It’s a new year and a new legislature in St. Paul. Some might say the political rhetoric stays the same. With that said, this year does feel different. There are obvious changes like one-party control of the Governor, House, and Senate. Or the small mountain of cash the government has in surplus right now (the number 18 with 9 zeros’ after it).
Those items are well documented and have already been discussed frequently. What those dynamics have brought to this year’s session is a greater sense of urgency. An urgency to tackle big issues, and an urgency to figure out what to do with those stacks of cash. Since Minnesota rarely finds itself without a divided government, there is pressure on the DFL to pass some of its key priorities.
It was under this setting that we anticipated the Session Priorities dinner last week, an event coordinated annually by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and attended by all the legislative leaders. The Owatonna Chamber had a table of businesses and was joined by Senator Jasinski and Representative Petersburg. Owatonna joined 1,700 other leaders from across the state to hear from those who will be making the key decisions at the legislature.
The event did not disappoint.
A question and answer between Doug Loon, President of the Minnesota Chamber, and Governor Tim Walz revealed a few things about the governor’s approach this year. Governor Walz highlighted childcare and healthcare costs when asked what costs he would like to reduce for businesses. Walz also said he thinks a bonding bill is a ‘must have’ this year. The governor also took the opportunity to reinforce his desire to send back some rebates to individuals and families.
Then the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate took the stage with KSTP news reporter Tom Hauser as the moderator. From a business issue perspective, a federal tax conformity bill was already moving quickly through the legislature. Tax conformity is fairly non-controversial and typically makes filing taxes a little bit easier.
At one point in the wide-ranging discussion, Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman said she sees some tax reductions and increases this session.
The message was clear from the business community at this event that state permitting needs to have consistency and certainty. Senate minority leader Mark Johnson shared a story of a $400M business project that moved to North Dakota because after many months the business still had no idea if they’d ever get a permit to operate in Minnesota. The neighboring state got the permit done in a matter of a few months and the business is located there.
For Owatonna, our group talked with our legislators about a couple of key projects for this community. First is the ‘Learn to Earn’ bill which would provide $1M to Owatonna for adding mechatronics equipment to the new Owatonna High School and the Owatonna Riverland Campus to support manufacturing training. Additionally, it would provide funding for a Needs Assessment and scholarships. The other project is much bigger in financial scope, bonding for the new city wastewater treatment facility. The city asked for $22M last year and will be back looking for help on the $68M project. The new facility will expand the city’s wastewater capacity for at least the next 30 years and is important infrastructure if the city is going to grow.
The Owatonna Chamber will engage in key business issues as a Minnesota Chamber Federation of Chambers member in this session. What this means is that the Owatonna Chamber Board of Directors has already approved our support for these issues:
Tax Reform: Minnesota’s high tax burdens continue to rank as one of the top barriers to economic growth. Minnesota businesses are required to pay taxes that are among the highest in the nation in many categories.
21st Century Workforce: The state should accelerate certification and training in high-demand industries and streamline licensing and certification to reduce barriers and speed entry to jobs in short supply.
Permitting System: We support sensible environmental regulations that will allow Minnesota to maintain a clean environment and a healthy business climate while fostering statewide economic benefit and job growth.
Advance Affordability: Find compromise and promising solutions to the affordability factors of our economy, including housing, childcare, broadband, and energy.
To see the full positions, go to Owatonna.org, and click on advocacy, then Legislative agenda.
We’ll be working to keep the business priorities and Owatonna’s priorities at the forefront of this session.