Good morning and welcome back to winter. Here’s the snowy Thursday Digest.
1. Trump to host host a tax day event in Minnesota. President Trump is planning a visit to Minnesota on Monday. A person with knowledge of the visit tells MPR News that Trump is coming to Minnesota to promote the Republican tax law that took effect last year. The White House has not yet announced the visit, and the person who didn’t want to be named and is not authorized to speak for the White House says Trump will likely be in the Twin Cities area, and that details are still being worked out. Trump visited Minnesota twice during the run up to the mid-term elections last year. He lost the state by fewer than 50,000 votes in 2016 and contends that with more visits he would have won. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the trip during a flight on Air Force One to San Antonio Wednesday. (MPR News)
2. New tax law draws cheers and jeers. As the tax filing deadline approaches, the new federal law is getting mixed reviews. Charles Hanson, a 70-year-old retiree who lives in St. Louis Park, questions the policy of cutting taxes by adding to the national debt. “I know that we probably borrowed this money from our great, great, grandchildren,” he said while noting the law has worked out well for him. “I got the largest refund we’ve ever received. I cashed the check!” While many people may be celebrating tax season this year, tax preparers have had a challenging few months especially in Minnesota which has not changed state tax law to conform with the federal changes. “This is the roughest tax season I’ve ever been through,” said Ann Etter, a certified public accountant who works in Northfield. Etter said many people did not make adjustments in their withholding to account for the changes. “A lot of people who severely under withheld which then meant that they owed a significant amount of the IRS at tax time.” (MPR News)
3. Legislature may punt regent picks to Walz. DFL legislators in the House and Senate can’t agree on the best candidates for four open University of Minnesota Board of Regents slots, so they won’t schedule a joint convention to make the final selections, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler told MinnPost. Alongside passing the budget, the Legislature elects regents during odd-number years. The process, often decried as partisan, usually wraps up quickly once it begins. But it’s been seven weeks since the House and Senate higher education committees met together to select five finalists for the open spots. If legislators don’t elect regents by the time the session adjourns May 20, the task will fall to the governor. “In past years, Democrats have not been united around candidates,” Winkler said. “We do not want to repeat that mistake.” A group of legislators who oppose the shortlist of candidates that cleared a joint higher education committee in February have said the slate doesn’t include enough people of color. (MinnPost)
4. Senate GOP targets DHS. Senate Republicans want to freeze funding and programs at the state Department of Human Services until the agency implements better oversight of programs and improves protections for residents’ private information. State Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who chairs the health and human services committee, said Wednesday that three recent data breaches, allegations of fraud and other administrative problems are reason to restrict further programs and funding for the agency. “There’s a pattern here that needs to be addressed,” Benson said, noting the information of 35,000 people was put at risk across three different computer hacks. “We have questions that need to be answered to restore trust.” What do Republicans want to know? Benson says she wants more detail on how the department protects data, how employees are trained to recognize data “phishing” scams and why the state needs outside contractors to help respond to the data intrusions. (Pioneer Press)
5. Legislative Auditor again raps DHS on child care fraud. Minnesota’s Department of Human Services doesn’t have good financial controls over a multi-million dollar child care subsidy program. That’s according to a report released Wednesday by the Office of the Legislative Auditor, the second such “special review” released by the state government watchdog this spring. They focus on the state’s Child Care Assistance Program, a program that paid $254 million in subsidies for care of about 30,000 children from low-income families in the last fiscal year. “The Department of Human Services’ (DHS) program integrity controls are insufficient to effectively prevent, detect, and investigate fraud in Minnesota’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP),” says the report. The problems have Republicans in the Minnesota Senate proposing cutting off funding for the program if DHS can’t weed out fraud and waste. Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, wants a funding freeze next year and zero funding for CCAP in 2021, to prod Department of Human Services officials to fix the system. “We tried the gentle nudge, and now it’s time to get their attention,” he said. “It’s an intervention. So, the first thing when you have a problem, you have to admit you have a problem, and then you have to get after it. Not just lip service, saying oh we’re working on it, but you have to actually get after it.” Democrats object to the proposal and say the program provides child care to help thousands of Minnesotans work and get an education. (MPR News)