Opinion editor's note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes letters from readers online and in print each day. To contribute, click here.
Folks, citizens, Minneapolitans, we are missing a key part of the solution ("Ending free rides for fare-dodgers," front page, Jan. 9): Riders are not empowered on light rail.
My spouse and I live three blocks from the U.S. Bank station and have continued to give the rail a chance (often requiring extreme bravery and fortitude). I often use the "text" message number, which is impossible to easily locate, and when you text, you are treated as if you are the offender: What is your train number? Where did you enter? Describe the person. What are they wearing? What is the offensive/criminal behavior? What time did you see it?
NOOOOO! How about a big red panic button in each car, that when pressed notifies the security monitoring area of the problem, and the labor-constrained force can be efficiently deployed to where the danger is occurring. Silent alarm/panic buttons would be cheaper and more effective than a $60 million retrofit of stations. Have you been to New York and Chicago and seen turnstile jumpers? Many European cities use the honor system, and so should we.
Sandra D. Johnson-Rhodes and Beverly Rhodes-Johnson, Minneapolis
Opinion editor's note: See also the Star Tribune editorial "Get light-rail safety back on track" (Feb. 3).
The state tax debate
Kudos to D.J. Tice for laying out the implications of Minnesota not taxing Social Security benefits ("On Social Security, thanks … and no thanks," Opinion Exchange, Jan. 29). His detailed analysis clearly shows that the group of senior citizens who would receive the benefit of not taxing the benefits is not well-targeted to those in need. He also does well in dispelling the claim that many seniors leave Minnesota for other states because of this single factor.
Missing in the article is the cause — and a viable, targeted solution. The cause is that the exemption of benefits from taxation enacted in 1983 was not indexed to inflation. The $32,000 threshold for married couples enacted in 1983 remains unchanged. A targeted solution would adjust the exemption thresholds somewhat for inflation. This would provide tax relief for seniors of modest income.
At the same time, a simple adoption of an inflation-adjusted exemption threshold would complicate state income tax filing in Minnesota. A more straightforward approach would be a targeted tax credit taking into account Social Secuirty benefits and other income. Such a table-generated tax credit could be devised to provide a tax break to this specific group without tax breaks for those of ample means and without a large impact on overall tax revenue.
Thomas L. Romens, St. Paul
I receive Social Security. Like most folks, I feel I earned it. Yet, surprisingly, I generally agree with Tice's opinion that Minnesota should not further reduce the state tax on Social Security benefits.
I came to this conclusion by wondering how the IRS decided to tax only a portion of those benefits: a maximum of 85%. I found the answer in an IRS historical research note ("Research Note #12: Taxation of Social Security Benefits," by Larry DeWitt, February 2001).
It's complicated, but boils down to this: Our Social Security benefits are the sum of our mandatory contributions, employer contributions and interest on these contributions plus any benefits in excess of these contributions paid by the Social Security program. The last three are types of wage, interest and benefits income, all of which are normally taxed. The IRS calculates these taxable contributions to be about 85% of our total benefits. So the IRS deems that we, the workers, paid tax on only 15% of the Social Security benefits we receive.
Minnesota follows this federal calculation plus adds its own exemptions. If your income is less than $150,000, an additional percentage of Social Security benefits are exempt from state taxation. If we can trust the IRS calculations of how much of our Social Security benefits are fairly considered taxable income, then Minnesota is already providing a more generous tax treatment than the IRS.
Tice argues that it might make sense to further cut these taxes for low-income seniors dependent on Social Security income, but otherwise seniors aren't necessarily a more needy class than other taxpayers. So what benefit does reducing or eliminating state taxes on Social Security really provide? Incentivizing retirees to remain in Minnesota? And is paying for that benefit of value to all the other taxpayers? These are the proper questions for debate on this proposal.
Andrew Kramer, Marine on St. Croix
Many letters to the editor argue that seniors who don't really need a Social Security tax break shouldn't get one. The writers should also then agree that the families who can afford to pay for their children's very affordable meals at school don't need them to be free.
Darcy Kroells, Green Isle, Minn.
Deciphering Tom Emmer
Regarding the article on U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota's Sixth District and his position on cryptocurrency: It would seem that Emmer isn't sure what he wants the Security and Exchange Commission to do ("Emmer unfazed by crypto collapse," front page, Jan. 29). I would suggest taking a look at an earlier article on this matter that was published by the Atlantic ("Here come the crypto hypocrites: Don't believe anyone who says the FTX crash was the regulators' fault"):
"After all, it wasn't [SEC Chair] Gary Gensler who, a year ago, praised [FTX founder Sam] Bankman-Fried, saying, 'Sounds like you're doing a lot to make sure there is no fraud or other manipulation.' It was Tom Emmer."
Claudia Dieter, St. Paul
I'm appalled at Emmer's remarks about cryptocurrency needing more regulation. As a good conservative he should support the principles behind cryptocurrencies that argue we don't want banks or governments telling us how to manage our finances.
Following the current cryptocurrency meltdown, society is in a position of doing a wonderful natural experiment in cryptocurrency vs. regulated markets to test the efficacy of public policy in banking and investing. Over a 10- or 20-year period, we can determine which works better: Regulated markets or the wild west of cryptocurrency.
If some or many of the sheep investing, speculating, gambling or money-laundering in cryptocurrency get sheared, so what? Their reward was freedom from government interference. I want Congress to keep its hands off cryptocurrencies and let the experiment run. Since I'm not a big objector to regulated financial markets, my money will be elsewhere.
Jeff Spartz, Eagan
Look, we don't shush
The headline for the Jan. 29 front-page article "Extended hours, but no one to say "Shhh!" may have been written for a humorous effect, but I was put off by it because it perpetuates the old stereotype that librarians are present to keep everyone quiet. As the article does go on to explain, librarians and library workers play an essential role in directing patrons to information and materials in books and electronic resources, and to a variety of reading materials.
As a retired reference librarian who worked with the public for more than three decades, I never shushed anyone. Libraries are more vital and lively places than they were many years ago, with a goal of interacting and helping patrons.
Joan Ennis, Northfield