Death and taxes may be the surities of life-at the Eggs & Issues forum hosted every year, it's taxes and more taxes, hashed out out over eggs, sausages, coffee and French toast.
The Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce's Eggs & Issues forum is an annual breakfast and interactive panel discussion featuring Brainerd lakes area legislators Friday morning, Feb. 15, at Madden's Resort on Gull Lake.
The panel included state Reps. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, John Poston, R-Lake Shore, and Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, alongside their Senate counterparts in Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, and Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa. Chamber president Matt Kilian moderated and hosted the event.
Taxes-both corporate and individual taxes, of which Minnesota ranks in the top five of the nation-factored heavily during the forum largely catered for business entities in the lakes area. While the panel of Republican lawmakers noted it's their shared intentions to scale back these taxes-especially in light of a projected $1.5 billion surplus-making those goals a reality will be tricky with a DFL majority in the Minnesota House of Representatives, a Republican majority in the state Senate, and a Democrat in the executive chair.
Gazelka said the delegation of power in St. Paul led to a number of challenges for Republicans, but also a number of opportunities in the only split Legislature in the nation.
"I'm glad we're the only split Legislature in the nation because the (Minnesota) Senate has got our backs," Poston said. "In the House, they're kinda out there because they're driven by the DFL, but the Senate has our backs."
"I had worked under every scenario but this one," said Ruud, whose intermittent stints in state government date back to 2003, when Republican Tim Pawlenty first took office. "This configuration is something new. We're really trying to figure out how to negotiate this."
"The ideas and many of the things we put forward and got to the governor's desk the last four years were vetoed and guess what? Some of our DFL friends are putting their arm around me and saying 'Say, how did that work again?'" Lueck said. "We're starting to get those bills passed to undo the damage of all those vetoes. Last year's bright ideas, some of them are now the bright ideas of our friends on the other side of the aisle."
In terms of taxation, area representatives pointed to the "sick tax" (or deductions from health care providers), the Social Security tax, high corporate and individual income taxes and legislating conformity with federal tax frameworks-all areas they said they'd like to see reduced or pushed through the state Legislature.
Gazalka said it is unlikely DFLers will implement tax reductions on corporations and may actually increase taxes on these entities.
There were some different perspectives on the budget surplus-often cited at $1.5 billion, with a variance of numbers in terms of what's left in state reserves. Poston said it could be as high as $3 billion kept in reserves, while Ruud said that inflation and other factors have to be accounted for before a final figure, possibly as low as $200 to $300 million, can be calculated.
The issue of 'preemption'
Kilian pointed to the issue of preemption-or, in legislative terms, giving individual cities and municipalities the power to determine labor laws such as sick or maternity leave, as well as setting their own minimum wages. Kilian said this could create a "patchwork" of different standards for businesses to uphold, which could place extraordinary pressure on businesses operating in multiple locations.
Kilian also noted the "Minnesotans for Paid Family Leave" proposal that would require employers to supplement 55 to 80 percent of pay for up to 24 weeks of the year (between medical/maternity leave and family leave).
"If I was in a position of power to say it's a non-starter, I'd say it's a non-starter," Heintzeman said of these initiatives. "We're going to have talk about the legislation that, if passed, will put thousands and thousands of businesses at a disadvantage so that they either go bankrupt or leave the state."
Health care insurance
Cited as the No. 1 issue in the Nov. 6 election, Kilian said work-related health care coverage, along with paid leave, may stand as the single most pivotal issue in the current labor market.
Members of the panel said they are working to reduce health care costs and premiums. On the related topic of single-payer health care, the Republican lawmakers expressed a firm opposition to any proposals for a government-run, single-payer health care.
"It will never be done cheaper than the free market," said Gazelka, who pointed to a "Right to Shop" bill which would enable people to more easily move to cheaper health care providers if their costs are jacked up by providers.
The National Loon Center
Much like the development of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails-of which the trails have spurred tourism and led to the establishment of 15 new businesses in Crosby in the last six years-Kilian said the Brainerd Lakes Chamber and associated partners are looking at another project to focus on in the coming year: the National Loon Center by Crosslake.
A $6.7 million project that is not the recipient of a $4 million grant from the state, plans call for a 15,000-square-foot facility to be constructed at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Campground on Cross Lake, housing the Freshwater Institute, Crosslake Chamber of Commerce offices, interactive exhibits and multipurpose rooms for the community. Piers will expand beyond the building into the bay, offering viewing and education opportunities. In addition, visitors will be able to take bike rides and collect water samples for testing back at the center.
Once completed, the National Loon Center could bring in as many as 80,000 tourists to the Brainerd lakes area every year.