Dan Sparks: Tax relief, health insurance are top priorities

Published 9:00 am Sunday, January 22, 2017

Senate Report by Dan Sparks

Last week, the Minnesota Legislature passed the federal tax conformity bill with bipartisan support. The bill was sent to Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk, where he happily signed it into law. The bill will provide $21.7 million in tax relief to roughly 220,000 Minnesotans, including teachers, students, veterans, homeowners and business owners. The bill’s passage early in session came just in time for the 2016 filing period.

The bill is similar to the conformity provision in the tax bill that was passed by the full Legislature last spring but also includes: an increased phase-out threshold for the working family credit, relief for veterans improperly taxed on combat severance pay and an exemption for certain small employers who offer health reimbursement accounts to employees from penalties under the ACA. In addition to providing relief to taxpayers in 2016, the bill will also allow the Minnesota Department of Revenue to identify taxpayers affected in 2015 and issue them refunds in accordance to these updates.

Dan Sparks

Dan Sparks

Email newsletter signup

This was a good first step on tax relief. I am hopeful that later this session, the Legislature will also pass a more robust tax bill to offer additional relief to Minnesotans.

In addition to the tax bill, S.F. 1 — a bill offering premium relief and health insurance reform — was also passed last week and has been referred to the conference committee to be discussed with the House in order to come to an agreement that Gov. Dayton will sign. The bill that was passed encompasses a number of the majority parties’ proposals for health insurance reform, but fails to bring the immediate premium relief that is needed for Minnesotans who are purchasing health insurance plans through MNsure.

The bill that was passed last week would create a means test in order to determine which individuals would be able to receive relief based upon their income. Eligibility would be determined, and relief administered by the Department of Management and Budget through the development of a new, temporary bureaucracy. This would cost taxpayers an additional $20 million to implement. Not only this, but establishing this bureaucracy and this process for administering reimbursements would likely mean Minnesotans would have to wait until 2018 before receiving any premium relief.

Minnesotans cannot afford to pay the full cost of rising premiums to maintain their coverage while they wait for a reimbursement. It’s important to remember who we’re fighting for — and that relief delayed is relief denied when it comes to battling diseases and paying monthly bills.

In contrast to that proposal, the governor’s plan would provide immediate relief for Minnesotans and eliminate the need for expensive government programing. Instead, individuals and families would see their monthly premium decreased on the front end.

While I agree that larger system reforms are needed, our first priority should be ensuring Minnesotans are able to afford health insurance in 2017. Many of whom must make decisions regarding their health care without any idea how premium relief might affect them — with open enrollment ending on Jan. 31. As the health insurance bill continues to be discussed, the hope is that we can arrive at an agreement that will provide the reforms we want and the relief Minnesotans so desperately need.

Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin is the District 27 senator.