Eliminate state taxes on Social Security benefits (2/15/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 2/15/2019

Hello from St. Paul,

Last year I held a meeting with senior citizens at Regina Senior Living in Hastings. To a person, they told me they wished they had more money to spend from their Social Security checks.

I explained that they were not alone, and that the Legislature had begun to tackle the problem.

During the 2017 session, lawmakers approved a bipartisan tax relief law that addressed Social Security, providing nearly 284,000 senior citizen tax filers with tax reductions, and 72,000 of them no longer pay any state income tax on their Social Security benefits.

This session I am chief-authoring legislation that would eliminate state taxes on Social Security benefits for ALL senior citizens. My bill would benefit nearly 358,000 Minnesotans who would average savings of nearly $1,100 each from the elimination.

On February 14, my bill was debated in the Minnesota House Taxes Committee, and was held over for possible inclusion in a more comprehensive taxes bill that will be unveiled later this year.

To me, there is no good reason to financially punish senior citizens. They’ve paid into the system their entire lives and the State of Minnesota shouldn’t be relying on them to help fund government programs. I believe it’s time to end this unjust law.

INCREASING MENTAL HEALTH GRANTS FOR SCHOOLS

In order to help students who are struggling as well as schools who need resources to help them, I am chief-authoring legislation that would increase funding for state mental health grants for schools.

The number of students dealing with mental health problems in our schools continues to rise. Minnesota is way behind much of the country when it comes to employing school psychologists and mental health professionals.

My bill would increase mental health grant funds by $10 million a year, allowing more schools to bring in professionals to work with students who are in need of help. Current funding is $11 million a year.

I have spoken to both Hastings Schools Superintendent Tim Collins and South Washington County Schools Superintendent Keith Jacobus on this topic, and both are supportive of addressing student mental health.

Expanding mental health services in our schools is a critical component of school safety and improving outcomes for Minnesota students, and will also assist parents who don’t know where to turn for help for their child.

Many troubled kids who need help either don’t have health insurance or have a poor health plan, so their parents don’t seek assistance for financial reasons. We all want children to succeed in life. If we are able to reach kids in the schools who are dealing with untreated mental health issues, we greatly improve their chances at success in the classroom and beyond.

LACK OF FEDERAL SPECIAL EDUCATION FUNDING BECOMING A CRISIS

If you ask school leaders what contributes to funding woes within their district, you’ll likely hear about the lack of funding for special education.

In 1978, laws were written stating the federal government would fund 40 percent of special education services to the states.

It’s never come close to holding up its end of the bargain.

Currently, Minnesota receives roughly 10 percent of what it needs from Washington. In addition to state funding, districts are forced to use general funds that are allocated to them from state government.

Don’t get me wrong, the schools are doing the right thing. The problem is, the federal government’s failure ultimately impacts all students. Because the district is forced to spend more state dollars on special education, money that could be available for other programming is eliminated. You don’t close the achievement gap from the top down; you do it by raising all students up.

As a member of the K-12 Education Finance Division, I’ve heard the alarming statistics. Consider autism programing, just one segment of special education. In the last six years, Minnesota has seen a nearly 30 percent increase in the number of students on the autism spectrum. And in the last 11 years, the cost of educating each student with autism has risen by nearly 40 percent.

That’s unsustainable. There might be light at the end of this tunnel, but it’s coming in the form of a freight train that’s going to hit schools head-on.

I recently met with Congresswoman Craig who said the special education cross subsidy issue is also important to her, and that she is working with Minnesota Congressman Stauber on this issue. This is good news. Hopefully we’ll see some needed action from the federal government on this matter because it must step up and honor its special education responsibility to our schools.

In other news, Almanac did a story with me regarding my time in high school. Click here to watch my “Back to School” story.

My discussion on KDWA’s In Depth program aired this week, with conversation regarding the Special Education Cross Subsidy, recreational marijuana, and many other topics. Click here to listen.

Christy, Beth and Michelle from Regina Hospital in Hastings attended Chief Nurses Officers Day at the Capitol with Minnesota Organization of Leaders in Nursing and stopped in to talk about nurse shortages and workplace safety.

Dakota County Commissioner Mike Slavik was at the Capitol with the Association of Minnesota Counties and he stopped in to talk about Dakota County legislative priorities that include bonding, transportation and housing.

Hastings resident Grace Bauer, a student at Hamline University visited about grants to help students pay for post-secondary education. Grace was in Show Choir while at Hastings High and is studying Marketing and Communications at Hamline.

The House Capital Investment Committee toured the new home of Minnesota United FC, the 19,400 seat privately funded Allianz Field soccer stadium in St. Paul. Team owner Dr. Bill McGuire and Mortenson Construction representatives led the tour. The Major League Soccer season will start in April on the location of the former Metro Bus garage near Snelling Ave, University Ave and I-94.

Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Meierotto of Afton paid a visit to discuss a number of different issues.

Have a good weekend,
Tony

Representative Tony Jurgens
351 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155
651-296-3135
E-mail: rep.tony.jurgens@house.mn

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