Students demand rebate checks

Erin Ghere

Several months after 2.2 million Minnesota taxpayers received rebate checks from Gov. Jesse Ventura in the mail, some citizens are upset they did not benefit.
Most college students and some senior citizens did not receive a rebate last summer. College students and other working young adults who were claimed as dependents on their parents’ 1997 income-tax forms did not receive a rebate.
Senior citizens will be included in proposed plans for the most recent $1.6 billion surplus by both legislators and Ventura, but so far dependents will still be left out.
“Dependents didn’t get the check,” said Dave Giese, a Mankato State University senior who is leading the fight for his peers.
Most college students fall into that category. Anyone under 19 is considered a dependent, as well as those under age 24 who are going to school full time and/or receiving 50 percent of their financial support from their parents, said Lynn Andrews, an information officer for the Minnesota Department of Revenue.
According to Giese’s calculations, 170,000 students should have received checks, totalling $35 million.
Dependents question rebate formula
Returning last year’s surplus to taxpayers was not accomplished overnight.
To return the extra money, the state conducted a tax incident study to determine the income of its residents. Any citizen of the state who had a taxable income of $1 or who could claim a property-tax rebate on the 1997 income-tax return was eligible. But dependents were not eligible, Anderson said.
When conducting the survey, the state combined parents and dependents’ incomes to come up with a total household income. Based on the full income of each family, devised from the survey, each family got a sales-tax rebate.
Giese’s dispute with the state begins here. Including dependents’ income in the survey, but giving his or her portion of the rebate to their guardians is unfair, he said.
Others disagree, including Ventura’s administration.
“Dependents are dependents,” said John Wodele, spokesman for Gov. Jesse Ventura. “That indicates that they already are provided an advantage, or benefit, in that the … parents in the household can claim them as a dependent and there’s substantial financial reward to them already.”
The federal government gives tax advantages to parents who claim dependents, including a standard deduction of $2,700 and a federal tax credit of $1,000 to $1,500 each year.
This was the mindset behind the Ventura administration’s decision to not give checks to dependents.
“The thinking was that (a rebate check) would be sort of a double financial reward if the dependents were also able to claim a rebate,” Wodele explained.
But Giese said the benefits are given to the parents of the dependent, not the dependent themselves.
Students are being penalized for continuing their education, leaving them a dependent of their parents despite earning an income and spending money, Giese said.
The penalty? Parents got checks that included a rebate for sales taxes students paid, Giese said.
Dependents should be treated equal to other adults older than 18 years, he added.
“Jesse Ventura is responsible for this,” Giese said definitively.
He added the Legislature agreed to the bill that excluded dependents.
“Both sides are at fault,” Giese said, although he holds Ventura primarily at fault.
“Ventura adopted this bill and it excluded and penalized people for higher education, and these are the people that voted him into office,” Giese said.
“The bill excludes many of those people that he has publicly thanked and admitted got him into office,” Giese added.
Pairing up
Fighting for a sales-tax rebate has paired college students with an unlikely group: senior citizens.
More than 100,000 senior citizens and some people with disabilities were not eligible for the rebate, either. Their portion would have totalled about $30 million.
Mary Bergstrom, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Retired People, said the organization felt the tax rebate has been one of the most progressive offered, but it did not include many senior citizens.
“We do acknowledge that there were concerns and issues among our members,” Bergstrom said.
Ventura’s new rebate plan, the Sales Tax Rebate 2000, will include those senior citizens and people with disabilities left out last summer.
People receiving Social Security and disability income will receive the rebate, according to Ventura’s administration. About 245,000 more citizens will be included in the next set of rebate checks.

Erin Ghere and Megan Boldt welcome comments at [email protected] and [email protected]