Recent Press Releases

Washington, DC —  Senator John Thune today issued the following statement after Senate passage of the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006:

“With Christmas around the corner, the Senate's action today helped take the Ba Humbug out of Uncle Sam," Thune said. “Today's passage of the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 will deliver meaningful tax relief to South Dakota teachers, health care providers, business owners and taxpayers. I will continue to work in Congress to see that South Dakota paychecks stay in the wallets of hard-working South Dakotans, not Uncle Sam."

Among many important provisions, the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 would provide the following:

Tax relief for South Dakota Taxpayers, Parents, Students and Teachers

Extension of State Sales Tax Deduction through 2007: South Dakota is one of eight states with state or local sales taxes, but no state income tax. The extension of the state sales tax deduction will lower taxes for all South Dakotans who itemize on their taxes by extending their ability to deduct state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes. Senator Thune has been a staunch supporter of this extension and is a cosponsor of legislation to make this deduction permanent.

“If the federal government allows individuals to deduct their state income tax, those living in states with no income tax should be allowed to deduct their state sales tax as well," Thune said.

Deduction for Higher Education Expenses: Allows taxpayers to deduct up to $4,000 worth of higher education expenses regardless of their income or if they itemize. This bill extends the deduction through 2007.

Deduction for Teacher Classroom Expenses: Allows teachers to deduct up to $250 worth of classroom expenses regardless of their income or if they itemize. This bill extends the deduction through 2007.

“Our teachers have a direct role in guaranteeing the success of America's children," Thune said. “Tax relief for schoolteachers is the least we can provide them in return for their hard work in educating the next generation of business owners, parents and leaders."

Health Care Provisions

Physician Payment Update: Prevents a scheduled five percent physician payment cut under Medicare in 2007 by freezing payment rates for physician services. Physicians who report on quality measures in 2007 may receive a 1.5 percent bonus-incentive payment. Senator Thune co-signed a letter to Senate Leadership asking them to address the physician payment cut before the end of the 109th Congress.

Access to Needed Therapy Services: Medicare currently caps the amount of outpatient physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech language pathology services that a beneficiary may receive. After a beneficiary exceeds this cap, he or she must cease rehabilitation services or pay out-of-pocket. The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 included a provision that allows Medicare beneficiaries to submit a request to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for additional therapy if they are approaching the cap. Today's legislation provides a one-year extension of this exceptions process.

Section 508 Hospitals Extension: Extends Section 508 of the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA), which qualified hospitals for a wage index reclassification for an additional six months. Seven hospitals in South Dakota were reclassified under Section 508 of the MMA.

“These provisions help ensure access to health care for South Dakota's Medicare beneficiaries and give providers incentives that will strengthen the health care system in our state," Thune said.

Energy Provisions

Credit to Holders of Clean Renewable Energy Bonds: These bonds provide electric cooperatives and public power systems with interest-free loans for financing renewable energy projects. Senator Thune co-sponsored the original legislation that included this provision.

Outer Continental Shelf (OCS): Provides for opening more than 8.3 million acres on the Outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas leasing. Senator Thune co-sponsored this bill.

Ethanol Tariff Schedule: Extends a 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol (applies to imported ethanol through January 1, 2009). Senator Thune signed a letter to President Bush in May, stating that the tariff did not need to be suspended or temporarily lifted.

Clarification of the Railroad Track Maintenance Credit: Ensures that the three-year railroad track maintenance tax credit that Congress passed in 2004 to spur rail track improvements is available to all smaller railroads who desire to improve their rail infrastructure. Numerous railroads across the country have utilized this provision to make important rail track improvements, including ethanol plants that need additional capacity to meet the growing demand for home-grown renewable energy.

“These measures will greatly assist in reducing America's dangerous dependence on foreign sources of oil," Thune said. “I will continue to work in Congress to implement policies that encourage a greater shift from foreign oil to home-grown renewable sources of energy."