MN Chamber looks back on legislative session

MARSHALL — The 2018 legislative session was a mixed bag for Minnesota businesses. While there were some positive outcomes, key legislation like a tax bill ended up falling to a veto by Gov. Mark Dayton.

“Obviously, we were disappointed we couldn’t get a tax conformity bill,” said Jennifer Byers, vice president of grassroots and chamber relations with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Byers was in Marshall on Monday as part of a statewide policy tour organized by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. While Byers talked about the outcome of the legislative session, area businesspeople shared some of their concerns for the future. Workforce issues, including labor and housing shortages, were high on the list.

In some ways, the 2018 legislative session didn’t go as expected, Byers said.

“Everyone expected there to be tax conformity,” she said. “Minnesota is among the highest-taxed states in the country,” she said, and recent federal tax reforms offered a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to lighten that burden.

However, Dayton vetoed a tax bill that would have reduced the corporate tax rate and the two lowest individual tax rates, Byers said. Now it seems likely that state lawmakers will have to address tax conformity early in the 2019 session, she said.

The session had more mixed results on issues of labor management, Byers said. On the positive side, reforms to the workers’ compensation system were passed that will mean some savings for employers, she said. But attempts to prohibit local governments from passing their own mandates on wages and employee benefits didn’t make progress.

Last year, Dayton vetoed the Uniform State Labor Standards Act, and “there was no political will” for legislators to take on the issue this year, Byers said.

Local businesspeople asked if uniform labor standards would continue to be an issue in Minnesota.

“I think we will see more of it,” Byers said. It’s a concern, she said, because the more cities set their own wage and benefit mandates, the more complicated things get for businesses and employers. “A patchwork (of rules) doesn’t help.”

On transportation issues, the 2018 bonding bill included $400 million for projects in the Corridors of Commerce program that will benefit key highways for southwest Minnesota. But a proposal to have voters decide whether to constitutionally dedicate auto parts sales taxes for transportation funding didn’t pass the Senate, Byers said.

People attending Monday’s event brought up a few different concerns for area businesses.

Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce Director Brad Gruhot said he hoped tax conformity would still be a priority at the Legislature.

Other businesspeople said workforce issues were a concern, including a lack of skilled labor.

“There just aren’t the numbers of people out here,” one audience member said. Others said labor was short in the education and health care fields, especially in small towns. Recruiting for positions ranging from special education teachers to dentists was difficult, they said.

Area businesspeople said housing was a barrier, too. A lack of short-term rentals made it difficult to house participants in internship programs.

An important message to bring to the Legislature, businesspeople said, was to remember that laws don’t always work equally well for rural Minnesota and the Twin Cities.


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