7/3/2014 12:19:00 PM Legislative business forum takes Town Hall twist
by DENISE MARTIN
by DENISE MARTIN The North Branch Chamber of Commerce and city hall co-hosted an information session last week meant for area businesspeople to get questions answered about any new measures affecting the business world.
State Representatives Bob Barrett, Brian Johnson and Senator Sean Nienow were slated to appear and interact with business community members at the North Branch Library. Sen. Nienow was a no-show, and unfortunately, the bulk of the event lacked any useful information about how new legislative actions will be administered or implemented or what businesspeople should know. Attendees though, did hear Reps. Barrett and Johnson’s thoughts on minimum wage.
Both lawmakers opposed the bill that eventually passed; setting Minnesota on a course for a minimum wage (conditioned on a number of factors) of $9.50 an hour by 2016. There are exemptions for small employer workforces, part time teen workers, etc.
Rep. Johnson, R-Cambridge, told the audience he basically does not support mandating anything of employers. He responded to one man asking about Johnson’s no vote on sick time expansion (HF568) -- saying employers who want to keep good workers will treat them well. The state has no role in that relationship.
Rep. Barrett, R-Lindstrom, felt “...if the goal is to lift people above the poverty line,” the Minnesotans who work minimum wage jobs aren’t the earners who are below the poverty line, he said. Minimum wage earners are also not the primary financial support in households in Minnesota.
Rep. Barrett believes that forcing a wage hike will accelerate automation and other options eliminating human positions, and the end result will be fewer jobs available in general. Rep. Barrett said he did support going to $7.25 an hour for a state minimum wage (Minnesota was around $6 an hour), but that bill was not the final adopted.
The two also feel the state legislature spends too much of the overall budget in the Twin Cities metro region. They cited mass transit system projects underway as not improving the lives of any constituents in their districts in the Chisago-Isanti county area.
North Branch Council member Kathy Blomquist, who serves on the Rush Line Task Force; asked that the lawmakers keep an open mind, and understand that license plate surveys at Rush Line bus stops show that a lot of local residents commute using the Rush Line, and transfer. (Rush Line Task Force organized the coach bus routes to Mpls and St.Paul)
Barrett said, “I am not anti-mass transit,” but he feels the state priority is to increase lane miles for vehicles.
Former state senator Rick Olseen asked about gas tax and the fact the Minnesota Constitution designates roadwork funding comes out of gas tax revenues. Do the lawmakers agree that the way gas gets taxed needs to be looked at? Rep. Barrett said there’s enough money in the state budget to shift into transportation needs without raising tax. He said it’s a matter of priorities. Rep. Barrett also explained a bill he has introduced estimated to need about $40 to $50 million annually-- that would set a higher “floor” for state funding for education. He has a “passion for equity in education funding” he stated, and he feels by lifting all pupil state aid to a new level equitable funding could be accomplished.
There was a question on the proposed frac sand trans-loading facility in North Branch. Rep. Barrett said it is a local decision; but there is no way he’d support hundreds of trucks negatively impacting the small town of Taylors Falls, hauling sand between North Branch and mines in Wisconsin. Barrett added, he does support “economic development” and has yet to see the actual sand plant project proposal.
Kathy Lindo explained at the outset of the session that the North Branch Chamber aims to host periodic informational sessions to highlight actions taken in the legislature that affect business and industry.