Legislative Update – April 11, 2014

We just finished up another week at the Capitol and are now on a short break for Easter, which gives me a chance to get back to the district and meet with constituents. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Easter!

Minimum Wage

Yesterday, the House passed a bill to increase the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 by 2016. The minimum wage will also be increased to inflation starting in 2018 to ensure the value of the minimum wage does not fall over time. The bill, which passed the Senate yesterday, now goes to the Governor to be signed into law.

In our great state, people who work hard shouldn’t be living in poverty. Research has shown that when lower-income people have more money in their pockets, they spend that money in their local communities which will strengthen our economy.

Over 357,000 workers will see a raise when the bill is fully implemented. Of those workers, 45 percent have some college education and 57 percent, or 200,000 are women. The bill is expected to have a significant impact on Minnesota families struggling to make ends meet. Of the workers expected to receive a raise, 62,850 are parents. And 14,200 of those are the sole wage earner in their household.

Most of the people on public assistance programs have jobs and are getting paid the minimum wage. By increasing the minimum wage, these families will have more money in their pockets and can hopefully get off public assistance, saving taxpayer dollars while boosting our economy.

Details of the bill include:

  • $9.50 minimum wage for businesses with gross sales over $500,000 in 2016. $8.00 in August 2014, $8.50 in August 2015.
  • $7.75 minimum wage for businesses under $500,000 in gross sales in 2016. $6.50 in August 2014, $7.25 in August 2015.
  • The $7.75 minimum wage rate would also apply for large businesses in the following circumstances: 90 day training wage for 18 and 19 year olds, all 16 and 17 year olds and employees working under a J1 visa.
  • Beginning in 2018, all wages would increase each year on January 1st by inflation measured by the implicit price deflator capped at 2.5%.
  • The indexed increase could be suspended for one year by the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry if leading economic indicators indicate the possibility of a substantial downturn in the economy.

We passed a compromise to address the concerns of small businesses. The bill includes a staggered increase in the wage, a lower minimum wage for small businesses, and a training wage. We’re moving in a responsible manner to raise the wage for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans.

Women’s Economic Security Act

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the Women’s Economic Security Act omnibus bill (HF 2536).

Even as Minnesota’s economy continues to improve, barriers like high costs for childcare and the pay gap between men and women doing similar work continue to put a drag on the economy. The Women’s Economic Security Act removes those kinds of barriers, helping to fuel Minnesota’s positive economic momentum and make sure more Minnesotans share in the benefits of the recovery.

In Minnesota, women earn 80 cents for every dollar a man makes for a similar job. Many women are stuck in traditional ‘women’s fields’ and others have faced workplace discrimination because they’re pregnant or nursing. Addressing these issues is good for Minnesota’s economy. When women have equal opportunities to succeed, it means stronger families, stronger communities, and a brighter economic future for our state.

I’m proud to support this legislation and was pleased to see bipartisan support for the bill when it passed.

Safe and Supportive Schools Act

On Tuesday, we passed the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, which Governor Dayton has signed into law. The bill strengthens the ability of local communities to create their own anti-bullying policies. The bill had the support of more than 120 organizations, including the School Counselors Association, School Board Association, and Association of School Administrators.

Minnesota had one of the weakest anti-bullying laws in the country and this legislation will strengthen and streamline anti-bullying policies statewide.  The bill provides a comprehensive framework to protect all students from abusive behavior, supports staff in their efforts to prohibit bullying, and will support improved student achievement by providing a safe school environment.

Rather than worrying about being bullied, students should be spending their days learning, making friends, and thinking about their futures.

While I believe our local schools do a great job, we can’t pretend bullying isn’t an issue for some students. As a special education teacher, I have seen it firsthand: the student with a learning disability who’s made fun of because he doesn’t understand an assignment; the student with a physical disability who’s teased because she’s different. It happens every day in our schools — and is always underreported — and many of us can remember it when we were in school.

Bullying can also lead to increased student absences, suspensions, and students dropping out — which ends up costing our state more both in the short-term and the long-term. In some tragic cases, bullying has led to students committing suicide.

I’m a pro-life legislator and I consider this to be a pro-life bill. If we can save just one student’s life through this bill, it’s absolutely worth it.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for the honor of representing you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

Legislative Update – Supplemental Budget and Additional Middle-Class Tax Cuts

Last night, we passed a supplemental budget that makes critical investments in seniors and their caregivers, Greater Minnesota job creation, education, and transportation.

Minnesota’s growing economy and strong budget passed in 2013 created a $1.2 billion budget surplus. The legislature has moved quickly to utilize about half of that surplus already, approving $443 million in tax cuts and directing $150 million to bolster the state’s budget reserve. We’re aiming to build on that progress with our supplemental budget.

We made a lot of progress in 2013 and our economy is strong and growing. Our job this session is to build on that momentum and we’re doing just that through middle-class tax cuts and targeted investments in the priorities Minnesotans share: education, jobs, and our seniors and their caregivers.

The budget includes $37 million in job creation measures, including legislation I authored. I was the chief author of a provision that increases funding for the Initiative Foundation located in Southwest Minnesota. The funding would be one-time resources for existing small business revolving loan funds that offer loans and gap financing for small businesses in need of capital. This is a program proven to help businesses create jobs in Greater Minnesota.

The budget also contains education language I authored aimed at reducing special education paperwork. One provision expedites rulemaking authority to make changes recommended by the Special Education Case Load and Rule Assignment Task Force. The second provision establishes a statewide online system for special education paperwork, providing teachers with a simpler, more uniform system.

This is just a first and incremental step in solving our paperwork and special education crisis. Much more remains to be done in the years ahead and I look forward to continuing this work. This crisis not only threatens teacher and student classroom time, it also threatens attracting and keeping well-qualified special education teachers.

In addition to these provisions, the budget increases funding for home and community-based long-term care providers by 5 percent. The caregivers do incredible work caring for our loved ones. They shouldn’t have to get a second job to make ends meet or leave the field they love because the pay is so low. This increase is long overdue and I’m very pleased we were able to include it in our budget.

Additional highlights of the budget include:

  • ·Funding increase for every school: Provide a 1 percent formula funding increase for K-12 schools — increase of $58 per pupil — to help address the costs of teacher evaluations and to further improve education outcomes.
  • Pothole repairs: Provide $25 million to help local governments throughout the state address the need to repair potholes after the worst winter in recent memory.
  • Corridors of Commerce: Build on progress last session with $10 million in further investment in “Corridors of Commerce” funding for statewide highway repairs.
  • Farm-to-Food Shelf: Invests $1.5 million in Farm to Food-Shelf funding – funding goes to Second Harvest to reimburse food producers for labor costs when producers donate surplus food to food banks. Second Harvest estimates this program would generate 10 million pounds of fresh food for food shelves around Minnesota, which would turn into 7.6 million meals.
  • Broadband Access: $25 million in broadband access grants for Greater Minnesota.  Areas of the State with low broadband connectivity will receive priority.

Today, the House is voting on a second tax bill, another key component of the House budget plan. “Tax Bill 2” will include $103 million in additional tax cuts for homeowners, renters, farmers and small businesses:

  • Farmers: Provides $18 million in property tax relief to more than 90,000 homesteaded farms. An average family farmer in Minnesota will see $460 in property tax relief.
  • Homeowners: Provides $12 million for a one-time increase for all Homestead Credit Refunds paid in 2014. Each homeowner receiving a refund will see a 3% increase, providing further property tax relief to 500,000 Minnesota homeowners.
  • Renters: Provides $12.5 million for a one-time increase for all Renters’ Credit Refunds paid in 2014. Each renter receiving a refund will see a 6% increase, providing property tax relief to 350,000 Minnesota renters.
  • Businesses: Provides a property tax cut for small businesses with property value less than $1.1 million. The bill also includes sales tax reforms that provide additional sales tax relief to small businesses.

For the first time in over a decade, Minnesotans are paying less in property taxes. But we know we have more work to do, especially for family farmers. This second tax bill addresses the property tax increases our farmers have experienced while boosting direct relief to homeowners and renters.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. You can reach me at 651-296-6206 or rep.mary.sawatzky@house.mn. Thank you for the honor of representing you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

 

 

Legislative Update: Middle-Class Tax Cuts – Important Tax Filing Information

Last week, the House continued the fast pace we’ve been at all session and passed $500 million in tax cuts for over a million middle-class Minnesotans. Governor Dayton immediately signed the bill into law. One in ten Minnesotans will qualify for tax cuts for the 2013 tax year and four in ten Minnesotans will qualify for tax cuts for the 2014 tax year.

Thanks to a growing economy and a budget that put middle-class Minnesotans first, we have a strong surplus, and these middle-class tax cuts allow us to build on Minnesota’s momentum and expand economic opportunity.

Because this tax relief package was passed before April 15th, the Minnesota Department of Revenue is working hard to make these tax cuts available to Minnesotans who have not yet filed their 2013 tax returns.  The Department of Revenue will update all of their internal and online systems by April 3, 2014.  They will also be working closely with online vendors who process returns to make sure that their software is updated to correctly process returns for potentially increased tax refunds.

If you have not yet filed your 2013 taxes, you should wait until after April 3, 2014 to do so.

  • The Department of Revenue will have their online systems updated by then to account for tax refund changes.
  • You can keep updated with changes at the Department of Revenue’s website by clicking on the orange button at the bottom of their home page.

If you have already filed your 2013 taxes, you don’t need to do anything currently.

  • The Department of Revenue will be mailing refunds as usual and then reviewing returns that they received before the changes went into effect.
  • They will be doing this review after the April 15th tax deadline and then sending out any refund increase by whatever means you elected to receive your refund.
  • If you are eligible for an increased refund, the Department of Revenue will be able to make the necessary changes to your return with the tax documents you provided.  If they are unable to do so, they will individually contact you by postal mail to request necessary documents to amend your return.
  • The Department of Revenue will also be communicating all tax refund changes and updates to CPA’s and tax preparers around the state.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

Legislative Update – March 21, 2014

Today, the Minnesota House passed tax cuts for more than one million middle class families and repealed business-to-business taxes. Minnesotans across the state are filing their taxes right now, making today’s quick passage of this bill incredibly important. It’s good news for the people of Minnesota that we were able to quickly get this bill to Governor Dayton. We’re continuing to build on Minnesota’s strong economic momentum to expand opportunity and grow our middle class.

Last session the House included federal tax conformity for tax year 2013 and beyond, but it did not end up in the final budget signed into law. More than one million middle-class Minnesotans will see $225 million in tax cuts due to federal conformity and boosting the state’s Working Family Credit. The tax cuts through federal conformity include:

  • $111 million for middle income married families by eliminating the “marriage penalty”
    • 650,000 families will see an average tax decrease of $115
    • The vast majority of families claiming the standard deduction make less than $75,000
  • $36 million for low income working families by matching the state’s Working Family Credit with the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
    • 54,000 working families will see an average tax decrease of $300
  • $7.2 million for homeowners that refinanced or had a short sale
  • $3.9 million for new homeowners through deduction of mortgage insurance premiums
    • 80,000 new homeowners will see an average tax cut of $60
  • $26.4 million for students and parents paying for college and students paying off loans
  • $1.9 million for Minnesota families with dependents
    • 26,000 families with household incomes below $38,570 will see a $80 tax decrease
  • $400,000 for adopting parents who receive adoption assistance from employers
  • $1.1 million for 60,0000 teachers with the classroom expense deduction for educators
  • $4 million for charitable contributions
  • $6.7 million for businesses – to make tax filing simpler for businesses

(Source: Non-partisan House Research)

The bill increases the Working Family Credit above and beyond federal conformity, providing a total of $66.2 million in tax cuts to 331,000 claimants earning less than $49,103. The average family will see a $146 tax cut through this expansion of the Working Family Credit.

The final bill also repeals three business-to-business taxes on warehousing and storage services, commercial equipment repair (including farm machinery) and telecommunications equipment.

Thanks to our growing economy and surplus, we can repeal these business-to-business taxes in a fiscally responsible manner. I’m pleased we were able to work together and repeal these taxes today.

If you have not filed your tax return, the Department of Revenue is asking that taxpayers wait until Monday to file. If you have already filed your taxes, the Department of Revenue will examine your return to see if you qualify for these tax cuts and notify you if they need more information or if you need to file an amended return.

Greater Minnesota Legislation

Earlier this week, legislators outlined new initiatives to expand economic opportunity in Greater Minnesota for individuals, families, farmers and businesses, including legislation I have authored.

The budget passed by the legislature in 2013 made significant investments in Greater Minnesota priorities, including more funding for rural schools, the first nursing home funding increase in more than four years, and direct property tax relief that has led to the first drop in Minnesota property taxes in more than a decade. The proposals highlighted by House DFL representatives aim to build on that momentum to continue making progress for Greater Minnesota families and businesses

I am the chief author of HF 2993, which would increase funding for the Initiative Foundation located in Southwest Minnesota. The funding would be one-time resources for existing small business revolving loan funds that offer loans and gap financing for small businesses in need of capital. Since 1985, the six Initiative Foundations in the state have leveraged more than $1 billion and created or retained more than 40,000 jobs.

Minnesota’s economy has experienced six straight months of job growth and has recovered all of the jobs lost during the Great Recession, and we need to build on that progress. These proposals will boost Greater Minnesota’s economy and ensure more families and businesses are sharing in our state’s economic recovery.

Additional proposals include more property tax relief for rural homeowners, renters, and family farmers; broadband expansion, additional job and economic development legislation, and a Farm-to-Food Shelf initiative.

You can find more details on the proposals here.

Flood insurance

Finally, I wanted to take a moment to encourage you to review your flood insurance needs. Flood damage is not covered under a standard homeowner’s policy and flood insurance policies need to be purchased 30 days prior to its use.

There have been times during this winter where I worried spring would never come, but it finally has and with it comes a chance of flooding. I strongly encourage folks to check their flood insurance needs.

The Commerce Department provides information for consumers who are considering flood insurance to safeguard their homes, which you can find here.

For more information about flood insurance, contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Federal Insurance Administration, Washington DC. 20472. Information is also available on the National Flood Insurance Programs website at www.FloodSmart.gov.  For information about filing claims, or to report trouble applying for flood insurance, call the national information line at 1-888-379-9531.

The Commerce Department’s website contains a Disaster Information Center containing information for consumers and businesses to help prepare for the worst and make informed insurance decisions after a catastrophic loss.  If you are experiencing problems with an insurance company or would like to report any fraudulent activity, contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce Consumer Response Team at 800-657-3602 or 651-539-1600 or consumer.protection@state.mn.us.

As always, feel free to contact me if you have questions. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

Legislative Update – March 13, 2014

The 2014 Session’s quick pace continued as today we passed HF 2480, a bill increasing state funding for reduced price lunches on a unanimous vote 130-0. I was a co-author on the bill.

The federal government provides the majority of funding for school lunches; $2.93 for free meals, $2.53 for reduced-price meals, and $0.28 for fully-paid school lunches. Minnesota adds 12.5 cents to this funding for all three lunches. However, the forty-cent gap between free lunches and reduced-price lunches has resulted in alarming instances of kids being turned away when they can’t pay or being given a less nutritious alternative lunch.

HF 2480 tackles this issue by increasing state aid for reduced-price school lunch by 40 cents, which has the effect of making them free lunches. The bill also prohibits a district from charging a lunch fee to a student who is free or reduced-price lunch eligible.

On February 10, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid released a report that detailed the extent to which Minnesota school districts either turn away kids who cannot afford lunch or provide them with a less nutritious alternative meal. The vast majority of the kids affected are those receiving reduced-price lunches.

The report stated that of the 306 districts that responded to the group’s questions (94% of districts statewide), 46 districts (15% ) report a policy of immediate or eventual denial to serve hot lunch or an alternative meal to a child that cannot pay. Besides denying these kids nutrition, the denial of lunch also causes embarrassing scenarios for the child.  One hundred sixty-five of the districts (53%) offer a less nutritious alternative meal instead of turning the child away.

Minnesota students should have access to a healthy, nutritious lunch, regardless of their income or family circumstances. We all know that going hungry without a hot lunch not only impacts student health, it negatively impacts a student’s ability to learn. I’m pleased we were able to pass this bill in a bipartisan fashion today.

Unsession

One of the initiatives of the 2014 Session is what Governor Dayton has termed the “Unsession,” an opportunity to make government more efficient.

As times change, so do our laws. There are thousands upon thousands of pages of laws, regulations and statutes on the books. Every session, more pages are added. But there is little editing. When laws are updated, they’re usually just stacked on top of the old ones.

This year, we’re working through our state statutes, finding outdated or unnecessary laws. The Governor’s proposals, which he released last week, would eliminate more 1,000 of these obsolete, redundant or incomprehensible statutes.

For instance:

  • It’s a misdemeanor to carry fruit in an illegally sized container.
  • There are more state laws regulating the telegraph industry than there are laws regulating the Internet.
  • There are laws that regulate the size and color of bug deflectors.
  • It is illegal to drive a car in neutral (which, of course, is impossible to do).

But there is more to the Unsession than eliminating outdated laws. Many of the proposals are focused on making government more user-friendly for small businesses and families. One of the simplest changes will come through an executive order that requires state agencies to use plain language that everyone can understand. Some of these changes are already being implemented. For example, when it once used to take 11 clicks from the Department of Natural Resources homepage to reserve a campsite online, it now takes two.

Taxes made simpler: By conforming to federal tax deductions, Minnesota’s tax code will be simpler for Minnesotans. The House has already passed a tax bill that includes this federal tax conformity. Along with making our tax code simpler, it will reduce taxes by $200 million for Minnesotans. With a strong surplus and tax season in full swing, we should move quickly to enact these middle-class tax cuts. We made a lot of progress last year to balance our budget, and invest in education, job creation and real property tax relief for homeowners. The way to continue building on our progress is to expand middle-class economic opportunity

Permitting reform: Too often, our small businesses are forced to wait many months to have their permits approved. Right now, 97 percent of environmental permits for economic development projects are issued in less than 150 days. Through these reforms, a majority of permits should be issued in less than 90 days.

These are common sense fixes that help make life easier for everyday Minnesotans. If you have some ideas for how to improve state government, please don’t hesitate to send them my way and as always, feel free to contact me if you have questions. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

Legislative Update – March 6, 2014

Earlier this week we learned some good news: Minnesotans will pay less in property taxes statewide in 2014! After more than a decade of property tax hikes, Minnesotans will pay less in property taxes in 2014 in large part due to direct property tax relief included in the 2013 state budget. Last year’s state budget included $133 million in direct relief for homeowners and renters through the new Homestead Credit Refund and expanded Renter’s Credit.

According to non-partisan House Research, when including direct relief, statewide property taxes for homeowners are decreasing by $161 million or 4.9 percent.

As part of our budget, 2000 homeowners receiving a property tax refund in Kandiyohi County will receive an average refund increase of $173. 450 renters in Kandiyohi County who qualify for the Renter’s Credit will receive an average credit increase of $102.

There is more work to be done however, particularly on agriculture property taxes. Land values on ag-homestead land increased 24% from 2013, resulting in a 12% increase in property taxes. I will be working with my colleagues this session to expand the Agriculture Market Value Homestead Credit to provide immediate relief to farmers in 2014.

I encourage you to see if you are eligible for the Homestead Credit Refund or Renter’s Credit. Some of you who may not have been eligible in the past may be eligible this year due to expanded refunds and credits. You can find more information on eligibility and how file for your property tax refund at the Department of Revenue website.

Middle-Class Tax Cuts

Today the full House is voting on legislation (HF 1777) to cut taxes for middle class families and to repeal business-to-business taxes. The $514 million tax cut bill would reduce taxes largely by conforming to federal tax changes.

With a strong surplus and tax season beginning, we shouldn’t wait to pass middle-class tax cuts through tax conformity. Nearly one million Minnesotans would receive a tax cut through this legislation.

Those tax cuts include:

  • $111 million for middle income married families by eliminating the “marriage penalty”
    • 650,000 families will see an average tax decrease of $115
    • The vast majority of families claiming the standard deduction make less than $75,000
  • $36 million for low income working families by matching the state’s Working Family Credit with the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
    • More than 50,000 working families will see an average tax decrease of $300
  • $7.2 million for homeowners that refinanced or had a short sale
  • $3.9 million for new homeowners through deduction of mortgage insurance premiums
    • 80,000 new homeowners will see an average tax cut of $60
  • $26.4 million for students and parents paying for college and students paying off loans
  • $1.8 million for Minnesota families with dependents
    • 25,000 families with household incomes below $38,570 will see a $65 tax decrease
  • $400,000 for adopting who receive adoption assistance from employers
  • $1.1 million for 60,0000 teachers with the classroom expense deduction for educators
  • $4 million for charitable contributions
  • $1.8 million for Minnesota families with dependents 
    • 25,000 families with household incomes below $38,570 will see a $65 tax decrease
  • $6.7 million for businesses – to make tax filing simpler for businesses
  •  (Source: Non-partisan House Research)

The House Tax bill would also repeal three business-to-business taxes (warehousing and storage services, commercial equipment repair (including farm machinery) and telecommunications equipment) that were passed as part of the 2013 budget. Last year those taxes were part of a Senate package that paid for an upfront capital sales exemption for businesses and provided property tax relief by eliminating sales taxes for cities and counties.

As always, feel free to contact me if you have questions. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

Legislative Update – Budget Outlook Continues to Improve with $1.23 Billion Surplus

Today Minnesota Management and Budget announced that the budget forecast shows a projected budget surplus of $1.23 billion for fiscal years 2014-15, a $408 million improvement over the last forecast. The forecast shows a surplus of $2.59 billion in the FY 15-16 biennium.

We’re continuing to make progress and our economy continues to grow. Just last year we were facing a $600 million deficit and an $800 million IOU to schools. A year later, our schools have been paid back and we have a strong surplus. And we’re moving quickly to build on that progress.

Yesterday, the House Tax Committee voted to move forward with legislation (HF 1777) to cut taxes for middle class families and to repeal business-to-business taxes. The $514 million tax cut bill would reduce taxes largely by conforming to federal tax changes.

With a strong surplus and tax season beginning, we shouldn’t wait to pass middle-class tax cuts through tax conformity. Nearly one million Minnesotans would receive a tax cut through this legislation.

Whenever Congress changes federal tax law, the Legislature must decide whether to conform to the changes at the state level or not.  Last session the House included federal tax conformity for tax year 2013 and beyond. However, this did not end up in the final budget signed into law. The legislation passed by the House Tax Committee would provide $200 million in middle class tax cuts through permanent federal tax conformity. Those tax cuts include:

  • ·          $111 million for middle income married families (conforms to federal tax code to eliminate the so-called ‘Marriage Penalty’ )
    • ·         650,000 families will see an average tax decrease of $120.
  • ·          $36 million for working families (Increase phase-out range for Working Family Credit to match Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC))
    • ·         More than 50,000 working families will see an average decrease of $300.
  • ·          $26.4 million for students, parents paying for college and students paying off loans  (Education-related provisions including qualified tuition and related expenses)
  • ·          $3.9 million for new homeowners (mortgage insurance premiums deduction)
    • ·         80,000 new homeowners will see an average tax cut of $60.
  • ·          $7.2 million for homeowners that refinanced or had a short sale  
  • ·          $1.8 million for Minnesota families with dependents 
    • ·         25,000 families with household incomes below $38,570 will see a $65 tax decrease.
  • ·          $400,000 for adopting families (employer- provided adoption assistance exclusion)
  • ·          $1.1 million for 60,0000 teachers (Classroom expense deduction for educators)
  • ·         (Source: Non-partisan House Research)

The House Tax bill would also repeal three business-to-business taxes (warehousing and storage services, commercial equipment repair (including farm machinery) and telecommunications equipment) that were passed as part of the 2013 budget. Last year those taxes were part of a Senate package that paid for an upfront capital sales exemption for businesses and provided property tax relief by eliminating sales taxes for cities and counties.

Thanks to our growing economy, we can afford to repeal these taxes while maintaining an honestly balanced budget. There is broad bipartisan support for repealing these business-to-business taxes and tax conformity. We need to continue working together to make progress and expand economic opportunity for all Minnesotans.

The full House will likely vote on the tax relief bill next week.

As always, feel free to contact me if you have questions. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

Legislative Update – 2014 Session Begins

The 2014 Session has begun! Minnesota has made a lot of progress in the last year. We went from a $627 million deficit to honestly balanced budget with an $825 million surplus. Our schools are paid back and our budget includes key investments in our future: all-day kindergarten, early childhood scholarships, a college tuition freeze, job creation initiatives, increased nursing home funding, and an expanded Homeowner Credit Refund and Renter’s Credit, among many others.

Minnesota is moving in the right direction, but we know we have work to do.

With the start of session also comes a new Legislative Survey, which you can find online here. Please take a moment and fill out the survey if you have time.

We got back to work quickly on Tuesday, passing emergency legislation increasing funding for the state’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The bill would appropriate $20 million from the state’s General Fund for fiscal year 2014 and any unspent funds as of June 30, 2014 would return to the General Fund. Cold weather combined with Minnesota’s propane shortage led to skyrocketing prices and increased applications for energy assistance. Without additional funding, the program will run out of money in March.

In our terribly cold winters, every Minnesotan needs to be able to heat their home, regardless of their financial situation. In Minnesota we come together to help those in need, and I’m glad we did so again. The Senate is expected to take up the bill soon.

On the first day of session the House Taxes Committee was also meeting to discuss middle-class tax relief through federal tax conformity and the repeal of business-to-business taxes, including the warehouse tax, farm equipment repair tax, and the telecommunications equipment tax.

These proposals have drawn broad bipartisan support, but as we work for middle-class relief and repeal of business-to-business taxes it’s also important that we maintain a balanced budget. If the projected surplus holds, we will be able to get this done in a fiscally responsible way.

Even-numbered sessions are usually bonding years and this year is no different. I’m supporting a robust, statewide bonding bill. Bonding helps our economy grow by building the long-term infrastructure needed to help our communities be successful. I’ll continue advocating for local projects including Ridgewater College and an extension of the Glacier Lake State Trail.

This session I’m also supporting an increase in the state’s minimum wage. Most of the people on public assistance programs have jobs and are getting paid the minimum wage. By increasing the minimum wage, these families will have more money in their pockets and can hopefully get off public assistance, saving the state money while boosting our economy.

There is no question that Minnesota faces considerable transportation needs across the state. I will continue pushing for transportation needs in our area — especially “filling the gap” on Highway 23.

Governor Dayton has deemed the upcoming legislative session the “Unsession,” an opportunity to make government more efficient. “This is an excellent opportunity to get rid of outdated laws and pass other reforms that will improve how government works for Minnesotans. I’m hopeful we can work together to make government more efficient.

Free File Program for E-Filing Tax Return

You may not be aware of this, but taxpayers with a 2013 Adjusted Gross Income of $58,000 or less may visit www.IRS.gov/freefile to prepare, complete and e-file their federal tax returns at no cost.

Free File is made possible through a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, a coalition of industry-leading tax software companies. Since its inception in 2003, the program has offered 70 percent of taxpayers free access to leading commercial tax preparation software from Free File Alliance member companies. Free File has already saved taxpayers an estimated $1.2 billion in filing costs.

I strongly encourage folks who are eligible for the Free File program in our area to take advantage of it.

To begin, taxpayers should visit the IRS website – www.irs.gov/freefile. You will find a list of companies and may either choose the one that fits their needs or utilize the “help me find a company” tool. After selecting a tax software company, you will be transferred to the company’s website to prepare, complete and electronically file their federal income tax returns.

As always, feel free to contact me if you have questions. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

Legislative Update – Energy Assistance Hotline Available

In addition to the increased Low-Income Energy Assistance crisis payments I wrote about yesterday, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Public Safety are staffing a hotline to provide consumers a one-stop shop to help with questions about the Energy Assistance Program and concerns about possible price fixing and price gouging.

The hotline number is: 1-800-657-3504 and will be taking calls from 9:00 am-4:30 pm.

If you need assistance, please don’t hesitate to call this hotline. This is a great resource filled with people ready to help. You can also find information on how to apply for crisis funds at mn.gov/commerce/energy/consumers/Heating-Assistance.

Other forms of assistance may be available through county social service programs, community-based organizations, and nonprofit agencies. See the Stay Warm Minnesota webpage for a list of resources.

As always, feel free to contact me if you have questions. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

Legislative Update – Energy Assistance Available to Households Using Propane and Heating Oil

With the terribly cold winter we’re having and skyrocketing propane prices I wanted to remind constituents, especially homes with senior citizens, people with disabilities, veterans, and families with children who might be struggling to pay their heating bills that help is still available from Minnesota’s Energy Assistance Program (EAP).

Last week, , U.S. Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar announced in a joint press release that the bipartisan federal spending bill included an additional $3.4 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

In response to the significant cost increases in propane the Commerce Department has begun to take the necessary steps to increase LIHEAP Crisis payments from $500 to $1,000 for applicants currently heating their homes with propane and heating oil.

Households with an income less than 50 percent of the state median income ($43,642 for a family of four) may qualify; those who qualify are served on a first-come, first-served basis while funds last. People have until May 31, when the program year ends, to apply for EAP.

EAP pays the utility company directly on behalf of eligible households. Qualifying families must apply for assistance at the local service provider in their area; Minnesota has 32 local service providers. A list of local service providers and information on applying for the Minnesota Energy Assistance Program is available by visiting the Energy Assistance section of the Division of Energy Resources website (mn.gov/commerce/energy/) or by calling 1-800-657-3710 or 651-539-1882. EAP is administered by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

The cold isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and even when it does warm up a bit, many will still be struggling to heat their homes because of the higher prices for propane and heating oil. I strongly encourage those in need to apply for this program.

In addition to expanded funding, Governor Mark Dayton and other federal leaders are calling for immediate action to address this critical propane shortage in Minnesota, and I strongly support their efforts.

Among the action they are calling for the federal government to take is to:

  • Maintain and expand the U.S. Department of Transportation exemption to the hours-of-service regulations for as long as may be necessary to address this crisis. Propane suppliers need the ability to safely transport propane from areas with greater supplies like Texas and Kansas to states facing shortages like Minnesota.
  • Address any regulatory barriers at the U.S. Department of Energy so that additional shipments of propane can be delivered by other modes of transportation, including rail and pipeline.
  • Examine current propane market forces and consider exercising authority outlined in 42 U.S.C. § 6212 to ensure a sufficient supply of propane for domestic consumption.
  • Deliver propane to communities in danger of a devastating depletion of their supplies.

Governor Dayton declared a state of emergency on Monday, ordering state agencies to help local governments with relief efforts if the shortage gets even worse and people are unable to obtain fuel. The Governor also met with propane suppliers on Tuesday morning to discuss the state’s propane shortage and how to improve the supply of propane to Minnesota consumers.

Other forms of assistance may be available through county social service programs, community-based organizations, and nonprofit agencies. Please visit the Stay Warm Minnesota webpage for a list of resources.

Minnesota Gains 9,500 Jobs in December

The Department of Employment and Economic Development announced last week that Minnesota gained 9,500 jobs in December. Minnesota gained 45,900 jobs last year and our unemployment rate is at 4.6%, well below the national rate of 6.7%.

We know that we have more work to do, but our economy is on the right track and continuing to grow. You can read more about the December jobs report here.

If you have any questions, concerns or feedback, please don’t hesitate to contact me. The 2014 Legislative Session is rapidly approaching, and I would like to hear your thoughts. Governor Dayton has deemed the upcoming legislative session the “Unsession,” a great opportunity to make government more efficient. If you have ideas on ways to improve state government, please contact me.

As always, I appreciate hearing from you. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B