Legislators debate bills designed to help veterans

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Legislation to close a veterans residency gap in Minnesota is being pushed by a Forest Lake lawmaker.

Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, wants the state to stop taxing the military retirement pay of veterans.

Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-Fridley, listens to veteran David Stanton of New Brighton talk about veterans and jobs while appearing before a House committee on Monday (March 4). Bernardy is carrying legislation providing tax credits for hiring veterans. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-Fridley, listens to veteran David Stanton of New Brighton talk about veterans and jobs while appearing before a House committee on Monday (March 4). Bernardy is carrying legislation providing tax credits for hiring veterans. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Dettmer, a retired U.S. Army Reserve warrant officer, has long argued that taxing retirement pay is self-defeating, serving to drive away talented veteran retirees with skills for business, ardor for public service, money to buy homes and cars.

Dettmer will meet with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton this week to discuss his legislation, Dettmer said.

Backers of the legislation, such as United Veterans Legislative Council Chairman Ralph Donais of Elk River, view the number of retired veterans — those with 20-plus years of military service, drawing retirement pay — living in Minnesota as too small.

According to Donais, the state is currently ranked 33rd in terms of retired veterans — Wisconsin, ranked 30th, has about 2,000 more, he said to the House State Government Finance Committee on Monday (March 4).

To the Badger State, those additional military retirees over the years mean millions of extra federal dollars flowing into the state, he argued.

No committee members found Dettmer’s proposal compelling.

Rep Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, argued almost any pensioner group could make the same argument.

Additionally, she questioned the methodology of the state-by-state rankings, suggesting factors other than taxes could account for disparities.

Donais agreed, saying the prevalence of military bases — places where veterans can get medical care, shop the PX — serves as an attraction.

But committee member Rep. Ernie Leidiger, R-Mayer, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, argued Dettmer was spot-on with his bill.

Taxes and weather are two big things veterans ponder when considering where to live.

“We want our people to come back to our state,” Leidiger said.

Although no fiscal note was yet ready for Dettmer’s bill, the lawmaker said the revenue loss would be modest.

The committee passed Dettmer’s bill onto the House Tax Committee.

Several other veterans bill were heard by the committee.

Testimony became emotional — one struggling veteran wiping tears from his eyes — during presentation of bills providing income tax credits to businesses hiring qualified veterans.

Wearing a VFW hat bright with pins, veteran David Stanton of New Brighton spoke of applying for more than 200 jobs,  including fast-food work, for which he felt over-qualified.

“We’re not looking for a handout,” Stanton said.

But at least let veterans be among the first in hiring line, he urged lawmakers.

Representatives Connie Bernardy, DFL-Fridley, and Anna Wills, R-Apple Valley, are carrying legislation to provide business with nonrefundable tax credits for hiring veterans.

A business could earn up to $3,000 in credit for each disabled veteran hired, $1,500 for hiring an unemployed veteran.

The two bills differ slightly, Bernardy’s bill providing a $1,500 tax credit for hiring an underemployed veteran, with Wills’ offering a $500 credit for other veteran hiring.

While the state’s unemployment rate hovers around 5.5 percent, the rate for veterans is almost double.

Dennis Davis, a consultant who works with businesses on veterans- hiring issues, suggested the repeated deployment of active members of the military makessome businesses leery of hiring them.

Why hire one if they’re not going to be around, the logic goes, Davis explained.

But Davis also argued the cost of the tax credits would be recouped by getting more veterans off unemployment benefits.

Minnesota has about 400,000 military veterans.

Tim Budig can be reached at tim.budig@ecm-inc.com.

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