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Brainerd chamber’s ‘Eggs and Issues’ goes over easy at Madden’s

The Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Eggs and Issues” breakfast, an annual discussion with Brainerd lakes area legislators focused on business, jobs and the economy, took place Friday, March 25, at Madden's Resort.

Politicians speak about the Minnesota session to a group.
Rep, Josh Heintzeman, left, Sen. Paul Gazelka, Sen. Carrie Ruud, Rep. John Poston and Rep. Dale Lueck laugh while serving on a panel Friday, March 25, 2022, during the 2022 Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce "Eggs and Issues" Legislative Breakfast at Madden's on Gull Lake.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — The Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual meeting with area legislators at Madden’s on Gull Lake.

The “Eggs and Issue” legislative breakfast Friday, March 25, was an opportunity for chamber members to hear from local elected officials about business, jobs and the economy.

“It’s a chance for us to connect with our legislators as a business community, hear about the headline issues that are going to impact us potentially in the next year and give our members a chance to ask questions and interact directly with the legislators,” said Matt Kilian, Brainerd Lakes Chamber president.

The Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce includes Crosslake and Pequot Lakes with about 1,030 member businesses, according to the organization.

Kilian estimated 120 people attended Friday’s event to hear from Republicans Sens. Paul Gazelka and Carrie Ruud , and Reps. Josh Heintzeman , Dale Lueck and John Poston .

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“We all know that state law and policies can have an extremely positive or negative impact on our local businesses,” Mark Osendorf said in his opening remarks to those in attendance. Osendorf is an Xcel Energy community relations manager and member of the government affairs committee who represented the company sponsoring the 2022 Eggs and Issues event.

‘Eggs and Issues’

“It’s important for business leaders to pay attention, get engaged and speak with one voice,” Osendorf told the audience. “Our chamber is the most effective way to do that.”

Kilian emceed the nearly two-hour legislative breakfast at the resort for the first time in person since 2019. During the past two years, it took place virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“‘Eggs and Issues’ has been a longtime staple of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber … and by the way — and they might disagree with me, but I’m going to say it anyway — you don’t have to be red or blue to be pro-business,” Kilian said of political party affiliation while looking at the panel.

Kilian kicked off the discussion by providing some contextual comments before talking about how the new legislative district boundaries and the upcoming election might shape debates.

“Probably the No. 1 issue is something called ‘redistricting.’ It happens every 10 years and is based on the U.S. Census population counts,” Kilian explained to those at the breakfast.

Heintzeman, a Nisswa Republican, said, “It’s an election cycle. And all of the sudden you see people looking at things they might not have otherwise looked at, and looking at it in maybe a more business-minded way that I’m certainly attracted to and get excited about.”

Republican panelGazelka is hoping to unseat Democratic Gov. Tim Walz in the next election. The East Gull Lake Republican made constant reference to his gubernatorial bid during the legislative breakfast.

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“What do we do with about $9.3 billion of surplus? All of us want to give it back not in one-time money but in permanent tax cuts,” Gazelka said as he gestured to the panel.

Gazelka was referring to Walz’s proposed plan that Minnesotans who make up to $164,400 would be eligible for a $500 check; couples filing jointly could receive $1,000 if they earn $273,470 or less. About 2.7 million people in the state could benefit from the direct payments.

“He wants one-time money, which would give $1,000,” Gazelka said of Walz. “If we lower that lowest tax rate, everyone gets $1,000 ongoing — every single year — if we can get that. … Our lowest income tax in Minnesota is higher than the highest income tax in 17 states.”

It’s important for business leaders to pay attention, get engaged and speak with one voice.
— Mark Osendorf

Ruud, the Breezy Point Republican, lamented the loss of Lueck and Poston, who are not running for reelection, but also the loss of women holding office due to redistricting.

“I think women in politics, we really bring a ‘can-do, solve-the-problem’ (attitude),” Ruud said. “Most of us aren’t so wed to ‘I got the credit for it.’ We’re ‘get the job done,’ so that’s a different dynamic that we bring. And I think we bring a kind of a calming effect to some conversations.”

Another hot-button topic at “Eggs and Issues” was the Minnesota unemployment insurance trust fund, which owes more than $1.3 billion to the federal government after the COVID-19 pandemic drove claims to record highs.

Walz and the Senate support a $2.7 billion plan to offset the debt and replenish the fund, but House Democrats say they won't support it unless the Senate approves a $1 billion in bonus payments to front-line pandemic workers. Senate Republicans won’t go above $250 million.

“That is the sticking point in the House right now,” said Poston, a Lake Shore Republican. “And I don't mean to sound really partisan about this but the right side of the House wants this unemployment issue taken care of and we wanted it taken care of a long time ago.”

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Hot-button issuesThousands of businesses filing for taxes in the coming weeks will pay higher rates after Minnesota lawmakers blew past a deadline to repay more than a billion dollars the state owes on its unemployment insurance fund.

“So what that would mean is your payroll taxes that fund that go up 10% to 15% for six to 10 years through no fault of your own,” Kilian told the business leaders at the breakfast. “You didn't want to lay off people, you don't want to shut down your companies but a lot of you had to do it.”

Proposals about mandated paid time off were another issue the panel discussed.

“Not gonna happen — and if I’m governor, it won’t happen either,” Gazelka said. “In the Senate, we think about that, and what we do is try to incentivize businesses to do it — a carrot rather than a stick. In the House, under the other side’s control, it’s a stick.”

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“I think we’ve got to be careful on this bonding thing because it’s not a cookie jar for everybody that thinks they need something,” Lueck of Aitkin said. “It really needs to go the state-level assets first and we’re talking about the University of Minnesota, the colleges, that whole area.”

The five legislators were given the opportunity by Kilian for some parting remarks at the event’s conclusion, but one comment by Gazelka drew the most laughs.

“Shameless plug — I am running for governor,” Gazelka said. “I do want to take our state back. I will focus on the economy, education and public safety. … If you want to give money, I’m happy to receive it.”

Chamber legislative priorities

1. Get Minnesota out of the top five in taxes. Minnesota has the third-highest corporate income tax and fifth-highest personal income tax rate in the country.
2. Replenish unemployment insurance. If policymakers don’t act, employers will be hit with double-digit payroll tax increases this spring.
3. Oppose paid time off mandates. The chamber opposes state interference in the form of new mandates, including proposals that would force employers to pay additional taxes that enable employees to take up to 24 weeks of paid sick and family leave time each year.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

Related Topics: MINNESOTA LEGISLATURE
I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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