ST. PAUL – Minnesota's elderly population is beginning to boom, and some Minnesota lawmakers say the state is late in making sure there is funding to take care of them.
Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, again this year is leading an effort to increase funding for senior citizens and the disabled. He announced Thursday that instead of trying to pass a law this year, he wants to amend the state constitution to require funding for "the state's most vulnerable."
As baby boomers age, the state's nursing home and home health care industries will be pressed, Eken and other lawmakers said. More than 1.3 million Minnesotans will be at least 65 years old, and Eken said 70 percent of them will need some form of long-term care.
The senator said his effort is meant to "shine a spotlight on an issue that in our view has been too often ignored."
Under Eken's plan, an estimated $1.2 billion a year would be provided by adding a tax on the top 4 percent of wealthiest Minnesotans.
Americans pay a federal tax up to that amount to fund Social Security. Eken said the state would add the same size tax on people earning more than $118,500.
The plan is bound to draw criticism from Republicans who do not want to raise taxes.
Joining Eken were Rep. Jerry Newton, D-Coon Rapids, and Sen. John Hoffman, D-Champlin.
They said the plan to fund the long-term care needs is open for change, and Eken invited Republicans to present their alternatives. He also said he has considered not including a funding plan, just requiring the Legislature to dedicate funding to elder and disabled care.
"We are looking for a solution that is a long-term, permanent solution," Newton said.
"It is finally about time we have this open discussion about it," Hoffman added.
The Eken plan would amend the constitution for 25 years, enough to ride out what he described as "an age wave coming toward us, the likes of which we have never seen."
Supporters of the Eken amendment say the constitution requires the dedication of other funds, such as those for transportation, arts and outdoors projects. Without dedicating funds to long-term care, they say, senior citizen and disabled care will fight education and other issues for state money.