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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published April 16 2013

Minnesota notebook: Interest groups line up against tax provisions

ST. PAUL – A parade of lobbyists picked apart proposals by House and Senate tax committees Tuesday while others gave the plans their blessings.

Among dozens of testifiers was Frank Orton of Walker, Minn., whose company owns 15 northern Minnesota convenience stores. Stores in East Grand Forks and Moorhead would be hurt by a proposed $1.60 per-pack increase in cigarette taxes, he said.

“It is going to affect all border cities drastically,” he said, not just those bordering North Dakota like two of his stores.

“We are competing with two hands behind our back when competing with North Dakota,” Orton said, and if taxes increase “you might as well cut the hands off and our legs as well.”

Orton also told Gov. Mark Dayton about his concerns when Dayton recently visited Moorhead.

911 calls protected

The Senate unanimously approved a bill to allow criminal charges against those who call 911 under false pretenses.

Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, said her bill “creates the option for a prosecutor to charge an individual with a felony if the individual intentionally reports a fictitious emergency with the intent of getting an emergency response, and if an emergency responder or someone else is seriously injured or killed as a result of the emergency.”

The bill also makes it a felony to use communications devices to interfere with, overload or otherwise prevent the emergency call center’s system from functioning properly.

Education bill advances

A bill increasing public school spending has passed the House Taxes and Ways and Means committees.

The bill offered by Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, supports a goal of reaching 100 percent high school graduation by 2027, 100 percent literacy by third grade and 100 percent career and college readiness by graduation.

The bill would provide money for all-day kindergarten statewide and appropriate $50 million for pre-school scholarships. Also, basic state school funding would increase 4 percent.

“This bill is going to have a significant positive impact on the economic future of this state,” Marquart said. “Investments in proven programs like all-day kindergarten and early childhood scholarships combined with additional resources for our schools will put our children on the path to the world’s best workforce.”

The full House is to vote on the bill next week.

Border city aid

The House tax bill moving through committees includes $1.5 million to help Moorhead, Dilworth, Breckenridge, East Grand Forks and Ortonville compete with lower-tax North Dakota.

For years, the cities have received help to lower taxes for new and expanding businesses. For instance, businesses could receive sales tax exemptions for new equipment investments, get tax credits for hiring new workers or expanding facilities, and receive property tax credits on new or expanded facilities.

“Our border communities are in a very unique situation,” said Rep. Jay McNamar, R-Elbow Lake. “Obviously, we are working hard to provide options for all of the communities in Minnesota, but when you’re neighboring another state, you deal with a whole different set of circumstances.”