MARSHALL - Overcoming barriers to job creation is a challenge being faced across Minnesota, representatives of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce said Friday. In order to take local businesspeople's concerns to the Minnesota Legislature in its next session, the Minnesota Chamber was gathering feedback at a regional meeting in Marshall.
Tom Hesse of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce outlined some of the Chamber's legislative priorities in areas ranging from budget reform and education to health care and tax reform.
The Minnesota political climate may be a little uncertain in 2012, Hesse said, with congressional districts being redrawn and many legislative seats up for election.
Hesse also shared the results of a survey of Minnesota businesspeople taken in July. Survey respondents had "short-term pessimism, but long-term optimism" about the economy, Hesse said. Although complaints are often voiced about the effect of taxes and government regulations on business in the state, about 46 percent of the survey respondents said Minnesota had a good business climate.
Survey responders saw taxes as the biggest barriers to job creation, as they have for the past several years, Hesse said. However, some of responders' other top concerns were new this year, including government regulations and a lack of capital. Hesse said it's possible that the increased concern about regulation could reflect changes in businesspeople's perspectives or federal policy. Meanwhile, health care costs, which had been a top concern for survey responders in the past, didn't make it onto the list this year.
Hesse said budget reform will be a priority for the Minnesota Chamber in 2012. While this year's state budget shortfall was resolved without a general fund tax increase, the budget deal "was not ideal," he said.
"We think we need to change the way the state budgets," Hesse said. Instead of Minnesota's current budgeting process, the Minnesota Chamber is advocating an approach similar to Iowa's or Michigan's, where the overall budget is considered more, instead of separate pieces.
In education, the Minnesota Chamber was advocating an emphasis on building the skills needed to produce quality employees in the manufacturing and technology industries, Hesse said, as well as bringing back a math skills test as a requirement for high school graduation. In health care, the organization was in favor of creating a health insurance exchange, which would allow employers to shop for coverage based on price and services.
Hesse said the Minnesota Chamber was looking for more feedback on tax reform, and what kind of reforms would help improve Minnesota's competitiveness.
"It's probably not more of a 2012 issue. It's probably more of a 2014 issue," Hesse said, as it can be difficult to bring up the topic of tax reform in an election year. At this point, he said, the Minnesota Chamber hasn't been able to talk about tax reform with the governor or legislators yet. However, the tax proposal should work to make Minnesota more competitive, be revenue neutral and use Tim Pawlenty's 21st Century Tax Reform Commission report as a starting point, he said.
Tax reform was a concern for keeping area businesses competitive, said Marshall Chamber of Commerce Director Cal Brink.
"Because of the border with South Dakota, we feel some of that," Brink said. However, some local businesspeople at the meeting weren't sure a revenue neutral tax system was possible in Minnesota - at least, not with current patterns of state spending, they said.