Daily Digest: GOP tax plan to get hearing

Good morning and happy Tuesday. Here’s the Digest.

1. Some would see tax increase under House GOP plan. On the eve of the first hearing on his plan to conform Minnesota taxes to recent federal changes, the plan’s author acknowledged some Minnesotans would pay more under the plan. “If I can get that number down under 220,000 I’d be very happy,” said Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston. “I’m not going to be able to get to zero. I’d like to get to zero, but to get there would be more complicated than if we didn’t conform at all. So, we really don’t want to go there.” Because of the massive federal tax overhaul, many Minnesota households would see a tax increase if state lawmakers do nothing. Many would also see an increase if the state fully conformed to the federal law. The House GOP plan calls for the first individual income tax rate reduction in years and cuts the corporate tax rate. (MPR News)

2. Legislature rushes to tighten sex offender release procedures. About 450 sex offenders and mentally ill and dangerous Minnesotans could be released from state custody before they are fully treated, lawmakers and the Dayton administration say, so state leaders are rushing through legislation to keep them supervised. “It could be days or weeks” when offenders would be released, Acting Human Services Commissioner Chuck Johnson said Monday, before senators unanimously approved the bill. The House still must take up the measure. Johnson said there would be “significant and imminent risk” if the legislation does not pass. The legislation is in reaction to a state Appeals Court decision, which the Supreme Court decided not to hear, that essentially removed the middle step of procedures to release someone from the State Security Hospital in St. Peter, Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said. (Forum News Service)

3. Judge says new pipeline should follow old route. An administrative law judge on Monday recommended Minnesota regulators approve Enbridge’s contentious Line 3 oil pipeline proposal, but only if it replaces the existing line in its current location — not a new route as Enbridge has proposed. In her decision, administrative law judge Ann O’Reilly cited integrity concerns with the current Line 3, which, at nearly 50 years old, is corroding and cracking, putting it at greater risk of leaking. Her recommendation is non-binding. The judge’s report said building the Line 3 replacement along a new route has more consequences than benefits for Minnesota. However, the “cost-benefit analysis” changes if Enbridge routes its replacement pipeline along the current Line 3 route. O’Reilly heard from dozens of supporters and advocates for Line 3 in 16 public hearings she held around the state last fall. She also took testimony in a 12-day hearing before reaching her non-binding recommendation. (MPR News)

4. Extension of Northstar Line debated again. Nearly a decade after the Northstar Rail Line began service, the 40-mile line still stops short of its originally planned route between Minneapolis and St. Cloud. Even critics of transit believe it would be a good idea to connect the two cities once and for all. But there’s vast disagreement over the cost and logistical challenges of extending the line. One champion of the extension, Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, claims limited service to Minnesota’s ninth-largest city could be done with no state funding — actually with very little investment at all. He says paring the number of round-trip departures could pave the way for adding two weekday trips between Minneapolis and St. Cloud. But others in transportation circles, while supportive of extending service to St. Cloud, have a few pointed concerns. “The idea that it could be done for free is ludicrous,” MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle said. “The idea that it should be explored has merit. Even the exploration of it will take significant staff time and perhaps outside consulting work to really put this larger picture in focus.” (Star Tribune)

5. Electronic pulltabs finally paying off. Minnesota took a gamble and lost in 2012 when it launched electronic pulltabs as a novel way to pay for the $1.1 billion Minnesota Vikings stadium _ the promised stream of millions in revenue that one lawmaker repeatedly derided as “fairies and foo-foo dust” was indeed more of a trickle.  Years later, e-pulltabs are starting to look like a smarter bet. Sales of the tablet-based games are roaring, and the state is reaping the rewards. At bars and restaurants across the state, Minnesotans are now buying more than $35 million in e-pulltabs every month _ more than was sold in all of 2015 _ and sales are up 500 percent in the last two years alone, according to data from the Gambling Control Board. State regulators say they’re on track to sell more than $325 million in e-pulltabs this year.  Once written off, the unexpected surge has helped power Minnesota’s charitable gambling into a nearly $2 billion industry, putting extra money in the state’s stadium account that is suddenly poised to overflow in the coming years.  “I was right. I was just a little bit slow,” said Myron Frans, the state’s top budget official who pitched the idea to lawmakers as part of the stadium financing legislation in 2012. (AP)

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