Rep. Peggy Bennett: Things heating up at the Capitol

Published 4:16 pm Friday, March 11, 2022

Though the temperatures might be taking a dip this weekend, it does appear things are going to get warmer next week! On a somewhat related note, things are beginning to heat up at the Capitol as well.

Larger budget surplus highlights need for

permanent tax relief

Minnesota’s economic experts recently painted another rosy picture for the state’s economic outlook, finding a budget surplus improvement of $1.507 billion for the current cycle. The projected surplus now stands at $9.253 billion for Fiscal Year 2022-23.

This mammoth surplus is good news, but it’s also clear evidence that our state is taking way too much money out of the pockets of Minnesotans.

What should we do with this record-breaking windfall?

No movement on local employer tax increase

If you’re a local employer wondering where we stand on the potential 15% tax increase that will take effect in a few days without legislative action, I have nothing new to report.

House Democrats have refused to bring a bill forward addressing the issue.  A debt of more than $1 billion needs to be eliminated from Minnesota’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund. This could very easily be handled by using existing surplus revenue. The Senate has passed a bipartisan bill that solves the problem without raising taxes, but for whatever reason the House leaders have yet to take action.

Gov. Tim Walz’s employment commissioner said a bill must be signed into law by March 15 in order to prevent unprecedented problems. Stay tuned.

What about the high cost of gasoline?

I have had a few constituents ask me what we can do about the rising cost of gasoline. The high cost of gas is a serious issue. It not only affects us as individuals as we travel back-and-forth to work and more, but also greatly impacts the cost of everything from groceries to Amazon deliveries.

Unfortunately, much of the cost of gasoline is out of our hands at the state level because these prices are driven at the federal level by government policies and by worldwide forces. Gas prices already spiked significantly before the war in Ukraine and are now rising even more drastically.

Our state’s gas tax also drives up the cost of gasoline. Thank goodness Gov. Walz and the House Democrats’ proposal last year that would have raised Minnesota gas tax by an additional 25 cents per gallon never made it into law. If it had, we’d be seeing even higher gas prices in Minnesota right now.

Six of my DFL colleagues in the Minnesota House recently authored a bill proposing a Minnesota gas tax holiday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. While I am typically not in favor of tax holidays because they are temporary in nature and are oftentimes politically driven because of an election year, I would support this bill if it came up for a vote. People need a break from the high cost of living wherever we can give it.

On Monday, House Republicans attempted to bring this gas tax holiday bill up for a vote. Unfortunately, House Democrats voted against this, including five of the six bill authors. I was saddened to lose the opportunity to vote on that bill that would at least lower gasoline costs temporarily.

Better yet, instead of temporary tax relief, how about we give the people of Minnesota some permanent tax relief to help family budgets deal with the high cost of gas and other daily living expenses?

Let’s give our seniors a break by eliminating Minnesota’s tax on social security income. We could get rid of the 2% provider tax that you pay every time you go to the doctor, your dentist, or visit a hospital.

With a more than $9 billion surplus, we have many opportunities to help people keep more of their own money. I will look forward to voting on these tax relief ideas and more that will help Minnesotans stretch their budgets to pay for daily necessities like gasoline.