GOP weighs Social Security benefit, tax breaks for state’s veterans

Published 10:22 am Thursday, March 5, 2015

By Doug Belden

St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt said last week that Republicans would consider tax exemptions for Social Security and veterans benefits as part of their plan to give back more than $900 million of the projected state budget surplus.

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On Tuesday, lawmakers examined several plans — ranging in cost from $120 million to $290 million for the two-year budget cycle — to do just that.

House Taxes Committee Chair Greg Davids, R-Preston, said he has received more than $8 billion in tax-relief requests but that the Social Security and veterans exemptions have a good chance to survive.

“I think the committee will look on the bills we heard today very favorably,” he said.

Advocates for the bills argued they are needed to stop giving seniors and veterans reason to leave the state.

“Whether we like it or not, it’s happening,” Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater, sponsor of one of the Social Security bills, said of the exodus from Minnesota.

Barbara Linert of Eagan said she and her husband have children in lower-tax states and that their financial planner had recommended they relocate for tax reasons.

“Please give us an excuse to stay in Minnesota,” she said to committee members.

But Nan Madden, director of the Minnesota Budget Project, argued the proposals are too costly and won’t have a significant effect on senior migration.

Two of the bills heard Tuesday in the Taxes Committee are sponsored by Davids — one to phase in the exemption of Social Security benefits from income tax over 10 years, and one over eight years.

The committee considered those two plus three other Social Security bills for possible inclusion in the overall tax bill later in session. They range from five to 10 years for phase-in, with costs ranging from $81 million for 2016-17 to $250 million.

Costs for 2018-19 are estimated much higher, from $326 million to $463 million.

As for veterans, Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, presented two bills. One would allow veterans to subtract a certain sum per year of military service (up to 20 years) from state taxable income, and the other would provide tax credits to employers who hire veterans.

Costs for 2016-17 for the two veterans bills were estimated at $40 million and $37 million, respectively.

Gov. Mark Dayton has not included the Social Security or veterans tax benefits in his proposed budget.