House Democrats push higher income taxes for schoolsby Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
A key House committee chair is proposing an income tax increase to fund Minnesota schools. Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville who chairs the K-12 Finance Committee, wants to raise the tax rate for upper-income Minnesotans. More than 30 House Democrats are co-sponsoring Greiling's bill, but it lacks the support of DFL House leaders.
St. Paul, Minn. — Rep. Greiling says every DFL legislator campaigned on more money for Minnesota schools. She says her proposal will help them keep those campaign promises. While Minnesota has a projected budget surplus of more than $2 billion, Democrats say inflation wipes out half of that surplus. Greiling says Gov. Pawlenty's budget proposal doesn't have enough money to help schools close the academic achievement gap between white students and students of color.
"I actually told the governor that I hated to complain about his budget until we had the courage to do a little better," Greiling told a news conference on Monday. "So now I think with this bill, we will be able to complain about the governor's budget. It isn't enough, and we can't do what we need with the forecast either."
Greiling's proposal would raise the top income tax rate from 7.85 percent to 8.5 percent, the rate it was before lawmakers cut taxes in 1999. The top rate affects single filers earning more than $70,000 a year, and married couples earning more than $124,000 a year.
Greiling's bill would raise about $250 million next year. That's more than the cost of statewide all-day kindergarten, a priority for House Democrats. The money would go into a special fund for education.
More than 30 House DFLers have signed on to support Greiling's bill, including several freshman lawmakers who won close races. Ken Tschumper , a dairy farmer from La Crescent who won his House seat by just 52 votes, says he campaigned on more education funding, even if it meant a tax increase.
"Nine of my 10 school districts are suffering long-term declining enrollment, and they just don't have enough money to work with," he said. "Having good schools in rural areas like mine is essential. People are not going to live in rural areas unless you have good schools."
But the proposal doesn't have the support of House Speaker Margaret Kelliher. The Minneapolis DFLer was non-committal when asked about it.
"Our top priorities remain education, health care and reducing property taxes. So we'll be putting together bills that address those issues, and this like all other bills will have to move through the process," she said.
Kelliher has said the House DFL budget proposal will raise money to pay for programs by closing a corporate tax loophole. If the education tax increase does make it through the Legislature, it faces an almost-certain gubernatorial veto. Gov. Pawlenty has repeatedly stated his opposition to an income tax increase, and Republican legislative leaders say they'll make sure his veto is not overridden.
House Minority Leader Marty Seifert of Marshall called Greiling's proposal "veto bait." Holding a fishing pole with a veto pen attached to it, Seifert says the state should be able to fund schools without a tax increase.
"If you need money for education, there's $2 billion of surplus money for them to look at," he said. "What the Democrats constantly do is they always look to the taxpayers' wallets before they look toward anything in the budget to save money."
Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung says the governor's budget would increase K-12 education spending by nearly $1 billion. It would boost the basic amount that schools get for each student by 2 percent a year, and would increase funding for special education by 2 percent.
But DFLers in both the House and Senate say that's not enough to cover the rising cost of special ed, estimated at nearly 5 percent a year.
- All Things Considered, 03/05/2007, 5:22 p.m.