Laura Bordelon

Laura Bordelon, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce senior vice president of advocacy, collected local feedback on issues likely to come up in future legislative sessions.

The 2019 Minnesota legislative session had highs and lows from the perspective of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

During its Statewide Policy Tour, the Minnesota Chamber stopped by Pride Solutions of Hutchinson Wednesday. Laura Bordelon, Chamber senior vice president of advocacy, spoke to a small crowd of business owners and leaders about the concluded session and future goals, and asked for local feedback on a variety of subjects.

Two main points Bordelon highlighted were the Chamber’s goals of making the state more affordable for businesses and families, and to move Minnesota out of the top 10 most taxed states. At 9.8 percent, Minnesota’s corporate tax is the fourth highest, and at 9.85 percent, Minnesota’s individual income tax is the fifth highest, she said.

One success in the most recent session, Bordelon said, was the 6 percent reduction in the state business property tax. Additionally, the second tier income tax rate was decreased from 7.05 percent to 6.8 percent.

“That’s good work,” she said. “These taxes build so much revenue for the state and it’s hard to knock them back because they’re used in programs.”

The assembled group was asked to vote digitally on what taxes most impacted their businesses. The No. 1 response was state and local property tax, followed by income tax. In 2020, the Chamber plans to lobby to reduce corporate taxes and all four individual income tax rates.

In the area of health care, the Chamber was pleased to see legislation calling for more transparency in the cost of hospital visits. The tax on providers of health care goods and services was lowered from 2 percent to 1.8 percent, a 10 percent change. The Chamber hoped to see the tax sunset but was pleased it was reduced.

Expansion of single-payer health care proposals was blocked — a win, according to the Chamber. It worries a single-payer approach would crowd the state’s health care sector.

When asked for their thoughts with a digital poll, locals attending the meeting were tied between two responses: some said they worried single-payer health care would increase wait times and limit access, others were for it if it reduced costs. Bordelon said that at a previous meeting, most in attendance were in favor of single payer if it reduced costs.

In 2020, the Chamber wants the state to establish a health policy commission to address costs and improve data privacy laws.

The Chamber does not like moves in Duluth, St. Paul and Minneapolis to establish workplace rules, such as a local minimum wage, within the municipality.

“Our sense is it’s the state’s decision to make,” Bordelon said.

She said it would be a “nightmare” for businesses to function in the state if operations included those three cities, as they would have to comply with a variety of ordinances.

The Chamber was pleased with a proposal in the DFL-controlled House calling for 12 weeks of medical leave with partial wage replacement and/or 12 weeks of family leave for newborn caregiving didn’t make it into law.

“This was alarming to us,” Bordelon said.

In addition to the concern of the expense, the Chamber worried the legislation would make it even harder for businesses to consistently fill employment gaps. Local manufacturers frequently report a need for more skilled employees.

A proposal mandating one hour of sick time for every 40 hours of work was also blocked.

Next year, the Chamber plans to lobby to dedicate the auto part sales tax to transportation needs. This follows a proposal from the governor to increase the gas tax by 20 cents, which wasn’t included in final omnibus legislation this year. The Chamber opposed the gas tax increase.

On the other hand, it was pleased to see legislation providing $40 million for broadband and child care grants, mostly for rural areas.

“Everywhere we go there aren’t enough child care spots,” Bordelon said.

When the Hutchinson group was given four choices to say what issues create challenges for their business, 53 percent highlighted a shortage of employees, 29 percent highlighted a housing shortage, 18 percent highlighted a child care shortage and 7 percent highlighted a lack of high speed internet access.

The locals were also asked about two other issues likely to be of concern in future legislative sessions: marijuana legalization and employee recruitment.

When given four options in a question about the legalization of marijuana, no one said it shouldn’t be legal in any context, 38 percent said it should only be for medical purposes, 50 percent said it should be legalized for recreational use and 13 percent said they didn’t know.

When asked to pick one of five sources for skilled, qualified workers as the preferred choice, those at the meeting selected in-house training and two-year schools as the most popular, with each at 33 percent. Another 22 percent preferred to recruit those from certificate or apprenticeship programs, and 11 percent preferred to recruit from four-year colleges.

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