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Lawmakers get chilly reception from area business owners

State and area legislators received a chilly reception at a breakfast this morning sponsored by the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, a month after the state endured the longest shutdown in its history.

Chamber president John Wade set the frosty tone early by speaking about the frustration many chamber members are feeling. Already they are hearing talk from county officials that property taxes will have to go up.

Eight legislators were peppered by questions from business owners and leaders, who wrote their queries on index cards.

The first question asked lawmakers to name one piece of legislation that helped businesses create jobs. "Next question," one audience member said sarcastically.

While acknowledging the difficulty of the session, area legislators pointed to some "wins" that would help improve the climate for businesses. Sen. Dave Senjem, a Rochester Republican, pointed to the "beginning of the end of the provider tax," a 2 percent tax levied on health care providers.


Sen. Carla Nelson, another Rochester Republican, touted the GOP's ability to beat back DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's attempt to raise taxes with a $39 billion budget.

Republicans control both the House and Senate and their inability to reach a budget deal with Dayton eventually forced a nearly three-week government shutdown. When the session opened in January, legislators faced a $5 billion shortfall.

"I think area businesses will benefit from not being forced" to pay those extra costs, Nelson said.

DFL Rep. Debra Hilstrom, a Brooklyn Center legislator, said that while there weren't income tax increases, people and businesses may end up paying more in property taxes because of cuts to state aid called Local Government Aid.

Rep. Kim Norton, a Rochester Democrat, pointed to legislation that she said would streamline regulations for businesses, as well as a bonding bill that was part of the final budget package. She said the projects in the bill, while not perfect, would "put people back to work."

Other legislators at the breakfast were GOP Reps. Mike Benson of Rochester, Duane Quam of Byron, House Majority Leader Matt Dean of Dellwood and DFL Sen. Terri Bonoff of Minnetonka.


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