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Canít we all just get along? (07/09/2014)
By Sarah Squires
Tax season is over. Most of you are pretty excited about that; accountants are sleeping in and business owners are finishing off their hated payments. But you know who reallllllly loves tax time? Itís not Bernie Madoff. Itís those of us who cross the stinking river every day.

Some of us old people remember the good ole days. You might work in Minnesota and live in Wisconsin (as I do), or vice versa. Back then, when tax time came, you filed two óTWO ó tax returns, like a normal person. One for the feds, and one for your home state. Life was simple. (I deleted an entire paragraph about how simple life really was, with butterflies flitting across easy tax forms and extra big returns every year.)

A change in 2009 ended all that simple tax goodness. Minnesotaís checkbook was still in the Dumpster, and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty was sick of the delay for Wisconsinís payments to settle the reciprocity score. Minnesota had to wait 17 months for the money, and in an effort to ďbalanceĒ its budget, the Gopher state terminated the reciprocity agreement that had eased tax season for us lowly regular people for four decades.

Now, Minnesota is boasting its biggest reserve account in the stateís history ó $881 million!

Sen. Jeremy Miller authored a bill in 2011 just after he took office that gave Minnesotaís Revenue Commissioner the authority to negotiate with Wisconsin to restore reciprocity for us river-crossers. A study was also funded that examined how many workers are crossing Mississippi River bridges and how much Wisconsin would owe Minnesota with a restored tax deal. This year, he offered another bill to fix things. It didnít pass, but a scaled down version did that provides $1 million annually to cover the estimated $4 million to $6 million Wisconsin would owe Minnesota at the end of each tax season. Wisconsin ó pay attention Wisconsin voters ó†is apparently unwilling to play ball.

Sen. Miller told me this week that Minnesotaís Revenue Commissioner has updated his estimate on the shortfall, and says Wisconsinís bill to fund the difference would be close to $4 million. When you subtract the $1 million the Minnesota Legislature funded during the last session, Wisconsin would have to find about $3 million to make this work. Wisconsin leaders, however, have been using fightiní words, and claim the extra money would have the Badger state effectively funding higher Minnesota taxes.

Itís become a $3 million school yard fight. Get your squirt guns and choose a side!

With all the partisan bickering in the state and national arenas, itís almost hard to expect Minnesota and Wisconsin to get along. But we do. Tax reciprocity, or lack thereof, is not just a pain. It costs us regular, hard working river-crossers more. It makes taxes more difficult, often pushing folks into having to pay for a tax service (fees for two states, mind you). And after 40 years of cooperation, the current standoff seems emblematic of our nationís trouble getting along no matter the topic. Somebody might have to get Rodney King to stand on the bridge and give a speech to our state leaders.

You donít have to cross the river to go to work to understand how connected Minnesotans and Wisconsinites feel in this area. I grew up in Minnesota, and Iíve got some serious Winona pride, even though my address boasts a little forest spot north of Fountain City. We river-crossers might not vote in our work state, but we definitely feel a sense of citizenship for our other halves. We work there. We buy goods and services there. We hold sway ó we talk to our coworkers about politics, we volunteer, we are a part of these communities. We get along.

And that, my fine leaders, is what we expect you to do. 


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