Daily Digest: House tax plan gets bipartisan support

Good morning, and happy Tuesday. Here's the Digest.

1. House passes tax plan. Republican leaders of the Minnesota Senate are expected to roll out their tax plan later today. The House passed its version yesterday by a vote of 90-38. Under the House plan, 2.1 million Minnesotans would see a tax reduction. An estimated 140,000 would see an increase. The bill reduces the rate for the second-lowest income tax tier in stages from 7.05 percent to 6.75 percent. It also increases the standard deduction from $13,000 to $14,000 and provides a deduction of up to $30,000 for property taxes. The state personal and dependent exemption would remain. And the bill helps businesses, with a reduction in corporate franchise tax rate in stages from 9.8 percent to 9.1 percent. House taxes committee chair Greg Davids, R-Preston, said not passing a bill that aligns state tax laws with the new federal law would be a disaster. He said the House bill would make for a simpler system. "I get a lot of questions, 'are we to the postcard?' We are not to the postcard, unless it's a really big one. But historic tax relief is contained within this bill, the first time, I believe, since 2000. We're actually cutting individual rates, which I think is a good thing," Davids said. (MPR News)

2. Safety questions persist about Superior refinery. Questions about the use of a highly toxic chemical at an oil refinery in Superior, Wis., persisted Monday as Gov. Scott Walker and other officials toured the site of last week’s massive explosion and fire. While investigators continued to look for the cause of Thursday’s blast that sent thousands fleeing under a mandatory evacuation order, a spokesman for refinery operator Husky Energy, Inc., didn’t answer questions about whether the company plans to use the toxic hydrogen fluoride in the future. The company remains focused on the investigation and cleanup for now, and will later evaluate its use of hydrogen fluoride, said Husky spokesman Kollin Schade. Numerous refineries use the chemical to raise gasoline’s octane, but it’s a poisonous gas that has raised alarms for years. The chemical forms dense vapor clouds that can travel for miles near ground level. A 2011 report from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit news organization, said that in a worst-case scenario, the amount used at the Superior refinery could seriously injure or kill up to 180,000 people in the Twin Ports area if the tank holding the hydrogen fluoride was compromised. (Star Tribune)

3. Trump the focus of Painter's DFL Senate campaign. University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter announced Monday he is challenging Sen. Tina Smith for the DFL spot on the ballot this fall in the race that will determine who will fill the remaining two years of former Sen. Al Franken’s term. Painter served as the chief White House ethics lawyer for two years in Republican George W. Bush’s administration and posted on Twitter as recently as last December that he was a Republican. He said he switched parties because he doesn’t think he could get elected as a Republican given his frequent and very public criticism of President Trump. Painter said Smith should be doing more to oppose Trump but that Smith is not the focus of his campaign. “I’m running against Donald Trump and every one of his collaborators in the Republican Party, and I’m going to be talking a lot about that, much more than I am about Senator Smith.” Smith didnlt have a lot to say about Painter's campaign Monday, but Republican Karin Housley did. “I hear Rosie O’Donnell’s all on board with him, but I don’t know a ton about him. I’ll have to read up. But that’s for them on the Democrat side to figure out,” Housley said when asked about Painter, adding “I think he’s going to bring up some interesting conversations and she [Smith] will have to answer for some things he’s going to ask her, so it’ll be fun to watch.” (MPR News)

4. Drug companies push back nationwide against fees on prescription drugs. Bills introduced in at least 15 states would impose taxes or fees on prescription painkillers. Several of the measures have bipartisan support and would funnel millions of dollars toward treatment and prevention programs. A Pennsylvania opioid tax bill was introduced in 2015 and a federal version was introduced a year later, but most of the proposals arose during the past year. The majority of them have yet to get very far, with lawmakers facing intense pressure from the pharmaceutical industry to scuttle or soften the legislation. Drugmakers and distributors argue that it would be wrong to tax prescription drugs, that the cost increases would eventually be absorbed by patients or taxpayers, and that there are other ways to pay for addiction treatment and prevention. The drug industry’s current spending on anti-addiction programs has been a point of contention in the Minnesota Legislature. There, the overdose rate is lower than most states, but opioids still claimed 395 lives in 2016 — an increase of 18 percent over the year before. (AP via Pioneer Press)

5. Senate passes bill to throw out sulfate rule. The Minnesota Senate passed a bill Monday to throw out a long-standing state rule that limits sulfate discharge into waters where wild rice grows and restrict the ability of state pollution regulators to set another standard. The action came even after the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency decided last week it would explore a new proposed standard in the face of stiff opposition. The House passed a similar bill last week. Both versions would nullify a 1978 sulfate limit, which has rarely been enforced, and prevent a newer version from taking effect. Environmental groups and Native American tribes said the state’s new proposed rule wouldn’t have been protective enough. Last week, the agency said it would start the rulemaking process over, saying the science is accurate but that more work is needed on how to apply it. Opponents of the bill said that the approach would tie the hands of regulators. (MPR News)

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