GOP tax bill debate plays out in MN's wealthiest district

Dean Phillips campaigns at the Westonka Library.
Democratic candidate Dean Phillips in the Third Congressional District said the GOP tax bill favors the wealthy and piles on the national debt as he was drumming up support for his campaign during a recent stop at the Westonka Library in Mound, Minn., on Feb. 3, 2018.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

The GOP tax bill is dividing candidates in Minnesota's wealthiest congressional district, a race some national pundits say is a bellwether on the fate of Republican control of the House.

The 3rd District encompasses a swath of western Twin Cities suburbs and exurbs from Coon Rapids to Bloomington. Average household income is $118,546.

It's been represented since 2009 by Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen, who is running for a sixth term. He said his constituents will get a larger tax cut than the national average, which is about $1,600 per household according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center.

"For the average family of four in the 3rd District, it's closer to a $5,000 tax cut," said Paulsen.

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Paulsen and other Republicans say big corporate tax decreases will spur business investment, further boosting the economy.

"We're going to see more jobs being created," said Paulsen. "We're seeing special bonuses, we're seeing pay raises."

Democrats are talking about the tax bill signed into law by President Trump much differently. They say it favors the wealthy and piles on the national debt.

Democrat Dean Phillips, a first-time candidate, said it will cost 3rd District residents because the law caps state and local tax deductions at just $10,000.

Dem. candidate Dean Phillips said the GOP  tax bill favors the wealthy.
Democratic candidate Dean Phillips was drumming up support for his campaign during a recent stop at the Westonka Library in Mound, Minn., on Feb. 3, 2018.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

"And that's a big deal," said Phillips. "And I believed that begged particular consideration from Erik Paulsen that wasn't afforded this bill."

Phillips fielded questions from a few dozen people on a recent Saturday morning at the Westonka Library, in the far western Twin Cities suburb of Mound. They talked about health care, climate change, and the cost of college, but no one mentioned the tax bill.

"It comes up regularly. I was surprised it didn't come up today," said Phillips.

Mound resident Pieter Maas, a 70-year-old retiree, was also at the library, although not to see Phillips. He said he voted for Paulsen in the past two elections. But he's not happy that Paulsen voted for the tax bill and said it could cost the congressman his support.

"It sounds like the upper echelon of people that have money will just basically gain more money and the fact that they're talking about maybe trickle-down effects or something like that, it always seems like the person at the bottom doesn't get as much rain as they think he should get," said Maas.

Democrats hope there are many more people like Pieter Maas in the 3rd District, where Hillary Clinton handily beat Donald Trump in 2016.

Democratic candidate Adam Jennings also hopes to run against Paulsen. He too is campaigning against the tax bill.

Dem. Adam Jennings said Paulsen should not have voted for the GOP tax bill.
Democrat Adam Jennings hopes to be Paulsen's challenger in the mid-term election. He said Paulsen should not have voted for the GOP tax bill. Editor's Note: Names, phone numbers and addresses in this photo have been blurred to protect personal information.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

"It goes against everything that Erik Paulsen has ever stood for," said Jennings. "It makes taxes go up on a number of middle-class families. It makes the deficit go up by, best case scenario, $1.5 trillion over the next ten years."

Yet, Mark Haveman, who runs the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence, formerly the Minnesota Taxpayer's Association, said the legislation has left the vast majority of income tax-paying Americans with more money in their pockets.

"A lot of people are opening up their paychecks and seeing a difference," said Haveman.

Republican Rep. Tom Emmer is the deputy chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. It's his job to help Republicans keep control of the House, and he welcomes Democratic attacks on the GOP tax bill.

"If you voted against the tax bill, you voted against middle class America. You voted against anybody who's trying to realize the American dream by clawing their way up that economic ladder. You voted against them and on behalf of big government," said Emmer. "That's not a winning campaign slogan."