“I think it’s an opportunity and a responsibility at the same time,” Johnson said.
The opportunity relates to tax increases — something that was off the table under the no-new-taxes philosophy of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who served for eight years starting in 2003, and of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate in 2011 and 2012.
Johnson, like Dayton and most Democratic lawmakers, said tax increases have to be part of the budget package that will bring a lasting end to the budget shortfalls. But those tax increases have to make the tax system fairer, too, and they have to be tied to spending levels that produce a budget that is projected to stay balanced beyond the upcoming two years, Johnson said.
“Stabile, built on fair taxes, future-oriented,” Johnson said. “... If I’m in that (House DFL) caucus, they’re going to hear the words stability, fairness and future-oriented until they’re sick of it.”
Johnson said any tax increases must make progress in addressing a basic unfairness that’s persisted and grown in Minnesota’s tax system in recent decades. When it comes to state and local taxes, the wealthiest 10 percent of Minnesotans pay an effective tax rate of 10.3 percent of income while most of the state’s residents pay roughly 12 percent, according to the most recent tax incidence study by the Minnesota Department of Revenue.
“As the tax package evolves, how does it address that? That’s a question I’ll continuously ask.”
The growing reliance on property taxes has played a role in that regressivity, Johnson said.
“We’ve overburdened the property tax,” he said, indicating he would support a higher income tax rate on top earners with revenue used in part to provide property tax relief. “Obviously, the income tax on upper incomes is a way to make the system more progressive.”