than $600 million in education spending increases last session. The increases last year included a historic $525 million increase in education funding for this biennium and also included a new $95 million increase in early learning initiatives for pre-K children.
Look for more news as the budget process develops and we have an opportunity to compare and contrast the three separate supplemental budget plans.
DIGITAL ASSETS BILL
In other news, legislation that would provide access to digital assets in certain situations – including death or incapacity – is advancing in the House. I support and have co-authored this legislation. This bill would allow surviving families to gain access to digital data and proprietary information stored on electronic devices, servers and in the "cloud," (a reference to privately managed servers that keep and maintain data). The genesis for this bill was the direct result of a family in our district who suffered the loss of their college-bound son, who was found lifeless on the shore of the Mississippi River near the U of M campus in Minneapolis. His cell phone was found a short distance away. Although this young man's cell phone account belonged to his parents, and his parents paid for the account, because he was over the age of 18, the cellular providers refused to provide his family access to the information locked within the phone for data-privacy reasons.
The bill (H.F. 200) seeks to treat digital information no differently than any other asset in which survivors may claim right of survivorship. This issue has implications reaching beyond the obvious. Imagine someone who kept all of their files and proprietary information about an invention, business patents, or business records on digital media or a cloud-based system that would belong to the survivors of an estate in the event of a death. A decedent would also have the ability to elect to not allow his or her estate to gain access to such information if they may choose.
Click here for more details on this story and what the legislative proposal would accomplish.
Rep. Jerry Hertaus