As area legislators prepare to enter another legislative session in February, opinions vary on whether or not the last one was successful, and what the priorities and outcome of the coming session will be.
Taxes and minimum wage dominated the conversation among area legislators at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber-sponsored Eggs and Issues on Thursday, Jan. 23, in Baxter.
Area legislators met that morning with chamber members and business owners to answer questions and discuss the upcoming session. Six area legislators attended the event: Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore; Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Fairview Township; Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls; Rep. Joe Radinovich, D-Crosby; Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point; and Rep. John Ward, D-Baxter.
Opinions on whether or not the last session was successful were divided along party lines. One of the main topics of the last session was taxes, and whether any of the taxes put in place at the last session, especially business to business taxes, will be repealed in the next session.
Ruud said the last session wasn’t successful.
“We reached into your pocket and took $2 billion extra,” she said, referring to the taxes passed and the budget surplus. She said that while some legislators will say they’re going to repeal taxes, funding MNsure, the state’s response to the Affordable Care Act, will keep that from happening.
Gazelka said one of his priorities in the coming session is to repeal the warehouse tax, saying those businesses are gone if it’s not repealed. He added that taxes on farmers and small businesses also need to be repealed.
Radinovich believes there’s a willingness to repeal business to business taxes and farm taxes.
“We need to do a better job broadly, as a state, of tackling the tax process,” he said.
Anderson doesn’t believe he voted for one tax, and said the tax issue bothers him as a businessman.
“When I’m at the Capitol, my main focus is business people and business concerns,” he said. “I’m rather disappointed (with the last session).”
With the business community present, minimum wage was a main topic. Minnesota’s minimum wage is $6.15 an hour for large employers and $5.25 an hour for small employers. The minimum training wage is $4.90 an hour. Currently the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
Ruud supports conforming to the federal minimum wage. She said that minimum wage and living wage are different, and she believes minimum wage will be held hostage for as much as the Senate can get, not what’s best for Minnesota.
Radinovich said that were minimum wage to rise with inflation since 1960, it would be $10.50 an hour today. He said people are becoming more productive but not seeing an increase in pay. He’ll vote in support of a number between $7.25 and $9.50 an hour. He’s also open to supporting the tip credit.
“I hope we do have a heart to heart about minimum wage,” said Ward. He said that with the strong hospitality industry in the area, minimum wage will have a big effect on the area. He supports an increase.
Gazelka said rural Minnesota pays the price for raising the minimum wage, and not in a positive way. A lot of small businesses are barely making it, he said.
“We’re trying to artificially prop up the economy again,” said Anderson. He said for anyone at the Capitol who has never employed anyone to tell businesses what they have to pay is political grandstanding.
This session legislators will decide on a bonding bill.
“We put on close to 3,000 miles looking at bonding projects in the state of Minnesota,” said Ward, who is vice chair of the bonding committee.
He hopes the bonding bill will create jobs and take care of the state’s infrastructure, and noted that he, Ruud and Radinovich all support a bonding project for the Brainerd airport.
“The Brainerd airport fits exactly what a bonding bill is for,” Ruud said, noting she supports a bill that’s narrow in scope.
Anderson said there are many projects in the bill that need bonding, but “there’s a lot of frivolous stuff in the bill.”
Gazelka said he doesn’t vote for bonding bills that are too large, and noted disappointment at the legal limits of a bonding bill. He would like to see broadband installed throughout the state, but legally the Legislature can’t bond for that sort of project.
All six legislators encouraged the public to contact them with concerns. All are reachable by email or by phone. Each noted their efforts to return calls and emails promptly.