MARSHALL - The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce on Thursday released its post-session scorecard, giving an overview of how the 2012 Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton supported business and jobs in Minnesota.
The Chamber said while many of its priorities passed the Legislature, it was disappointed that Dayton either vetoed or blocked key measures it said were important to job creation.
Republicans in the Minnesota House and Senate brought a pro-jobs platform to the Capitol with goals of easing tax burdens on businesses and making permitting easier and simpler, while Dayton - who vetoed the omnibus tax bill but supported measures to streamline environmental review and permitting systems within the Department of Natural Resources and Pollution Control Agency, as well as a bill that gives the Legislature the authority to review and identify state agency rules that are unnecessary or duplicative - advocated for a new Vikings stadium and the thousands of jobs it would add during the next few years.
District 21 Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, who along with District 21A Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, spoke at a post-session town hall meeting Thursday in Marshall, assessed the progress the state made on producing jobs and said building up the job market and taking on unemployment in Minnesota is a multi-step process that doesn't happen overnight, or in one session.
"In 2011 we said we have to get this budget in line and live within our means and try to get confidence in our business community that we have stability at the state level with the budget," Dahms said. "Then we started talking about permitting and looking at losing regulations to make it more viable for our businesses to come to Minnesota, stay in Minnesota and thrive in Minnesota."
"If we're elected, we'll continue this," Swedzinski said. "Rome wasn't built in a day, and the expectations we have as a state can't all be taken care of in one day."
Dahms said in order to protect small businesses and producers, the state needs to make sure it uses a balanced approach to draw businesses into Minnesota and have them expand in the state. He said as the state helps to creates jobs, revenue, too, will increase. But a major step in that process is shielding businesses tax-wise as much as possible.
"This year we tried to focus on commercial property tax relief for businesses," Dahms said. "It's my philosophy that if you want to increase production, you don't tax the producer. The producer's the one who's the job creator, he's the one who hires the folks."
Dahms said some of the focus needs to be spent on further educating those seeking employment to keep in step with what jobs are out there today.
"Unemployment's gone down 2 percent, and what's interesting is we can draw unemployment down considerably if we can match the skill sets with the jobs that are out there," Dahms said. "We have a lot of jobs out there in Minnesota, the problem is right now we're having trouble matching the skill sets with the people looking for jobs. We need to try to get a lot of these folks to go back to school to get their skill sets to match up with what's needed in industry."
Dahms said Republicans would eventually like to see the elimination of the business property tax. They had tried to put a freeze on the tax this session, but that was part of the tax bill that was vetoed by Dayton.
"The part of the tax bill that helps job creation was the business tax and trying to put a freeze on the increase in the business tax," Dahms said. "Minnesota's one of the only states that has a business property tax; that's quite a chunk of change."
Dahms said he was amazed at how much rural businesses pay in state business taxes. He said that's money businesses could otherwise use to hire workers and expand.
"I think having that bill vetoed was a blow to business, I really do," he said.
Still, Dahms said progress on the jobs front has been made.
"When I talked to businesses a year ago they said there's so much instability in Minnesota; we're just hanging on and we're not sure what we're gonna do next," he said. "Now I'm hearing from those same folks that there is some stability and things are starting to turn around."
"We're taking the approach that every step forward is one step closer to where we want to be," said Swedzinski. "That's the view we have to take. This isn't something we can just wrap up and run with."
Dahms and Swedzinski also broke down the $496 million bonding bill that was passed and signed by Dayton. The bill, they said, will put more than $47 million in a Department of Employment and Economic Development business development/capital projects grant for cities to use for special projects and earmarks. Dahms said the Legislature received $2.7 billion worth of bonding requests for such projects.
The earmarks were all but taken out of the bonding bill, but $47.5 million was put into this capital grant program. He said appropriating money that way as opposed to a winners-and-losers scenario could benefit rural Minnesota.
"We thought this was a good mechanism to try and get some funding out to rural Minnesota," he said.
Dahms said the city of Marshall would be a solid candidate to receive a portion of that money for projects like the proposed sports facility and/or the expansion of the MERIT training center. An audience member questioned the regional equality issue when the time comes to dish out this special funding. He had heard that so much of that money was already spoken for to be used for a new ballpark for the St. Paul Saints baseball team.
Dahms doubted that any money had already been spoken for. He said the Vikings stadium bill included $2.7 million for the city of St. Paul to use on its facilities and that the city of St. Paul will use that money for the Saints.
Dahms did acknowledge there are rumors floating around that most of the money will go toward civic centers in places like St. Cloud and Rochester but doesn't believe any city has been guaranteed money from the special fund yet.
"To say that's how it's going to distributed regionally, we can't say that," Dahms said. "If it looks like it's going to work, then we have to fine-tune it in future bills."