The old saying goes that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. At Minnesota's Capitol, lawmakers are working to make sure that death isn't inadvertently subject to the state sales tax.
Preliminary data show more than 43,000 people died in Minnesota last year. About 60 percent of them — more than 26,000 — were cremated, according to the Minnesota Center for Health Statistics
That fits with a pattern over the last decade of the final disposition moving decidedly in favor of cremation over burial. Starting in 2010, there were more cremations than burials.
But many families still opt for a service where their loved one is viewed in a casket first.
"What we use in our profession is a viewing casket. Some people refer to it as a rental casket," said Minnesota Funeral Directors Association president Jeff Hartquist, who made clear he finds the latter term offensive. "It's a casket that allows us to view our loved ones."
The problem is that such a casket — where the shell is reused but the interior is not — is technically taxable. A casket or urn that someone or their kin buys is exempt from sales taxes.
The tax on the temporary item can be a lot, given that viewing caskets can cost between $600 and $1,500, Hartquist said.
It's subject to the 6.875 percent state sales tax and then any local sales taxes that would apply. It works out to about about $70 tax on a $1,000 rental, maybe more if a local sales tax also applies, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue.
"It doesn't quite make sense. We're using, in essence, the same type of an item," said Hartquist, who owns and operates funeral homes in southern Minnesota.
The same applies to temporary urns that hold ashes until transferred to another receptacle or scattered.
Gov. Mark Dayton's tax-cut proposal would change the law so the circumstances are treated equally — and remain tax free.
Revenue Department figures show the rental exemption would have an impact on the state treasury of $340,000 to $440,000 per year over the next four years.
So far, though, the tax change appears to have broad support.
Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, sees it as a quirk deserving of a fix.
"We're not going to put a sales tax on dying," she said.
Senate Taxes Committee Chairman Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said it's a matter of consistency, but also one of basic respect.
"We don't tax them at the end of their lives," Chamberlain said. "Let them rest in peace and let the families go and do their thing without levying that tax on that transaction."
With a budget surplus and Republicans in charge of the Legislature, it might not be the only tax sent to its eternal rest by session's end.