Guest Column: Many Minnesota chamber initiatives passed

Published 10:05 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Guest Column by Doug Loon

The Minnesota Chamber works every day to strengthen the state’s business environment. Our premise is simple: As businesses flourish, so do the lives of Minnesotans. On that note, Minnesotans should be pleased with the outcomes of the 2017 Legislature.

This past session was one of the most productive and results-driven we’ve seen in many years. The actions on a variety of fronts will strengthen Minnesota’s position to be ready for the future — ready for change and ready to grow. 

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Ready for more reasonable tax rates? The Legislature passed the biggest tax relief package for all Minnesotans since 2001. All businesses will see reductions in the statewide business property tax — representing significant dollars in many cases, freeing up money to invest in their operations and people. Overall, more than 70 percent of the tax relief went directly to individuals including exempting more Social Security income from taxation, increasing dependent care credit and helping with college costs.

Doug Loon

Ready for better roads, safer bridges and efficient mobility? Infrastructure improvements will soon be under way. The Legislature delivered the largest investment in transportation since 2008 — and without an increase in taxes or fees. The legislation also protects transit to ensure mobility options.

Ready for relief when buying individual health insurance for yourself or your family? Steps were taken to slow rising premiums. Qualifying Minnesotans are receiving a 25 percent reduction in premiums this year, and programs are in place to help stabilize insurance premiums in 2018 and beyond. Small employers will have expanded options to help provide insurance for employees.

Ready to take a flight, visit family on a military base or enter a federal building? Your Minnesota driver’s license won’t be a barrier. The state‘s finally compliant with federal Real ID.

Ready for Minnesota’s teacher licensing and retention system to allow for our most effective teachers to be in the front of classrooms? Progress was made on that front, too. School districts facing budget shortfalls and unfortunate layoffs can now consider teacher performance, not just seniority, when making decisions. Midcareer professionals who want to share their experience in the classroom, or teachers moving into Minnesota from another state, will be able to navigate the process easier.

We succeeded on other initiatives, too. For example, reasonable and responsible improvements to state environmental review and permitting before state agencies will help economic development projects move in a more timely process while still protecting the environment that we all value.  New laws governing technical accessibility violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act will go a long way toward curtailing the abusive lawsuits that have been plaguing small businesses across Minnesota.

We have unfinished business, though, in one key area. Despite Gov. Dayton’s veto, we continue to advocate for the Uniform State Labor Standards Act, which would explicitly prevent local governments from mandating wage and benefit packages on private employers. We support local control where it traditionally exists such as school board decisions and zoning approvals. In other areas, though, Minnesota has realized the benefits of statewide uniformity as reflected in our criminal code, consumer protection laws, banking and insurance regulation, and occupational licensing. Local government mandates will especially suffocate the ability of small companies to customize employee wages and benefits.

These legislative results are important for both individuals and businesses. Though our work at the Minnesota Chamber focuses on the state’s business climate and economy, the purpose is to improve the lives of all Minnesotans by creating economic opportunity and growing jobs. Our advocacy on behalf of employers, their employees and communities strengthens the foundation to both keep existing businesses and to encourage them to expand in Minnesota.

Doug Loon is president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.