Tag Archives: taxes

The 2013 Legislative Session in infographic form

2013 session


Which tax provisions will survive?

Yesterday, after an inexplicable and embarrassing false start, the Minnesota State Senate passed its version of the omnibus tax bill.  The bill now moves to conference committee where it will be reconciled against the House’s version of the bill as well as Governor Mark Dayton’s budget proposal.  This may prove to be more work than expected, given that all three parties in the negotiations are DFL-controlled.

On a net basis (tax increases less new aids and credits), all three proposals raise between $1.5 and $1.7 billion dollars, but they get there in notably different ways:


Let’s dig into the details.  Here are some of the key provisions in each plan:


Some elements should come together pretty quickly:  increasing LGA, increases to tobacco taxes, and reduction/removal of corporate exemptions for foreign source royalties and operating companies.

Other pieces are going to be more difficult.  House DFLers have committed themselves to paying off the remaining K-12 funding shift this session.  The temporary 4% surcharge on income is designed to get them to that point, raising $1.2 billion on its own.  However, both Dayton and Senate Democrats have listed the surcharge as not acceptable, and neither of them make any moves towards paying off the shift in their proposals.

Meanwhile, the Senate has stayed committed to advancing sales tax reform — proposing an expansion in goods and services subject to taxation while lowering the rate to 6% — while Dayton (in his updated budget) and House DFLers have stayed away from such proposals.

House DFLers have also advanced an increase in alcohol taxes that has run into substantial controversy.  Neither Dayton nor the Senate have embraced such a proposal.

So how do we get to a final bill?  Well, as it turns out, much of the Governor’s proposal ends up serving as a middle ground between the legislative proposals.  Dayton’s income tax rate increase on the wealthy touches a smaller group of taxpayers than the Senate version, which may be acceptable to the House.  But in order to get the House on board, Dayton and the Senate are going to have to make a significant move towards paying back the school shift.  How to do that?  By adopting the Senate’s cigarette tax revenue plan or the House’s plan which includes alcohol tax increases.  The House is likely also going to have to scale back (or eliminate) their property tax reforms.  Taking those steps should be able to ensure that at least half of the remaining shift is paid off.

With less than three weeks remaining in the legislative session, DFLers haven’t given themselves much time to hash through these issues, given the fragile nature of the coalitions they have had to put together to get these bills through the respective chambers.  It will be interesting to watch and see how the negotiations unfold.

GOP’s phony baloney budget math

Two weeks ago, DFL leaders in the House and Senate released their budget targets, and we should be seeing the specific budget bills in each area shortly (in fact, they are overdue at this point).  Like Governor Mark Dayton’s budget proposal, the legislative budgets each total around $38 billion.

The House budget prioritizes paying back the school shift (accomplished with a blink-on income tax surcharge on top of the new fourth bracket for high-income earners) and property tax relief (an additional $250 million in local government aid).

The Senate budget, like the Governor’s, leaves the school shift untouched — which would keep the current law of any surpluses going to pay down the shift — and prioritizes property tax relief and economic development.

Both legislative budgets contained a surprise, though, as they each sliced $150 million from the forecast spending in health and human services.  Coming after a $1.2 billion cut in the last budget cycle and Dayton’s proposal to raise HHS spending by $128 million, it was a shock to many — including Republicans who have criticized those cuts.

There’s only one part of government where people could die and that’s in our area where the people with disabilities and health care and rural hospitals. I was just really surprised. Nobody saw that coming. — Rep. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka)

While politically convenient to attack DFL cuts to HHS, it makes the budget math for Republicans that much harder.  Republicans have rhetorically committed themselves towards paying back the school shift this session.

We should pay the entire shift back right now. – Rep. Kelby Woodard (R-Belle Plaine)

Before any changes to current law, the state finds itself with a $627 million deficit.  The remaining school shift is $850 million.  That’s a total of $1.477 billion that has to be found — without raising taxes.  Yet, Republicans have boxed themselves in by essentially taking K-12 and HHS off the table.  Those two areas of the budget represent $26.5 billion of the $36.7 billion in forecast spending for the next biennium.

Which means that those remaining areas of the budget would face the equivalent of a 12.5% across the board cut in order to balance the budget.  That includes higher education, public safety, transportation, economic development, and veterans programs.  Some of these programs have already taken severe cuts in previous budget cycles.

Does that sound sustainable or realistic?  Of course not.

But since Republicans are refusing to put forward their own budget proposal, they are attempting to fly free on their phony baloney budget assertions that we can hold taxes steady and cut our way to prosperity.  And they’re trying to avoid having to answer for the cuts that would be required to make their budget math add up.

So the next time your local Republican legislator tries to pass off that spin, ask them for the details of how they make the math work.  Just don’t hold your breath waiting for an answer.

[Picture is of Rep. Kelby Woodard]

Dayton rolls out revised budget plan

Governor Mark Dayton rolled out his revised budget plan today, reflecting adjustments required after the February forecast trimmed the projected 2014-2015 budget deficit from $1.1 billion to $627 million.

Here are the key changes in the proposal compared to Dayton’s original budget:

  • All sales tax reform is removed from the budget:  no business sales tax expansion, no expansion of consumer sales taxes to services, and no reduction in the sales tax rate.
  • The $500 property tax refund has been removed, although Dayton does invest an additional $18 million in increasing the pool for the renter’s property tax refund.
  • The cut in the corporate income tax rate has been removed, but changes to eliminate tax breaks for foreign operating companies and foreign royalty payments remain in the budget, raising about $370 million.
  • The proposed school shift payback in 2016-2017 has been removed from the budget.  Dayton would continue with current law, paying back the remaining shift as surpluses come in.

Dayton’s spending plan remains essentially unchanged from his original proposal.

Legislative reaction fell as expected along party lines.  Democrats, many of whom were wary of Dayton’s business sales tax proposals, were more positive about this budget.

“For too long we have seen our budget deficits resolved by deep cuts to the middle class and one-time fixes,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen. “That approach has only given us more deficits, higher property taxes, and larger classroom sizes. It is high time we reject the status quo and build a budget that positions our state to thrive in the future.” (via kare11.com)

One point of contention among DFLers is likely to be Dayton’s failure to address the school shift.  Expect a DFL legislative budget that includes a partial shift payback.

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to call for the budget deficit to be closed by reducing spending.

“I think it’s time for the people of Minnesota to weigh in on all of the taxes and just ask the question, do you need high taxes to grow the economy? We don’t believe so,” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R- Eden Prairie. (via MPR)

GOP legislators have yet to introduce a budget proposal of their own, continuing a regrettable trend of legislative minorities choosing to complain from the sidelines instead of producing something that can be matched up side-by-side.

After the Forecast: Adjusting the Brick City Budget

Yesterday’s release of the state’s February Economic Forecast provided a dose of good news regarding our budget scenario, trimming $463 million off of the projected deficit for 2014-15.  While Governor Mark Dayton has indicated he will release his updated budget proposal the week of March 11, I’ve made changes to my original “Plan C“, and I’ve detailed them below.

Recall that what I was trying to accomplish with my proposal were the following things:

  • Minimize middle-class impacts as it relates to sales tax changes
  • Make a meaningful payment towards the remaining K-12 school funding shifts
  • Minimize negative impacts that come with expansion of sales taxes to B2B services

Having a $627 budget deficit instead of $1.1 billion makes it significantly easier to close the budget gap while accomplishing the three goals from above.

Let’s talk about the adjustments I make on the revenue side first.  My total revenue increase has been cut by over 40%, made up of the following components that have changed:

  • Business sales taxes are eliminated in this proposal
  • The new fourth bracket for high income individual income taxpayers is pared back by 25%
  • Sales tax rates are lowered to 6.25%, and consumer services are added to the sales tax base.
  • Income tax cuts for the lowest two brackets are implemented, meaning all married couples filing jointly will get a tax cut on their first $135,000 of income.

Combined, the last two bullet points are revenue-neutral and designed to minimize impact of the sales tax base expansion on lower and middle-income taxpayers.

Similarly, I pare back spending increases by a similar percentage.  While I tend to agree with politicians who point out the need for investment in critical areas of our budget like education, transportation, and health care, it’s not politically or financially prudent to propose tax and spending increases of the scope found in Governor Dayton’s budget given the smaller deficit we now face.  There needs to be balance, and a recognition that moving too fast to increase taxes and spending in a still-fragile recovery may not produce the anticipated results.

  • K-12 education sees an increase in spending of $380 million over the current forecast, made up of a $200 million partial repayment of the remaining funding shift, $50 million to fund optional all-day kindergarten, $44 million to expand early childhood programs, and $84 million in increased special education.
  • $80 million in increased higher education funding directed towards expanding grant programs to make college tuition more affordable
  • Dayton’s metro area transit sales tax plan is kept in place, which shifts some transportation funding out of the general fund budget

Here’s how it all breaks down:


What are your thoughts?  Let me know in the comments.

Budget picture brightens; projected deficit down to $627 million

The updated state budget forecast was released today, and it contains some good news.    The projected budget deficit for 2014-15 has fallen by $463 million to $627 million.

Of the $463 million improvement, $323 million reflects increased revenues.  Most of the revenue increase comes in individual and corporate income taxes and is primarily a result of changes in Minnesota law passed earlier this month conforming state tax law with federal tax law.  On the spending side, the early opt-in to the Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act continues to pay dividends for the state, as projected spending on these programs is projected to drop $64 million from the previous forecast.

The $627 million deficit figure does not include inflation on the spending side of the equation.  Projected inflation for the 2014-15 biennium totals $854 million.  Governor Mark Dayton’s original budget proposal did not include inflation into his baseline spending, so that amount was — in real terms — a spending cut.

Also of note in the updated forecast was the continuing dismal performance of electronic pulltabs, which are being used a funding source to back the bonds on the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.  When passed last May, estimates of revenue in the 2012-13 biennium totaled  about $35 million, but to date, the state has collected less than $2 million.  As a result, revenue estimates have been slashed in half for the coming biennium, leading to the question of whether or not it’s time to start looking for a Plan B.

To further illustrate how poorly the e-pulltabs have fared, when the bill was passed, it was anticipated that by the end of 2015, pulltab revenues would have exceeded stadium expenses by $65 million,  Now, pulltab revenues aren’t expected to catch up to expenses until 2021.

Gov. Dayton is speaking this afternoon outlining his reaction to the updated forecast, although he is not expected to release his new budget until the week of March 11.  Dayton has signaled an increased renters tax credit and exemptions for capital equipment. Additionally, I will be posting an updated Brick City Budget proposal that reflects the new figures tomorrow (or later today).

Birthing the all-cuts budget

Republican leaders in the State Legislature held a “birthday party” for Governor Dayton’s budget proposal, which was unveiled one month ago today.  It was a full-fledged extravaganza with cupcakes and candles and gift-wrapped talking points aplenty.

Of course, their GOP’s own budget proposal for the biennium is still in the womb with an unknown due date.  But one thing is clear:  they don’t think taxes should be raised at all to close the state’s projected $1.095 billion deficit for 2014-15.

So let’s take a look at a couple very basic scenarios of what an “all-cuts” solution to the budget deficit could mean.


Each of these scenarios essentially looks at across-the-board cuts (it’s unlikely that an actual GOP proposal would work this way, but we’re just trying to illustrate some of the potential impacts).  Keep in mind as you’re looking at these options that the baseline budget for the state does not include inflation, so you can add an additional $890 million to the cuts — effectively meaning that an “all-cuts” approach would cut nearly $2 billion in real spending from the budget.

The first scenario would hold K-12 education harmless from the budget cuts.  Choosing this option would require an across-the-board cut of 5.5% to the other areas of the budget in order to achieve $1.1 billion in savings.  Holding K-12 harmless under this option could take two forms.  Either you could leave K-12 untouched (no cuts and no school shift payback) or you could play an accounting shell game and cut funding by 5% and apply that  to the shift balance (and $824 million cut/shift payback).

The second scenario (as suggested by a commenter here) would apply a 5% cut across-the-board and use any excess balance to pay back part of the school shift.  Such a scenario, would generate a $667 million shift payback, but the 5% cut to K-12 would be larger than the shift payback, resulting in a net $92 million cut to K-12.

Certainly, either option would continue squeezing some waste and inefficiency out of state government, but it would also have very real other impacts.  Cuts of this magnitude in Health and Human Services would limit the ability of those programs to service folks in need.  Cuts of this magnitude to higher education is going to make college less affordable for students.  Cuts of this magnitude to public safety are going to result in layoffs in our corrections and court systems.  Cuts in aid to local governments are going to put further pressure on property taxes.  Efforts to stop invasive aquatic species would be placed at risk.  Programs to encourage new business start-ups would be weakened.

There are plenty of things that could be reasonably objected to in the Dayton budget.  But there’s plenty of reasonable objections to an “all-cuts” approach, too.  The GOP leadership owes it to the state to put their choices on the table and let us see what their priorities are.

[Image courtesy All About Cupcakes]

Making tradeoffs: Plan C versus Plan D


Since I rolled out my “Plan C” budget yesterday, one of the main threads I’ve gotten in terms of comments (from John Brunette in the comments and from others via e-mail) has been from folks asking about the spending, and is it necessary to increase spending by that much?

So I went back to the numbers and came up with a budget that was tighter on spending, while still paying back a sizable chunk of the remaining K-12 school shift — as that has been a key Republican criticism of the Dayton budget.  Below is a chart detailing what I came up with — “Plan D”, if you will.  Included is a $275 million payback of the shift (1/4 of the remaining amount, what I would consider the minimum level to be considered “sizable”), and basically holding every other area of the budget flat.  Holding those departments flat essentially functions as about a 2% budget cut, since inflation is not factored into baseline spending forecasts by state law.

Plan D Spending

Adding that spending means there’s a $1.372 billion deficit to make up.  From a revenue perspective, then, I removed all B2B sales taxes and reduced the amount of income tax relief by $80 million.

Plan D Taxes

In some respects, Plan D is preferable to Plan C.  Removing the business sales taxes while maintaining 87% of the income tax cut makes the overall tax package in Plan D more progressive.

Here are some of the things that may well be lost by making these choices, though.

  • Optional all-day kindergarten
  • Additional funding for special education and early childhood programs
  • Wider availability of state college tuition grants, at a time when public university tuition has doubled in the last decade
  • Programs to expand apprenticeships and internships for MnSCU students
  • Improved aquatic invasive species management
  • Up to 270 employees in the Department of Corrections
  • Expanded care options for high-needs children on state health care plans
  • Increased funding for investment and job creation funds

And there are other things that just go unaddressed, like the basic K-12 education formula lagging inflation or funding MnSCU and the University of Minnesota at late-1990s levels despite the fact that those two systems serve over 50,000 more students than they did 15 years ago.

It’s easy to just wave one’s hand away at these issues and criticize proposals that make the hard choices.  Nothing is easier than saying you’re opposed to new taxes.  Those who feel that taxes should not be raised, then, have a duty to tell us what they would do instead.  Minnesota Republicans say that taxes shouldn’t be raised and the school shift repaid.  That means they favor making at least $1.372 billion in cuts from the current forecasted spending.  It’s time for them to avoid the easy way out, step to the plate, and name those cuts.

One attempt at a Plan C: Brick City Budget

During his State of the State address a couple of weeks ago, Governor Mark Dayton asked for critics of his budget plan to come up with their own “Plan C” (Plan A being the Governor’s budget, and Plan B being a spending-cut only response to the projected $1.095 billion deficit).

So, I’ve taken a shot at it — call it the Brick City Budget.  (The StarTribune did as well.) These are the things I tried to do:

  • Minimize middle-class impacts as it relates to sales tax changes
  • Make a meaningful payment towards the remaining K-12 school funding shifts
  • Minimize negative impacts that come with expansion of sales taxes to B2B services


Taxes   Dayton   Brick City 
Income Tax 4th bracket                       1,098.8               1,098.8
Property tax refund                     (1,438.6)                         –
Snowbird tax                             30.0                         –
Business sales tax                       3,200.0                  782.3
Consumer sales tax                       1,060.0               1,116.8
Digital products                             31.2                     31.2
Sales tax rate reduction                     (2,137.5)                (649.6)
Rental car tax                             15.0                     15.0
Sin taxes                           369.9                  369.9
Net corp income tax changes                               4.9                       4.9
Other revenue changes                           (38.8)                  (38.8)
Income tax cut                                  –                (650.0)
TOTAL                       2,194.9               2,080.5
$ in millions; amounts represent change from the November 2012 forecast

There are some significant changes to the Governor’s proposal.  Let’s take them one-by-one.

First, I remove entirely the $500 per homeowner property tax relief the Governor proposed.  While I applaud the Governor’s instincts and recognition of escalating property taxes as an issue, this is not an efficient way to address the problem and it leaves our overly complex property tax system untouched.

Second, I change the new base sales tax rate from 6.85% to 6.25% instead of 5.5%.  This was done to facilitate some of the other changes listed below.

Third, I remove most of the Governor’s proposed business service sales tax expansion.  The remaining categories being taxed (management & other consulting, business support services, office administrative services, specialized deign services, and facilities support among them) are less likely to put Minnesota businesses at a disadvantage compared to competing firms as well as being less likely to disadvantage small businesses versus large businesses.  The new revenue raise by this tax is less than a quarter of the Governor’s proposal, and covers a smaller range of B2B services than similar business sales tax expansion proposals from the Republican governors of Ohio, Nebraska, and Louisiana.

Fourth, I keep clothing exempt from sales tax.

Fifth, I remove the so-called “snowbird” tax that would be levied on gains from stocks and bonds and dividends earned by people who reside in Minnesota for less than half of the year.

Sixth, I would change the composition of Dayton’s increase in “sin taxes”.  Dayton’s increases are solely in cigarettes and tobacco — I would add an increase in Minnesota’s liquor excise tax of $75 million and reduce the increase in cigarettes and tobacco.

Finally, I would offer $650 million in income tax relief to be implemented through cuts in the rates of the lowest two tax brackets.  This would primarily be designed to help offset the impacts of the sales tax expansion for lower- and middle-income tax payers, although all taxpayers would benefit from this change as tax rates on a married couple’s first $135,000 in income would be cut by this proposal.

In total, the Brick City Budget would net about $114 million less than Gov. Dayton’s proposal.


Spending  Dayton  Brick City
K-12                           344.2                  493.0
Higher Ed                           250.4                  200.0
Property Tax Aid & Credit                           117.1                     60.0
HHS                           128.3                  100.0
Public Safety                             86.1                     65.0
Transportation                           (25.6)                  (25.6)
Economic Development                             70.1                     50.0
Debt Service                             28.5                     28.5
Environment & Energy                             17.6                       7.5
State Government                             13.9                         –
Agriculture                               0.7                       0.7
TOTAL                       1,031.3                  979.1
NET CHANGE                       1,163.6               1,101.4
$ in millions; amounts represent change from the November 2012 forecast

On the spending side of the ledger, the major change is in K-12 education.  Instead of increasing the basic formula rate $52 per pupil at an expense of $119 million for the biennium, I instead pay back $275 million of the outstanding $1.1 billion school shift, while keeping the Governor’s investments in optional all-day kindergarten and increased funding for special education and early childhood programs.  While some school officials rightly point out that the basic formula rate has lagged inflation for the last decade, political realities dictate that the state needs to make some headway on getting the shift behind it in a reasonable timeframe.

Most other categories of the budget see reductions from the Dayton proposal — in fact, excluding K-12, spending in my proposal is $200 million lower than Dayton’s, while still making significant investments in critical areas.  While investments in local government aid are less than half of the governor’s proposed levels, a $60 million increase should help relieve some pressure in local budgets.  Meanwhile, the $50 million reduction in higher education could be expected to come largely out of the University of Minnesota’s budget, pending completion of the review of their administrative staffing and expenses.


This Brick City “Plan C” is an attempt to rectify some of the weaknesses of the Dayton budget proposal.  Like any budget, it involves significant tradeoffs, and not all of the options available are good ones and all are open to debate.  What do you think?  Leave your comments below.

(The figures above represent my best attempt to calculate what the numbers would be, which is not always straightforward.  Any errors, as such, are inadvertent.)

Setting the record straight on business taxes again

Minnesota Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans made the rounds at the State Capitol today, appearing before both the Senate and House Tax Committees.  Frans got a decidedly chilly reception from Republicans on the respective committees, including our own State Senator Julianne Ortman (who went to so far as to call elements of the plan “a re-election ploy” — a rich assertion coming from a party that hasn’t hesitated to try their own ploys).

Meanwhile, other Republicans are already sounding the alarm about how Dayton’s plan would send businesses running for the borders because our tax system will be so out of whack.

Let’s take a deep breath here and look at some numbers.  A couple of years back, I looked at a study by the Council on State Taxation ( a consortium of 600 businesses) regarding state and local tax rates.  What we found in that Minnesota had lower taxes as a percentage of economic activity than the national average and many states in the region.  Maybe it’s time we look at how the numbers have changed over the last two years.  Here’s a link to the new study.

Well, not much has changed in two years.  Minnesota continues to be below the national average, and slightly ahead of neighboring states like South Dakota and Wisconsin.  And while Minnesota’s tax percentage has increased from 4.3% to 4.5% in that time, that rate of growth is slower than the national average (which increased by 0.5%).  What happens if Dayton gets his entire tax proposal?  Minnesota goes from 4.5% to 4.7%, which does slide it slightly behind Wisconsin and South Dakota.


Is this enough to drive thousands of jobs away?

Seems unlikely, since our position slightly ahead of these states previously didn’t encourage large migration of jobs into the state — and the state out of all those on the chart experiencing the highest job rate increase is North Dakota, which also has the highest percentage of taxes as a percentage of gross state product.  The reality is that tax policy is one of many factors that drive economic growth and business investment.

There are plenty of reasons to like or dislike specific elements of the Dayton tax plan.  I’ve been clear about things that I do and don’t like.  The job of a minority party isn’t just to grandstand and say no.  They should be working to make the plan better where they can — certainly DFLers aren’t entirely united behind the plan and some would be glad to grab on to some reasonable alternatives.  Instead of biting Commissioner Frans’s head off, they should be offering their own suggestions.

Will they do so?  Sadly, I’m not optimistic.  The incentives in our political system today seem to favor confrontation over cooperation, and power-grabbing over problem-solving.


%d bloggers like this: