It was a remarkable moment during a legislative panel discussion, but it seemed to pass unnoticed at the time. However, some on social media took note.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, suggested on Friday that businesses boycott or even move out of cities that pass their own minimum wage or paid-family-leave ordinances.
“I’ll be really stark,” Daudt said. “If there is a city that is doing something that makes it difficult for you to do business, send a message to them with your pocketbook. Do not do business in that city. Do not place your business in that city. Move out of those cities. And I am not kidding about that.”
Daudt appeared before an audience of suburban business leaders at the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce event on Jan. 11. Three other legislative leaders also appeared.
Daudt said that his “number one priority” is raising wages across the state. But he said that had to be done through “good public policy,” not “artificially” through a patchwork of local regulations that would place burdens on businesses without having the desired effect.
“When you do it artificially, you end up with fewer jobs,” Daudt said. “And who does that hurt? It hurts people at the low income levels. So let’s not pretend like these policies are really helping the people we want them to help. They don’t.”
The beneficiaries of such policies are unions, Daudt asserted. “And unions want them for other reasons,” he said. “This is not good public policy.”
New House Majority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, Assistant Senate Majority Leader John Jasinski, R-Faribault, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, also spoke at the event.
Neither of the Democrats took the bait from Daudt — he got no reply to his comment about businesses either boycotting or fleeing Minnesota cities.
The issue of pre-emption — a GOP-led statewide legislative move to block cities from passing local minimum wages and paid-leave ordinances — did come up late in the hourlong forum. But no one, not even Daudt, returned to the boycott topic.
Jasinski said he doesn’t favor cities making their own workplace rules. He said if the practice became widespread, construction companies, landscaping companies and others that do business in various jurisdictions would be in trouble.
Hortman countered by saying that counties and municipalities are good test beds for policies that might later be adopted statewide. She used the indoor smoking ban, which started with several local municipalities and later passed statewide, as an example. She said something similar could happen if cities are left alone to experiment with paid leave and minimum wages.
She admitted that it could lead to “bookkeeping headaches” and even “hardships” for businesses. But that has to be balanced against the working mom who can’t afford to feed her kids despite working 40 hours a week, she said.
“We have to balance the relative hardships,” Hortman said.
Bakk said that there ought to be a way to create a statewide system that avoids a patchwork of local laws and mentioned the statewide worker’s compensation system as a possible model. If the Legislature were to approve such a move, he said, businesses could deduct small amounts of money from workers’ checks and pool the cash into a statewide family leave account, to be drawn from by those who need it.
“There is a way to do this and its time has come,” Bakk said. “It is a benefit whose time has come.”
Daudt disagreed. “I think cities should not be in the business of this sort of thing.”
A better solution, Daudt said, would be to incentivize businesses to create their own paid leave policies and boost wages on their own. He acknowledged that not every business would choose to do so.
“But the market will dictate that the employees go to the employers that offer that benefit,” Daudt said. “That’s how you solve a problem in the free market.”
Though his fellow lawmakers gave Daudt a pass on his boycott comment, some on social media did not. After Minnesota Lawyer tweeted out a summary of Daudt’s comment, for example, the Minnesota DFL Party’s Twitter account sent out a response.
“Shouldn’t the House Minority Leader be rooting for Minnesota businesses to succeed?” the party’s account commented after re-tweeting the post.
“Good advice,” tweeted Will Morgan, a Burnsville High School physics instructor. He followed that with a one-word comment. “Dolt.”
At least one follower punched the heart button under the original Tweet, apparently an indication of support for the minority leader’s comment.
Legislative leaders were scheduled to appear with Gov. Tim Walz Monday morning at the Capitol for the Forum Communications’ annual pre-session briefing. Minnesota Lawyer planned to attend.