House GOP suggests tax rebate checks
ST. PAUL -- House Republicans want to mail tax rebate checks to more than 1 million Minnesotans, a plan Democrats call an election-year gimmick.
Homeowners would receive checks worth 10 percent of their property tax bills, making the average check $205. They would arrive by Oct. 1, two weeks before most property tax payments are due. That is slightly more than a month before the general election.
House Tax Chairman Phil Krinkie, R-Lino Lakes, said the proposal is the "simplest, easiest and most direct method" of providing relief to property taxpayers.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, insisted that the checks only be written if the state Supreme Court rules a 75-cent-a-pack cigarette fee may be collected.
The proposal is reminiscent of the "Jesse checks" from Gov. Jesse Ventura's term. In the Ventura case, the state was running a large enough surplus that he and many lawmakers wanted to return it to taxpayers. This time, the state has a $371 million tax relief account that would not fund on-going relief.
A problem with the checks is they depend upon what the high court rules in a case it hears today.
This morning's court session is to consider the constitutionality of the Health Impact Fee, the 75-cent cigarette charge. There is no word on when a decision will be made, so the House GOP wants its tax rebate plan to go through only if the court allows collection of the fee.
The fee brings in about $370 million annually. If that is not available, there would no money for rebates.
While the rebate proposal was presented as a House Republican plan, Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said House GOP members never have discussed it as a group.
"This is the first I've heard of it," Lanning said after receiving a copy of the news release.
"I'm not real happy about reading about this in an e-mail after it had been released," he said.
A one-time rebate "doesn't solve anything," he said.
"I have some real questions about it myself," said Lanning, a Taxes Committee member.
Republicans hold a two-vote margin in the House, and if one or two of them don't support a bill it cannot pass when Democrats oppose it. Democrats can be expected to oppose the bill announced Monday.
Another House Taxes Committee member, Rep. Paul Marquart, said Minnesotans like to get money returned from the state, but they also know the difference between a "gimmick" and long-term property tax relief.
"It's an election-year gimmick that doesn't address the real cost of the rising property taxes," he said. "We need to give money back to residents, but it needs to be in a fair, responsible and permanent way."
Minnesotans outside the Twin Cities would be shortchanged under the House Republican rebate proposal, the Dilworth DFLer said.
The average rebate for homes in northwestern Minnesota would be $101, Marquart said, while affluent homeowners in parts of the suburban metro would get $400 rebate checks.
Renters would not be eligible for rebates.
R-E staff writer Scott Wente contributed to this story.