Commentary: State Chamber sets business agenda

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce will advance an aggressive agenda at the Legislature with confidence that we represent the interests of all types and sizes of businesses across Minnesota.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce will advance an aggressive agenda at the Legislature with confidence that we represent the interests of all types and sizes of businesses across Minnesota.

The concerns of business reflect those of all Minnesotans -- whether residents of Warroad or Winona, Worthington or Willmar, Waconia or Woodbury. We all deserve top-caliber and affordable health care. We all seek efficient government so our tax burdens do not grow. We all demand less congestion and safer travel on our statewide transportation system. We all need reliable and competitively priced electricity. And we all depend on clean water for our recreation and economic livelihood.

The Minnesota Chamber's message is bolstered by a federation of local chambers of commerce. We work closely with all local chambers to speak with one voice on critical issues that affect our economy. In addition, 24 chambers are formally endorsing the business community's priority issues for 2006:

E Health care -- All Minnesotans deserve access to quality and affordable health care. The Minnesota Chamber is spearheading initiatives at the Legislature and within the business community.

Individuals need better information so they compare quality and cost in order to make informed decisions on choosing doctors, clinics and hospitals. Health plans and providers should be rewarded for quality performance and value rather than just growing numbers of patients.


The Minnesota Chamber opposes the proposal to make affordable health care a constitutional right. Most important, the amendment is silent on who will define "affordable" health care, what it will cost and who will pay.

We also oppose legislation that would result in employers disclosing how many employees are on public health programs. In other states, this has been the first step toward requiring employers to offer employee health benefits or otherwise pay the state for the cost of employees on public programs. The impact has the potential to be broad based and detrimental to job growth.

E Taxes - Businesses want government to live within its means. The state budget should be built just like personal budgets: Determine revenues first, and then allocate expenses. Whether the state budget is in deficit or surplus, policy-makers must find a more efficient way to deliver government services. The Minnesota Chamber opposes any increase in general-fund taxes.

E Transportation - The state's transportation infrastructure is at a crossroads. We must provide substantive, long-term funding for highways and mass transit. The Minnesota Chamber is among the leaders of a broad-based coalition promoting passage of the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax ballot question, which the Legislature advanced last year. If approved by voters in November, the amendment will trigger a transfer of the sales tax collected from all motor vehicle sales from the general fund to transportation purposes.

At the Legislature, we seek to build on our recent success of funding more transportation projects within the general bonding bill. We continue to shape our Minnesota Moves proposal which, among other things, emphasizes that new transportation revenues be linked to specific projects.

E Energy - Reliable and competitive electricity rates are a growing concern among business and residential customers alike. Several utilities have raised or are proposing increases in rates. Reliable power supply is especially critical in today's technology-based economy.

The Minnesota Chamber supports continued development of the renewable energy industry, but disagrees with those who see a new mandate - with resulting higher costs to customers - as the only way to spur additional growth. Minnesota already is the nation's fourth-largest generator of wind power, and the industry is growing rapidly.

E Environment - Clean lakes and rivers are essential to business growth. In the short term, the Minnesota Chamber advocates the use of existing funds for seed money to clean up impaired waters as identified by the federal Clean Water Act. Any long-term financing should be broad based and levied against homeowners, businesses and farms with assessments proportionate to their respective shares of the problem.


We continue to work with all stakeholders to reduce mercury pollution. We oppose legislation mandating emission reductions, pending completion of the talks convened by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Protecting the bottom line of businesses is integral to ensuring a vital state economy. That's what the Minnesota Chamber does for all Minnesota businesses.

Joe Swedberg is vice president of legislative affairs and marketing services at Hormel Foods Corp. in Austin, Minn., and is chairman of the Minnesota Chamber Board of Directors.

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