Like its name suggests, the Minnesota Renters’ Tax Credit is a property tax credit for renters. It extends, in a limited fashion, property-owning based tax advantages to renters. As a practical matter, the renters’ tax credit is property tax relief for low and middle income earners. It’s also targeted by conservative policymakers for reduction if not elimination.
State Senator Julieann Ortman (R-Chanhassen), Senate Tax Committee chair, supports eliminating the renters’ tax credit. She didn’t always feel this way. She’s changed her position. As recently as 2009, Ortman defended the Renters’ Tax Credit program; today, she opposes it. In other words, she was for it before she was against it.
Since it’s hard to tell which policy she really supports—pro-renters’ tax credit or anti-renters’ tax credit—in the think-tank/public policy world, we have readily available jargon for just this occasion. It’s called “politics.”
When Senator Ortman wrote to then-Governor Pawlenty in 2009, sharing a fixed-income constituent’s plight, she advocated retaining the renters’ tax credit program. After establishing the burden that her constituents would face if the program were cut, Ortman asked Pawlenty to “please consider how the renters’ credit is reduced.”
Now, before you think I’m taking Ortman’s letter out of context, let me quote from the conclusion. “Thank you, sincerely, Governor Pawlenty, for anything that you can do to prevent fixed-income tenants from feeling the burden of the State’s deficit through a cut in their renter’s credit.” I’d say that’s pretty clear. Or, at least it was in 2009.
The Minnesota State Senate’s Omnibus Tax Bill reduces the renters’ tax credit program formula, eliminating any relief for nearly 19,000 Minnesotans. Presumably, at least some of those live in Sen. Ortman’s district.
Like her fellow conservative policymaking colleagues, Ortman is determined to balance Minnesota’s $5.2 billion state budget deficit without raising revenue. She expects to do this through state program cuts alone.
Wanting something doesn’t make it so.
The binding thread, running through this entire debate is the conservative “no new taxes” policy. Rather than balance Minnesota’s budget deficit through combined cuts and revenue increases, conservative policy leaders insist that only cuts are necessary. Rather than expect Minnesota’s highest income earners to fairly bear the same state tax burden as 90 percent of Minnesotans, Ortman and her colleagues are willing to shift community costs to property tax payers. It’s regressive, harmful and it doesn’t move Minnesota forward.