Gov. sticks to tax policy

Stephanie Kudrle

Tax season isn’t until April, but students might already be paying their taxes in the form of higher tuition rates.

With a legislature that didn’t approve funding for state agencies and a governor who ran on a platform of “no new taxes,” where and how state programs get their money could be an issue in the upcoming election.

Despite a predicted $400 million shortfall for the biennium that begins in February 2006, Gov. Tim Pawlenty stands behind his policy of not raising tax rates, according to his chief of staff Dan McElroy.

State taxes, which fund government services such as K-12 education, health and human services, and higher education, also fund the University’s budget and building projects.

McElroy said citizens should care about tax rates, because Minnesota competes with other states for jobs.

“And Minnesotans have spent dramatically more on state government services for a long time,” he said.

In the last two years, state tax rates have not increased, McElroy said, but that doesn’t mean everyone has seen the benefits.

Because health-care costs are going up faster than rate of revenue increases, McElroy said, people are paying more for their health-care coverage.

McElroy also said people can debate whether paying state-school tuition is a form of tax.

“But when people say, ‘don’t raise my taxes,’ they mean ‘don’t change my rate,’ and that’s what we believe we shouldn’t do,” he said.

Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said the governor’s tax policy shifts the payment burden onto the lower and middle classes.

“He’s protecting those who have resources and money, and being punitive to those with middle and lower income,” he said.

Johnson said programs have been cut or are losing funding because of it.

Among those who suffer are the elderly, poor, disabled and students, he said.

University graduate student Heidie Lish said she supports raising taxes if they go toward programs to help the entire state.

“I guess you could argue that having tuition lower is for the betterment of society,” she said.

Johnson said students at the University have seen an almost 50 percent tuition hike in the past few years. If voters want to change the tax policy, they can vote for Democrats in November to gain a majority in the State House of Representatives, he said.

A better tax policy could help students afford tuition and health care, he said.

But University political science professor Bill Flanigan said candidates’ tax policies won’t be much of an issue to many voters when going to the booth in local races.

“State tax policy, as a campaign issue, focuses more on the governor. It’s not a highly salient issue right now,” he said. “But it will be in two more years.”

Flanigan said voters will be more concerned with taxes at a federal level. Tax cuts advocated during the early years of the Bush administration divided U.S. citizens, he said.

“The issue is building up,” he said. “There are particularly strong partisans on each side.”

President George W. Bush is campaigning for more tax cuts in the future, Johnson said, and

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry is promising to roll back tax cuts for the wealthy.