Rep. Zerwas: Some progress, despite $2.1 billion tax increase

Despite being a freshman member serving in the minority caucus in the House, I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish. The finalized version of the tax bill included a sales tax exemption provision for cities and counties that I had authored. Another one of my bills that helps to prevent the theft of scrap metal and automobiles was rolled into a larger bill law that regulates scrap metal vehicle purchases and was signed into law. I was also a co-author on a bill that gave long-term care providers a 5 percent cost-of-living increase. That provision was included in the omnibus Health and Human Services omnibus bill.

Unfortunately, the good news from the legislative session ends there. Democrats imposed a $2.1 billion tax increase on hard-working Minnesotans at a time when we’re seeing higher levels of revenue come into the state than previously expected. In May, the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget announced $145 million more revenue in April than anticipated. While we had heard during the campaign season that only the top 2 percent needed to pay their fair share in taxes, this tax plan passed by Democrats in the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Dayton will hit every Minnesotan through higher taxes, fees and costs that will be passed down to the consumer. Even Dayton admitted that middle-class citizens would be paying more under this tax plan.

We had also heard a lot from Democrats during the campaign season that we needed to pay back the school shift. At the very beginning of the session, the very first bill introduced by Democrats was to pay back the school shift. Yet, the K-12 education bill passed by the Democrats does not fully or even partially repay outstanding debt owed to schools.

Meanwhile the new 9.85 percent tax on high-income earners will make Minnesota’s income tax rate the second highest in the nation for comparative income and the fourth highest percentage in the nation. This tax won’t just affect the rich. It will hit small business owners and only invites our neighboring states to take our businesses, jobs and families into Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa.

One of the most regressive taxes passed by the Democrats is the $1.60 per pack tax increase on cigarettes. Studies have shown that cigarette taxes hit low-income earners the hardest. After the anticipated revenue from electronic pull-tabs fell significantly short to finance the state’s portion to build the Vikings stadium, the Democrats’ tax plan now shifts the burden of financing the stadium to those who smoke. We shouldn’t be building a stadium for millionaires and billionaires on the backs of smokers.

The higher costs to the hard-working taxpayers of Minnesota don’t end there. The seven-member unelected board in charge of operating the government-run health insurance exchange is authorized to levy a tax up to 3.5 percent on every plan sold within the government exchange. Given the fact that the projected revenue is dependent on high participation in the government exchange, the fewer people that use it, the higher the tax on premiums will have to be. Instead of lowering costs, the government exchange will make health care more expensive and less affordable. Independent studies suggest that insurance premiums could go up as much as 29 percent in the individual and small market groups.

With the new solar energy mandate that was signed into law, you’ll be seeing your monthly electric bills go up. The new solar standard requires that 1.5 percent of retail electric sales come from solar production by 2020 with a solar energy goal of 10 percent by 2030. Because of the unreliable and expensive nature of solar energy, the higher costs that investor-owned utility companies (like Xcel Energy) incur as a result will be passed on to consumers.

Working parents will also have to pay more for child care under the Democrats’ child care unionization bill. If unionized, in-home, private child care providers will be forced to pay union dues. Profit margins are already small for child care providers. The requirement to pay union dues will hit their bottom line and force them to possibly shut down or raise rates on working families. Even those who opt out of joining the union will be forced to pay a fair share union due rate of 85 percent. Parents and providers simply can’t afford this extra and unnecessary burden imposed by union bosses.

With income and sales taxes going up, health care costs rising, energy rates jumping and child care costs increasing, the 2013 legislative session was expensive for all hard-working Minnesotans. The good news is that the Legislature has adjourned for 2013. The bad news is that the 2014 legislative session is less than a year away. Hold on to your wallets. I know I am.

Now that the session is over, I plan to be back home in our community (Elk River, Big Lake, Otsego) on a regular basis. I’m more than happy to meet with constituents in the district. I need a break from St. Paul! — Nick Zerwas, Elk River (Editor’s note:: Zerwas is a Republican legislator who holds the House District 30A seat, which includes Elk River and Big Lake.)