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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

You Can Argue About Tax Policy - But Ignoring the Need Is Denial

Category: DFL2012
Posted: 05/05/13 15:24, Edited: 05/05/13 15:43

by Dave Mindeman

While I have some reservations about the tax plans in the legislature, those disagreements are on specifics rather than overall goals.

Senator Dave Thompson takes exception to the whole idea in an Op-Ed in the Pioneer Press....

All Democrats campaigned on a "tax the rich" mantra. Gov. Dayton and Democratic leaders in the Legislature continued to promote their "tax the rich" class warfare. So we expected higher spending that would be paid for by creating a new, higher tax rate that would be applied to high-income folks.

Ah. It would seem that Sen. Thompson acknowledges the fact that the Democrats did win an election on the idea that taxing the wealthy. But as other proposals wind their way through the legislature, he lumps all of it into one grandiose tax plan. Knowing full well that only a chosen few of those plans will survive.

What Sen. Thompson refuses to acknowledge are the reasons we are here. When Thompson says we are going to "tax everybody" he neglects to mention that when the GOP was in control during the last biennium, the mantra was "Add Debt to Everybody". A large portion of the House tax plan being proposed is more of an attempt to fix the school shift that was used to balance the budget sans taxes at the time. Add the billion dollars in additional debt from the tobacco bonds and you exceed the tax proposal being put forward by either legislative body.

I can agree that some vigorous debate is needed to determine how the final tax bill should look -- but the general approach is sound and very necessary.

The Republican majority of the last biennium didn't fix the problem - they shifted the problem. Democrats have tackled the problem directly. And that can be a hard truth.

Thompson can justifiably argue about the pieces of the puzzle, but the total picture is still necessary....because of policies he supported.

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About That Glitch In The Senate Tax Bill

Category: DFL2012
Posted: 05/01/13 00:14, Edited: 05/01/13 00:36

by Dave Mindeman

I think some observations on the Senate Tax Bill need to be pointed out.

During that mini-fiasco it should be noted that there were some leadership failures, some Republican shenanigans, and some unforced procedural errors that need to be fixed.

Majority Leader Bakk has given the committee chairs a lot of autonomy in writing the bills, but the Tax Bill was written without much political consideration for the body as a whole.

Although there are some very good provisions in the bill and some structural budget issues were addressed, there is also a need to keep common ground moving forward. This bill differed too much from the House bill and even ventured into territory that Governor Dayton doesn't seem willing to support. Although I personally like the expanded sales tax provision, I see no need to delve into clothing taxes. And moving the top tier rate to the income levels the Senate wants to go is problematic in so many ways.

As for procedural issues....

During the voting, Senator Greg Clausen was uncomfortable with the bill and his initial inclination was to vote NO. And when he was looking at the board, it looked as though his vote would not be needed....so at least the bill could go to conference.

However, a few GOP Senators had put up green votes initially skewing the board (only Sen. Senjem (R-Rochester) ever intended to actually vote for the bill). Their intention was to reverse their vote before the board closed.

Meanwhile, Ann Rest had not voted yet. As a bill author, she will traditionally vote at the end as a signal the board is complete. However, Senate President Sandy Pappas began to close the vote before Sen. Rest was on the board....the Republicans switched their vote at the last minute and the bill was defeated. A bad procedural error.

So the DFL caucus had to meet to get a motion to reconsider. Two Senators volunteered to change their vote - Sen. Greg Clausen of Apple Valley and Sen. John Hoffman of Champlin. Both of them are in vulnerable districts. Sen. Bakk didn't have to twist arms but he said little in the meeting that explained the snafu.

Senator Clausen put it this way:

"For me, what it came down to quite honestly is that we made a lot of gains in education," Clausen said. "I ran on an education platform, and I wasn't willing to put those education investments at risk by not having this tax bill."

Even though he didn't particular like the Senate bill, the education funding could die if the Senate didn't send this bill to conference.

I think Sen. Clausen was the only one in the room showing any real leadership.

It also should be noted that Sen. Teri Bonoff voted NO both times. Bonoff is a veteran legislator and has been doing her own thing in the Senate for some time....keeping her business credentials intact. It is irritating that she would allow vulnerable freshman senators take a risk while she sits back and watches. Bonoff is a committee chair - and the money for her bill comes from this tax bill. What kind of leadership is that?

I am hoping that whatever is going on in the Senate can get fixed as we head to a conference committee. Some of the things the Senate has been willing to put forward have been good and worth examining, but this is a two house legislature with a governor who wants to be supportive.

How about everybody starts to act like it?
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Polling Data vs Policy Assessment

Category: DFL2012
Posted: 04/26/13 13:24

by Dave Mindeman

Let's talk about the recent KSTP poll regarding approval ratings and tax policy.

When a poll says what we like, we tend to think that legislators should follow the "public wishes". When a poll says something we don't like, we find excuses for why it is wrong or not relevant.

I accept what a polls says but I also like to look at the broader picture. And I especially like to examine the questions because there is a wide range of context to discern from that alone.

The KSTP poll asked about approval of the Governor and the Legislature.

Do you approve or disapprove of the job Mark Dayton is doing as governor?
49% Approve
39% Disapprove
13% Not Sure

Do you approve or disapprove of the job the state Legislature is doing?
28% Approve
56% Disapprove
17% Not Sure

On the surface, the Governor seems to be getting good marks while the legislature seems to be heading south. But the mechanics of state government puts the pressure of governing, during a legislative session, on the legislature. They have to formulate the bills and postulate the policy. Outside of an intial proposal, the Governor only gets to weigh in on his approval or disapproval of what is going on.

Although the legislature should be concerned with the low approval rating, they are dealing with budget policy which will inherently be somewhat unpopular. Talking about tax policy gets a negative reaction....almost universally. So what is happening now, in regards to public sentiment, is not surprising.

As to some of the specifics......

There is a proposal to lower the state sales tax rate, but expand the tax to include many consumer services, like haircuts, golf lessons, and auto repairs. Do you support or oppose this proposal?
34% Support
57% Oppose
9% Not Sure

Minnesota currently has no sales tax on clothing. Another proposal would extend the sales tax to clothing. Do you support or oppose this proposal?
23% Support
74% Oppose
3% Not Sure

Another proposal would place a temporary four percent income tax surcharge on income above $500,000. Do you support or oppose this proposal?
69% support
26% Oppose
4% Not Sure.

Based on the questions, and the way they are asked, the results are very predictable. Few people approve of new taxation. Sales tax, especially, will be unpopular because everybody pays it. And the question glosses over the idea of reducing the overall rate while using specifics on items that are common place and affect the majority of people.

Unless you have been following the policy debate and have a grasp of the hows and whys of the policy, your reaction will most likely be quite negative. Structural deficits, service economy, what the money is used for....all of these things require details that don't fit into a poll question.

Conversely, the heavy approval of a 4% surcharge is equally predictable. Without any context, the reaction will focus on the fact that this won't affect me personally or that people with that kind of income can afford it. I doubt that many of the respondents even understand what a "surcharge" involves. And the idea of what the surcharge is for (paying back the school shift) isn't even addressed.

Polling data is important, but obviously, legislators sometimes pick and choose what is relevant. For instance, background checks poll through the roof, yet legislation that matches that, is always blocked.

In the end, legislators have to do what they are sent there to do - use their judgment. Assess the whys and hows and come up with the best policy for the state. The average citizen can't possibly know the inner workings of state government enough to make a fully informed decision. They only know what directly affects them and that is where public opinion is derived.

In the end, legislators need to do what they are supposed to do in our form of government - represent the people.
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