Legislative leaders answer lightning round questions on top business issues
Each year, the Minnesota Chamber's Session Priorities event unofficially kicks off the legislative session. While it's a key way for the Chamber to share the business community's priorities, it's also a chance for legislative leaders to share priorities of their own. KSTP's Tom Hauser hosted a series of lightning round questions for the four legislative leaders: Speaker Melissa Hortman, House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic and Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson. Here are their answers:
Tom Hauser: Many Minnesota Chambers members are small businesses. They have fewer than 100 employees, and they're trying to get their businesses started. They're trying to keep them going. To start off, I want 30 seconds from each of you about your perspective on what you think of the state of the Minnesota economy.
Speaker Melissa Hortman: Minnesota is, as you all know, financially strong Going into COVID, we didn't know what was going to happen. We didn't know if the economy would come to a screeching halt. We know that there's many people who couldn't go to work during COVID because they didn't have the kind of jobs who could allow that. Our grocery store workers, our firefighters, just a couple of examples, but so many of us were able to transition to working remotely. Now here we are with a really outstanding state surplus, but we have been under-investing in recent years. I think what you'll see us paying attention to is investing in education, making child care more affordable, and having a low unemployment rate, it sounds good, but it also presents other problems. I think what we have to look at is getting our labor workforce participation back up to 70%. It's down at 67%. How do we get folks off the sideline? We make child care more affordable, and we go into those communities where unemployment is still too high, and we try to get those folks into the jobs that we have.
House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth: Minnesota is a place that we want people to choose to be. We want them to be able to be successful, both in business, in family and education and in so many ways. We do have a low unemployment rate, but we have to figure out and find solutions to why people have left the workforce, why they haven't returned. What are those the barriers, and how can we best meet them? We have to identify those things, provide the education that's needed. As a business owner and a business that is facing a workforce shortage, identifying the barriers in our area. Sometimes it's housing, it is child care, and meeting those needs and making that a little bit better place to be is where we want to be. Minnesota's a place we want people to settle in and be effective and successful in.
Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson: If you look at the state of the Minnesota economy, you look at the assets and the liabilities of the state. Right now we've got low unemployment, which is a great measure for how our economy's doing. But the participation rate, as Speaker Hortman said, is low. How do we get people back into the workforce that maybe dropped off during the last few years? What are we doing with regulations in this state? What are we doing with taxes in this state? I think over the last few years, we've seen a disturbing trend coming from those across the aisle from us right now who are interested in figuring out ways to tax more, regulate more driving businesses and individuals out of this state. That is no way to be growing the economy. So I'm concerned about that. That's something on the horizon here. Our liabilities, our risk profile in this state that we've really go to correct quickly before it's too late.
Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic: We do have a very diverse economy, and I think that is very helpful. But there are those pockets of people that still are unemployed. I represent an urban district and there are pockets where black men still have a lot of unemployment. How do we connect them with the jobs so that we can get them and keep them in the workforce, and then help businesses. Senator Johnson mentioned people are leaving. The largest group that is leaving is those kids leaving to college. They're going someplace else to college, and then they're not coming back. How do we keep them here, either in college or get them coming back? What I've heard from businesses, I said on the housing committee for the last six years, and businesses across the state are telling us they have jobs for employees, but there's no housing for the employees. Then when they come, they can't find child care. How do we look at child care and housing and what are some of those other barriers that businesses and communities need to thrive across the state?
Hauser: What’s your favorite Minnesota sports team?
Hortman: I'm sorry, it's the purple.
Demuth: The Vikings and anything my grandkids are playing.
Johnson: Absolutely, the Vikings.
Dziedzic: Well, I went to the U of M, so I'm gonna say the Gophers.
Hauser: Favorite Minnesota politician past or present and you can't name yourself.
Hortman: Hubert Humphrey.
Demuth: Tim Pawlenty.
Johnson: Knute Nelson.
Dziedzic: Paul Wellstone.
Hauser: A sandy beach or playing in the snow?
Hortman: Oh God, that's tough. I'm having a cross-country ski party on Saturday, so I'll say playing in the snow.
Demuth: A beach anytime.
Johnson: I'll say the snow.
Dziedzic: The snow.
Hauser: With a nearly $18 billion surplus, are we taxed too much or are we spending too little?
Johnson: Taxed too much.
Dziedzic: That's a good question.
Hortman: I would say we're more, ‘spending too little’ than ‘taxed too much.’
Demuth: Definitely taxed too much.
Tax increases or tax cuts this session?
Demuth: Tax cuts.
Johnson: Huge tax cuts.
Hauser: Walz checks or rebate checks or no Walz checks or no rebate checks?
Dziedzic: The bill will be heard.
Hortman: I think in some form we will see something that gets at child poverty, gets to families who need it.
Demuth: More conversation on that one.
Hauser: What's one item that will pass in the first month of the session?
Hortman: Well, tax conformity is moving like a rocket. We will also enshrine reproductive freedom in Minnesota law.
Demuth: Tax conformity.
Johnson: I think tax conformity, but it depends on how our committee structure ends up. We have proportionality.
Dziedzic: Tax conformity is moving very quickly, so I think that will pass. As Speaker Hortman said, protecting women's pre-product rights will pass.
Hauser: Paid leave; a mandate on business or incentive?
Dziedzic: I kind of like to do both, but again, I have all these small companies that they want to be able to compete and so is it a mandate or is it an incentive?
Hortman: It's like unemployment, insurance. Everyone needs it.
Hauser One single word to describe how single-party DFL control of state government will go?
Hauser: We're going to need more of an adjective.
Hauser: What one topic will be the most controversial this year?
Dziedzic: Rules Committee.
Hauser: What are the odds that Minnesota has sports betting before the start of the 2023 Vikings season?
Hortman: Better than 50/50.
Demuth: It's being discussed in our caucus. I would leave that up to Representative Garofalo. Just the odds, not the decision, just the odds.
Johnson: I'd say a little less than 50/50.
Hauser: What is your favorite go-to lunch spot near the Capitol?
Demuth: I always have a peanut butter sandwich in my backpack.
Johnson: Burger Moe's on Monday nights is like $5 burger nights.
Hauser: If you had to pick one fellow legislator from your opposing caucus to take to that lunch spot, who would it be?
Johnson: I'd pick Nick Frentz. We usually walk from where we live anyways, so I'd just walk him over there.
Dziedzic: That's a hard question. Senator Housley and I can have a lot to talk about. So I'll go with Senator Housley.
Hortman: Yeah, I was definitely going say Lisa Demuth, but that seems like the boring answer. I'm really looking forward to getting to work with a new minority leader and really looking forward to collaboration. We haven't spent a lot of time together and looking forward to doing that.
Demuth: Okay, [Speaker Hortman] would be my pick, but clearly nobody wants to have my peanut butter standards with me, so I feel a little bit bad about that. But I would say Representative Esther Agbaje.
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Session Priorities attendee testimonial
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce's Session Priorities dinner is always one of my favorite events of the year. It is a great opportunity to network with clients, partners, colleagues and business leaders from across the state. The ability to hear directly from the governor and legislative leaders about their priorities for the upcoming session and the entertaining program is a wonderful forum of both policy and fun.
Interested in other Minnesota Chamber events related to policy?
Join us on March 1 at our next Women in Business event whicl will focus on the hotly-debated legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota. Speakers will address some of the potential impacts on the workplace and what employers should know.