Minnesota's Veterans: The Road Back Home
Rep. Dan Severson (R) District 14A and House Minority Whip, Minnesota Legislature
A naval fighter pilot for 21 years, Rep. Dan Severson has served in the Minnesota Legislature for seven years, representing District 14A. He currently serves as the Republican Minority Whip. As a legislator he has championed veteran's issues and supported educational initiatives and employment opportunity improvements to help veterans transition back to civilian lives. He is a member of the House Veteran Affairs Division committee.
Comments by Rep. Dan Severson
Question: I understand you have some proposals to introduce in the upcoming legislative session. Could you tell us about them?
We've been working for about the last four years on kind of a three-pronged attack. One of them is for veteran-owned businesses, one is for veterans preference, and the other is the second-career pension exemption. We've gotten the veteran's preference, and we've got a pretty good version in there, but we're still trying to work out the kinks. On veteran-owned businesses, there was some legislation that broke in the late hours of the session last year. We are going to go in for a fix on that, to include basically all veterans, not just 9/11 and past, so it doesn't discriminate against the Vietnam veterans or Gulf War veterans.
There are a lot of issues. We want to go after a few areas and make sure that we get those.
Question: I understand you are working with the Military Action Group, which is developing a series of proposals. What are your highest priorities with respect to the proposals that have been talked about?
My priority is to fix the veteran-owned business verbiage so that Vietnam war veterans, Korean war veterans, and Gulf War veterans are not cut out of the benefits. Right now it's just disabled veterans who are entitled, and veterans who served after 9/11.
On the pension exemption — we've been trying to get that for the last four years. It's tough to get through when there are budget deficits. But we've fashioned a bill such that it eliminates the fiscal note. In other words, the provisions aren't enacted until there is a positive cash flow resulting from the enactment of the bill.
Question: Why is the proposal to reduce taxes on military pensions important?
Minnesota is one of five places that currently tax their retirement pensions, that tax the total amount. There is a provision that was passed two years ago that said that if you make less than $30,000 that you get a $750 tax break. But what that says to the individual that's looking at coming to Minnesota is that Minnesota doesn't value its veterans, and treats them as second-class citizens — because that's what you do for disadvantaged and poverty people. We are trying to recruit people who are top-of-the-list — these people who have been in for 20 or 30 years and they are equivalent to corporate CEOs. We're trying to get them to Minnesota and to recruit them. And this is just another flag that gets thrown up in their face, saying that Minnesota does not regard your experience as valuable.
Question: Would your proposal eliminate all state tax on military pensions?
The way the proposal is written, the first year it would eliminate 10 percent, and then it would be progressive up to 30 percent. At 30 percent, the funding for that comes from a particular source's which is the $750 tax credit which I don't believe is going to be utilized — there is $10 million in the budget for that, and I don't think there are going to be many people at all that qualify or use it. We'll see how that plays out. But I'm going to write the bill as soon as I find out what that number is. Then we basically hold the provision until the number of retirees in the state begins to grow, and then make a revenue source based on those numbers. For every person that comes in, we gain about $2,800 in tax revenue, just based on a basic salary for that person coming in. So once we hit 2,800 people, above what we currently have to date, the bill pays for itself.
Wisconsin did this in 2001, and in 2001 there was a disparity of about $800,000 a year between what Minnesota took in from retired pay benefits, to what Wisconsin took in. Wisconsin was making about $800,000 a year more. Now, it's over $13 million. We have been losing veterans and we aren't gaining in numbers. So we're using the Wisconsin study as a justification for why we need to do this.
Question: Is the proposal for veteran's courts something you're supporting?
I will be supporting that as well. John Baker is the attorney that we're working with on this. He's got a great organization that advocates for our veterans as they're going through the court system, to make sure that they are treated fairly, and that they have recognition in terms of some of the challenges that they face. Because there is a fiscal note attached to this, we're going to try to do some pilot programs where we encourage the local courts to do it on their own local basis, based on their own resources.
Question: How do you feel about the proposal for a presumptive certificate of rehabilitation?
We want to do that. If they've gone into the military and they've gotten their lives squared away and they come out with an honorable discharge, they would no longer have that black mark on their record from the past, and would be presumed rehabilitated. It's a way for them to serve and actually expunge some of the bad stuff that happened beforehand. There will be a modification — we sometimes get people who become an administrative burden in the military. They may be released on administrative separation under honorable conditions, but they have, for the convenience of the government, been extricated. Those aren't the ones that we want to impugn rehabilitation to. We want to make it exclusively for those who have fulfilled their contract and served honorably.
Question: Is there anything else we should talk about with respect to veterans and this legislative session?
It's always tough when you're in a budget crunch like this, so we are trying to push policy items that aren't going to be budget items, but still improve the environment in the state for veterans. We will also be asking the governor to go forward with another letter to the administration, to all the departments, asking them to continue due diligence in making sure that our veterans are treated with respect and the utmost consideration — to make Minnesota a more veteran-friendly place.
Question: Is it your sense that it is tougher for the men and women coming back today, then it was when you served in the military?
Are the challenges different? Obviously, in this economy, it becomes much more difficult because the jobs are just not there. And the interesting thing is — take the perspective of what happened during Vietnam. That's when they gutted the veteran's preference — our warriors came back, they couldn't get veterans preference, they couldn't get a job, and they were spit on. That's why you've got the freedom riders, you've got the people holding up flags and saying, these are our heroes, don't mistreat them.
Most of the legislators are absolutely on board. But we have a few of these left-over, peace-symbol, antiwar individuals still in the Legislature, who continue to do this, who continue to hate Vietnam veterans. I am passionate about this stuff — it's just one of those deals that so irritates me. I have seen too many people sacrifice too much to see people who disregard our freedom.