Lawmakers look to business tax, permit changes

By Andrew Tellijohn

Minnesota businesses will pay less in corporate property taxes and have an easier time obtaining state permits if Republican lawmakers have their way during the 2012 legislative session.

Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said those measures would help create jobs and strengthen the state economy.

Legislative leaders, Gov. Mark Dayton and other stakeholders discussed their session wish lists during media briefings and interviews leading up to the session, which starts Tuesday.

Some of those plans were spelled out as part of the Republican’s Reform 2.0 plan, which also includes proposals to place a moratorium on state rulemaking and regulations, create a small business regulatory review board and reform wage laws to lower construction costs.

Reducing the corporate property tax is one of the party’s chief goals.

“Our goal over time is to eliminate them,” Senjem said. “We understand that’s a progressive sort of thing, but that’s our goal.”

Zellers said he is looking forward to working with Democrat Dayton to establish a “one-stop shop” for permitting applications so business owners do not have to fill out multiple forms that often ask the same questions.

“Especially in this economy, that’s not useful,” Zellers said.

Dayton said he is open to discussing the GOP proposals, although he acknowledged many are not at the top of his priorities for the session.

Dayton has proposed offering businesses tax credits for hiring unemployed workers, veterans or recent graduates and said he was encouraged to hear that Republican leaders say “that’s not a bad idea.”

“That’s the nicest thing they’ve said about any of my ideas since they got here,” Dayton joked. “Far be it from me to say [no] to anything at this point. They are all worth considering.”

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce hopes to convince lawmakers to pass a measure that would assign a state worker to assist companies in getting “complicated permits” through the approval process, said Bill Blazar, senior vice president of public policy and business development. Those liaisons would help companies fill out documents correctly and check to ensure those applications were proceeding through government channels.

The chamber also will work to find more cost efficient ways for small businesses to shop for health care coverage and on raising awareness about increased electricity costs for commercial and industrial rate payers, he said.

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities also hopes lawmakers will consider tweaking a tax credit approved in 2010 that was designed to spur investment from individuals with money in small businesses.

Since the measure passed, 61 of 67 projects funded through the program have been in the Twin Cities. The league hopes to even those numbers out by asking the Legislature to double the tax break for those who invest in greater Minnesota businesses.

Proposals to require state-funded public works projects to use American steel, an effort to help northeastern Minnesota’s Iron Range, drew opposition from a key Republican.

“Is that the role of government to define specifically where people who buy their products?” asked Senjem, who also is chairman of the committee that deals with funding public works projects.

“At least for Republicans, if we get into that debate we start to impose our people with a bit too much government,” Senjem added. “Let free enterprise roll.”

But House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, disagreed. “I would suggest, though, that it is our money.”

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