BY BOB DETTMER – GUEST COLUMNIST
Here’s an update from the State Capitol as we prepare to begin the 2014 Legislative Session on Feb. 25.
We continue to see very high propane prices due to a national shortage and our very cold temperatures. Several factors have contributed to this “perfect storm” scenario, but I am watching the issue closely and want to encourage you to contact the state’s emergency helpline if you are out of fuel or have less than 20% remaining to heat your home. The state’s assistance line is 1-800-657-3504.
Minnesotans have received their W-2s and are beginning to file their state and federal tax returns or have already done so. Many will discover they are paying unexpectedly more for expenses that are taxed by the state but not the federal government. Whenever a federal tax law is changed, the state has the option to conform to that law, making it easier for filers when they are doing their taxes. Democrats in the majority opted to ignore these tax changes when crafting the state budget last year, and now the average taxpayer will pay the price.
These discrepancies affect many areas of our tax code, including foreclosures, student loan interest, a marriage penalty, child care, commuter expenses and even education material expenses teachers pay for.
When I served in the majority from 2011-2012, I joined my Republican colleagues in passing important tax conformity laws so that this wouldn’t impact our hardworking taxpayers, even with a state budget deficit of $5 billion. Last year, however, the urgency to pass a major tax bill filled with large tax increases was more important to DFL leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton than making these small but impactful changes. Even more disappointing, they included funding for a new upscale Senate office building in this very same tax bill that increased taxes for Minnesotans by over $2 billion.
I will support a bill this session to help fix these mistakes, but the problem is very urgent because taxpayers are already filing their returns for 2013, so any fix to these problems ought to be retroactive to compensate those who have already paid more.
MNsure and Obamacare
February is the fifth month of operations for MNsure, our state-based exchange for implementing Obamacare in Minnesota. It was created last spring by Gov. Dayton and received no Republican votes because of the new bureaucracy it created and the massive costs to our hardworking taxpayers. New reports this week now find that MNsure’s enrollment goals have not been met and the agency may not be self-sustaining. The problems with the website may also not be fixed for one or two years, and dozens of employees are being hired to help reduce unacceptable call wait times for customers. On top of that, for the small number of Minnesotans who purchased private plan coverage through MNsure, a large percentage has not paid their premiums.
The biggest problem with MNsure in Minnesota is that officials are not measuring the number of customers who previously did not have health coverage. The main purpose for Obamacare was to give the uninsured coverage. We now have no idea whether or not uninsured Minnesotans are getting covered, because MNsure isn’t tracking that information.
I have been privileged to join the Forest Lake High School wrestling team as an assistant coach this season in between my duties as a legislator. We’ve got a young, promising team that will be successful for years to come, and I am excited for some of our upcoming matches. You can find the team schedule online, and I’d encourage you to come out and support our athletes.
Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, represents House District 39A in the Minnesota House of Representatives. District 39A includes part of Stillwater, as well as several communities to the north up to Shafer.