Early morning Legislator panel discuss business issues
EAST GULL LAKE - From transportation and gas tax issues to how businesses and educators can work together to make sure employees succeed were among the issues discussed Friday morning at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber Eggs and Issues Legislative Pane...
EAST GULL LAKE - From transportation and gas tax issues to how businesses and educators can work together to make sure employees succeed were among the issues discussed Friday morning at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber Eggs and Issues Legislative Panel held at Cragun's in East Gull Lake.
The chamber invited Brainerd lakes area legislators to the event to discuss business priorities. Legislators attending were Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa; Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls; Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa; Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin; and Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point. Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore was unable to attend.
Chamber President Matt Kilian said with the 2015 legislative session underway and the shift in the local representatives in office it was a good time to have a legislative panel to discuss issues focusing on business. Kilian said there has been a lot of conversation on business issues in the community.
The first issue discussed was transportation and Gov. Mark Dayton's $11 billion transportation proposal to fix the state's roads and bridges over the next decade and improve transit. The proposal would generate a 6.5 percent gas tax on gasoline at the wholesale level, which also would increase gas per gallon at the pumps.
Kresha said he appreciates Dayton's aggressive proposal, but said it doesn't give the legislators time to come up with a more "thoughtful approach" to the problem. He said it will build up revenue, but he is concerned where the money would eventually go.
"I know we have issues in transportation," said Kresha. "Let's identify those. If we just throw it all in taxes we will fight over this big pot of money."
Gazelka said the proposal is not right. He said the last couple of years the state spent about $40 million on roads. This year everyone is talking about roads and bridges and the question is: should the money be used for roads and bridges or the light rail transportation and the roads?
Lueck said a sales tax on motor parts, such as tires, could go to roads, but said the state could take it a step further and have it be a general sales tax.
"Would it make sense to have (the taxes) go to roads and bridges?" said Lueck. "We need to be careful about putting another tax on gasoline. ... We need to slow down and take it easy. You don't need to jam taxes (on people)."
Ruud said with the gas tax, people also need to realize the number of motorists using electric and fuel efficient cars. She said electric cars also utilize Minnesota roads and add to the wear and tear.
"The gas tax is an old mechanism," Ruud said. "As gas prices go up so will the tax and we will be the third highest tax in the U.S. When we look at how to fund roads, the gas tax does not get us there."
Heintzeman agreed with Lueck and said using tax money on motor parts is a good "thinking-out-of-the-box" idea. He also said Dayton's proposal is flexible and the monies could be spent in other places.
After the legislators spoke, Kilian asked the audience of business owners by a show of hands of who would like to see a gas tax. Only one person raised their hand.
Legislators also discussed taxes on small business owners and most agreed businesses wouldn't see a big tax relief this year. Gazelka said there was no goal to reduce taxes for small businesses and Ruud said she was not sure what the Senate could do with tax relief. She said the Senate has seen an increase in fees and the legislators needs to be conscious about that.
Kilian switched the discussion to education and mentioned President Obama's proposal of covering the cost of community college tuition for students. The panel was asked to discuss how educators and business owners can work together so the state would have more qualified workers.
Kresha said the issue of having enough workers who are educated/qualified for jobs should have been fixed 25 years ago. Kresha, who has worked in education for years, said Minnesota needs to be more competitive to get people to move to the state and stay to work. He said the state needs more people in the workforce and needs to attract good citizens who share the state's family values.
"If we continue to see a drop in employment it will be a bad deal," said Kresha. "We have relied on the baby boomers for a long time and they can't keep helping us with the part-time jobs."
Gazelka said the state needs to bring more people to Minnesota and talked about the military veterans retiring. Gazelka and Heintzman in January introduced legislation to exclude retired members of the military from state income taxes. This legislation will help military veterans who would like to retire and begin a second career in Minnesota. The first bill introduced by Gazelka and Heintzeman in the 2015 legislative session will soon begin making its way through the Legislature.
One businessman in the audience, a veteran, said Minnesota is considered the worst state for the military.
Heintzeman said the bill is the right thing to do for the veterans. He said he plans to present the bill to the Veterans' Committee on Monday.
"We will see how things go from there," Heintzeman said.
Lueck, a veteran himself, said the veterans are highly skilled and unfortunately Minnesota doesn't want their skills, but other states do.
Mark Ronnei, general manager at Grand View Lodge, said unemployment is a huge problem. Ronnei, who serves on the Nisswa Enhanced Reading Foundation, encouraged legislators to help with education reform, because the Minnesota Department of Education, in his opinion, would not do anything about it.
Lueck again said 25 years ago "we truly broke something and we are aware of it." He said there is a disconnection between the high school and the technical schools. Lueck said not all students need a four-year college degree - there is a need for students to go into a two-year program.
Central Lakes College (CLC) President Larry Lundblad said there is a lot of bureaucracy, and the schools have been underfunded for programs they work on to help connect students to job opportunities.
CLC offers a number of programs to help students learn about job opportunities and offer them first-hand experience and the community has played a big part in it, said Lundblad. CLC works with businesses in the community to help assist high school students learn about different career paths, such as its Bridges Academy program.
Ruud said two years ago the state and CLC discussed an agriculture program. CLC has since implemented a new Regional Center for Excellence in Agriculture at the Staples campus.
"This is a big accomplishment," Ruud said.
When it comes to school funding, Ruud and Kresha both agreed the schools should be able to use the state funding the way they want to.
Kresha said 70 percent of children who are pre-school age are getting the education they need from home, the other 30 percent are not ready for school. Kresha said money for the children needs to be used wisely. He said it is a people problem, not a policy problem.
"We need more kids and we need them ready for school," Kresha said. "We need a good solid plan."
Anderson, who did not attend, did release a statement to the Chamber. Anderson said he is strongly opposed to any gas tax and is equally opposed to Obama's proposal of covering the cost of community college tuition for students.
Anderson said he is leaning toward the military pension income tax exemption, thanks to Ruud.
"It is the right thing to do for our veterans," he wrote.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5851. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl .