Archived Story

House passes heating bill

Published 11:32am Wednesday, February 26, 2014

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota House hit the ground running, opening the 2014 session by taking on an issue ripped from the headlines. The House passed a bill boosting the state’s low income heating assistance program by $20 million. “It recognizes that Minnesotans across the state are struggling to keep up their heating,” Rep. Joe Radinovich, the Crosby Democrat who authored the bill, told his colleagues, pointing out the huge spike in propane prices this season.

It was one of those rare days when all the lights on the big board went green, a unanimous vote that recognized the effects of a brutal Minnesota winter and a propane shortage in the upper Midwest. “It’s my understanding the state will run out of the federal funds next week if we don’t take action soon,” Rep. Kurt Daudt, the Republican minority leader, told reporters. “I’m hoping the senate will act on it today and it will be on the governor’s desk either today or tomorrow for his signature.”

The Senate decided to run it through the committee process first, but promised action early next week. “It’s not an issue we ought to be playing any games with, because the alternative is leaving people out in the cold,” House Speaker Paul Thissen remarked. “So I hope the Senate acts very quickly as well.”

During the debate several lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said the state needs to encourage the propane industry, perhaps through tax incentives, to build up the propane storage infrastructure in the state. Rep. Pat Garofalo, a Farmington Republican, said the state should also find ways to help customers make the transition from propane to natural gas or other fuels.

The House Tax Committee quickly went to work on a slew of bills, all designed to provide tax breaks to families and businesses.

One set of bills are designed to bring Minnesota’s tax code into conformity with the tax breaks available in the federal code. One of those bills would to ease the marriage penalty. Another would make tax exempt reimbursements that employers give to adoptive parents. “We want to make sure we get those laws passed so people can take advantage of those tax reductions yet this year, before the tax filing deadline.”

The tax panel also moved quickly taking testimony on bills to repeal controversial business-to-business sales taxes enacted last session, as part of the budget balancing efforts.

One of those is the warehousing tax on the value of items companies store in warehouses owned by other companies. Another new tax on the “un-do list” is a sales tax on repairs of business equipment, including expensive farm equipment maintenance. “The people we’re the most concerned about are the small business people, and manufacturers, contractors, farmers that can have repairs of very expensive equipment,” Mike Hickey, a lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, told KARE.

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