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Clayton W. Chan

Chamber of Commerce reviews bumpy session

The repeal of three business-to-business taxes gave the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce a quick win at the beginning of this year’s legislative session. But the self-described representative of the state’s business community faced a bumpier road through most of the session.

Beth Strinden Kadoun, the chamber’s director of tax and fiscal policy, said many lawmakers campaigned on a pro-jobs, pro-business platform in the previous election but that stance isn’t backed up by some of the legislation passed this year and last.

“While we’ve made some progress on our priority issues, in our view, there were far too many mandates, cost increases and burdens imposed on Minnesota employers,” Strinden Kadoun said during a webinar Tuesday afternoon.

Business groups lobbied hard to repeal the business-to-business taxes, particularly the tax on storage and warehousing services for business-related goods. Chambers leaders were easily able to persuade legislators, flush with a budget surplus, to take the law off the books before it took effect April 1.

But the chamber suffered a loss on its other signature issue: holding down the minimum wage. The organization wanted the $6.15-per-hour minimum wage to simply be raised to the federal standard of $7.25, the level for all the states surrounding Minnesota.

Instead, the Legislature opted to increase it to $9.50 by 2016 for so-called “large employers.” The chamber doesn’t expect many businesses to qualify for the $7.75 small employer rate because it’s only available for companies with less than $500,000 in gross annual revenue.

“We are not an island among the upper Midwest,” said Ben Gerber, the chamber’s manager of energy and labor/management policy.

In other policy arenas, though, business leaders were able to hold their ground. In environmental permitting, lawmakers set up a two-tiered process that aims to grant approval in 90 days for permits that don’t require a public hearing and 150 days for those that do.

With the 2014 session just days in the past, chamber leaders are already looking ahead to 2015. Transportation is likely to feature prominently. Although this year’s session included $241 million for transportation, legislators failed to advance a comprehensive funding package that included a higher gas tax and a metro-wide sales tax increase for transit projects.

The chamber has historically been a big player in transportation debates. In 2006, the organization raised $4 million for a “Vote Yes” campaign that successfully won passage of a constitutional amendment to dedicate the motor vehicle sales tax to transportation. The chamber went even bigger in 2008 when it organized support around a transportation funding plan that included an 8.5-cent gas tax increase.

But leaders now think the state should focus on spending the money it has efficiently before setting more money aside.

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