By Anna Jauhola
About 30 people gathered at the Hallock Senior Center early Wednesday morning for a town hall meeting with Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau) and Sen. Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks).
“We came up here to hear what you guys are thinking and what you’re hearing,” Fabian said.
The politicians heard from their constituents about tax conformity and the proposed gas tax, water management and conservation, and the Enbridge pipeline.
Jeff Reese, partner at Dahl Hatton Muir and Reese CPAs in Hallock, expressed his concern that Minnesota tax rules are just as complicated as the federal level.
“I contacted both of you during tax season,” Reese said. “The problem is compliance.”
Reese said it’s getting harder for people to comply with filing on time when tax returns are so complicated.
“We need to work on federalizing the Minnesota rules,” he said. “I know that’s being worked on, but the Minnesota tax return is just as thick as the federal and it’s getting unmanageable. When it gets difficult, you go toward noncompliance. It’s very frustrating.”
Kittson County Commissioner Theresia Gillie asked what the delay is on tax conformity. Fabian said Former Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the bill last year because conformity raises some taxes on certain people due to state and local tax deductions, which reduces revenue for the state. “This year, I’m on the tax committee and a top priority is bill 179. Tax conformity doesn’t just affect agriculture. It affects everybody,” Fabian said.
Joe Bouvette, former county commissioner, asked about the proposed 20 cent gas tax increase which is supposed to go toward transportation.
Fabian explained the current taxation funds dedicated to transportation, including a tax on all automobile parts sold in Minnesota, would be undedicated and put into the general fund should the 20 cent gas tax pass this legislative session.
The first 7 cents of that proposed 20 cent gas tax alone would fill the gap left by the current dedicated funds, which is $290 million.
“I think the gas tax is regressive,” Fabian said. “I don’t want Minnesota to have a gas tax way out of whack with surrounding states. I don’t see how it benefits rural Minnesota to raise it by 20 cents.”
Johnson agreed with Fabian that the gas tax would disproportionately favor more heavily populated areas of the state, and believes they could find a different solution.
Justin Muller, of Kittson County Soil and Water Conservation District, said he is concerned about the proposed $57 million cut in the Natural Resources omnibus bill.
“That’s really going to affect our office,” he said.
Johnson said leadership gives targets for cutting, but he doesn’t foresee $57 million as the final number.
“That’s for negotiations so we can figure out how to make sure we’re within the total budget of that environment target,” Johnson said.
Kelly Turgeon, of Hallock, asked about chronic wasting disease and what the Legislature is doing to protect the white tailed deer population. Fabian said the $1.4 million to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources needs to continue, but he’s not in favor of double fencing white tailed deer herds. Turgeon said the deer farming industry has shown it doesn’t manage its own people and that double fencing is a good solution.
Mike Totleben, of Hallock, asked what’s going to happen with the Enbridge pipeline Line 3.
“It’s really disappointing to not get this project going,” Fabian said. “The pipe’s in the ground in North Dakota and the environmental review took six months.”
In conjunction, several people voiced concern over the ongoing Enbridge lawsuit regarding property taxes, which will greatly affect the county and school districts, to name a couple.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz had issues with the pipeline at the beginning of his term in January. Fabian said he is hopeful that a year from now, Line 3 will be in the ground and the lawsuit will be resolved.
By Anna Jauhola