Deal with disaster aid now, sales taxes in 2014

Football season is here. High school teams are doing two-a-day practices. Monday morning quarterbacks are replaying, analyzing and criticizing Vikings games. Fans are making sure they have the latest fashions in purple and white, or maroon and gold. Fantasy football players are studying every statistic.

Our state’s leaders have been playing a little football, too – political football, that is — using much needed disaster aid to underscore their positions.

Our state legislature needs to approve federal disaster aid of $17.8 million, to help cover damage to public facilities and infrastructure from the June storms. The legislature must accept the funds and agree to pay 25 percent.

This money will go to 18 counties throughout the state that were hit hardest June 20-26. Rainfall totals of 5-8 inches were reported in many locations, causing flash floods and mudslides. Three of those counties – Hennepin, Houston and Morrison – are home to ECM Publishers communities.

Severe flash floods forced Houston County officials to declare a state of emergency following the June 20-26 storms that produced more than 10 inches of rain.

In Hennepin County, hundreds of thousands of homeowners were without power for days. Broken trees dotted every street from Wayzata to Minnetonka to Golden Valley. It took weeks to clean up the debris throughout the central metro area.

In Morrison County, heavy rains and winds pulled down trees, which in turn took out many power lines. Flooding also was an issue, with gravel roads suffering serious erosion and culverts washed out.

Minnesota’s leaders quickly agreed federal aid was warranted and should be accepted. Gov. Dayton suggested calling a special legislative session Sept. 9 to officially accept the disaster funds and approve the state’s portion of expenses.

Then, the football game began.

Gov. Dayton tossed the idea of repealing one of the business-to-business taxes enacted in the final minutes of the 2013 legislative session. It seems that everyone agreed the most urgent was a sales tax on equipment repair, including farm machinery, which went into effect in July. Republicans and DFLers were quick to agree that one has to go.

Republicans threw another set of demands into the game: Repeal all of the business-to-business taxes enacted in the final hours of the 2013 session. One taxed purchases of telecommunications equipment, and the other taxed warehouse and storage services. Both of those begin in 2014.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the United for Jobs Coalition joined in, with swift and vocal efforts to urge repeal. Republican legislative leaders agreed, insisting tax repeals be part of the session’s agenda.

Gov. Dayton cried foul, saying if the legislative leaders did not agree beforehand, he would not call the special session. He continued to insist that tax repeals should not be considered until they have been “paid for,” by increasing revenue elsewhere or reducing expenses.

Fortunately, the governor and legislative leaders came to an agreement Aug. 21, to limit the session only to disaster relief and leave the tax issues for 2014.

We applaud our leaders for this compromise decision. Now they will meet quickly, take the necessary votes, and let the federal funds help the counties that suffered during those massive summer storms.

While we support in concept repealing the business-to-business taxes, the conversation needs to be more extensive. Those taxes were estimated to bring in $310 million. Are alternative revenue sources needed? Are additional budget cuts needed? Can funds be moved from one area to another? Those are discussions for the 2014 legislative session, discussions we hope will continue in a bipartisan spirit.

Our leaders’ decision to end the political football game was the right one. Let’s approve the disaster aid funding, and reconvene in February 2014 for a comprehensive debate on sales tax issues. – An opinion from the ECM Editorial Board

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