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Sen. Torrey Westrom: Tax conformity bill will provide relief for Minnesotans

It’s been a busy couple of weeks at the Capitol. As your voice in St. Paul, I am working on policies that help families, businesses, and taxpayers thrive.

The State Senate passed a federal conformity tax bill this week. Updating the state's tax laws to the federal tax code is an important issue as Minnesota families across the state began filing their income tax returns Feb. 1. Timely resolution of tax conformity helps prevent the need for taxpayers to file amended returns. The tax conformity bill provided nearly $20 million in tax relief, and extended many provisions important to Minnesotans. Significant provisions included an extension of the educator classroom expense deduction of up to $250, and an extension of the higher education tuition expense deduction. This relief would cover tax year 2012, the year that Minnesotans are now reporting on their income tax returns.

The Medical Assistance (MA) Expansion passed the Senate and House and will be sent to the Governor for his signature.  This expands MA in Minnesota as a part of the new federal health care law, ObamaCare. In addition, the Health Insurance Exchange, also part of ObamaCare, passed out of the Environment Finance Committee and is currently being heard in the HHS Finance Committee. There are still serious concerns with the bill, both from GOP members and members of the healthcare and small-business communities.

The future direction of Minnesota’s statewide public school testing system was considered by the Senate Education Committee this week. Current state law follows federal requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act and provides for annual testing of elementary and secondary students in language arts and math. State law requires high school students to pass reading and writing exams and to attempt passage of a math exam prior to receiving a diploma. However, a Commissioner’s Working Group on Assessment and Accountability recommends repealing the tests for high school graduation so that there would be no “high stakes” requirement that could deny a diploma to a student. But, representatives of Minnesota businesses and education reform advocates are hesitant to abandon an up-or-down measure of the value of a high school degree.

This week, the Transportation Committee passed a bill designating a portion of Trunk Highway 23 as “Officer Tom Decker Memorial Highway.” Officer Decker was killed in the line of duty last November while responding to a call in the city of Cold Spring.