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'Eggs & Issues' legislative forum over, easy

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Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce President Matt Kilian (left), Rep. John Poston, Sen. Paul Gazelka, Rep. Josh Heintzeman, Rep. Dale Lueck and Sen. Carrie Ruud wait to be introduced at the annual Eggs & Issues Minnesota Legislative Forum featuring Brainerd lakes area legislators at a panel discussion at Madden's on Gull Lake on Friday, March 23. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 2

In lieu of a magic crystal ball, Brainerd lakes area businesses hoped to get a glimpse into the future by asking area legislators to be prognosticators at an event at Madden's on Gull Lake.

Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce's "Eggs & Issues Minnesota Legislative Forum" is an annual breakfast and interactive panel discussion and featured Brainerd lakes area legislators the morning of Friday, March 23, at the lakeside resort.

"This is an opportunity for me to catch up with the issues that are important to Minnesota business in a very nice, compact nutshell. ... I'm here to learn," Lori Davies said before the start of the two-hour program.

The president of Clow Stamping Co., a Merrifield-based metal manufacturer and parts supplier to Polaris, John Deere and Arctic Cat, said it was her third time attending the event.

"Employment issues are always important, taxes are always important to us as a business," Davies said. "Cities are setting different minimum wages and things; supply and demand is going to somewhat regulate that. Mandatory sick time is an issue for us."

The 2018 legislative priorities include reducing the individual and corporate income tax rates, so the state would not remain in the top 10 highest rates states for both, ensuring statewide consistency in wage and benefit laws, and improving transportation for business reasons.

Those priorities were developed in partnership with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, reviewed by the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce's Government Affairs Committee and adopted by its board of directors, and shared with 40 local chambers statewide.

"Since this is chamber focused, we're going to stay on the topics of business, jobs and the economy," Brainerd chamber President Matt Kilian told attendees.

Kilian moderated the panel discussion that featured Rep. John Poston, Sen. Paul Gazelka, Rep. Josh Heintzeman, Rep. Dale Lueck and Sen. Carrie Ruud, but it strayed into the areas of mental health, school safety, child care and affordable housing during audience participation.

"If you remember last—I believe it was—December, the federal government enacted some major tax cuts and big changes to the definitions of the tax system, so now what Minnesota needs to do is kind of figure out how to deal with that," Kilian told the room at the start.

"You would think that if they just adopted that federal system that taxes would go down in Minnesota. ... Essentially what happens is it exposes more income to the state income tax and taxes would actually go up for a lot of individuals and businesses."

Gazelka, a Republican from Nisswa, sits on the taxes committee in addition to being the majority leader in the Minnesota Senate.

"Last year, we fought very hard to get rid of the business property tax inflator. ... You may or may not make a profit in any given year, but when you automatically get tax increases, that doesn't bode well for what we say to businesses, so we got rid of that," Gazelka said.

Lueck, an Aitkin Republican, announced last month his re-election bid for a third, two-year term in the Minnesota House of Representatives, representing House District 10B.

"We need to look at whoever ends up being our next governor is ... that they've got a responsibility to check everyday on what our state agencies are doing. We need a real CEO, business approach there because we've got $46, $48 billion out there," Lueck said.

"To me, that's probably the most important decision we, as Minnesotans, have facing us, not whether or not to send me or Josh back but to find a governor, whoever that is—whatever party that is—who understands how to manage those state agencies."

Ruud was named Legislator of the Year by the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts for her work in preserving Minnesota's environment during the 2017 legislative session.

"We all talk about clean water. We have some of the cleanest water anywhere in the state of Minnesota—or in the country for that matter," Ruud said to those finishing their buffet breakfast.

"So we're looking at keeping our water clean and doing a good job for the environment, but also looking at some of the onerous regulations that have been placed on your cities and towns and our businesses and our farmers."

Ruud, a Republican from Breezy Point, is chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee, but she talked about the local labor shortage.

"The workforce shortage is really critical. It's critical across the state, but I think our area is really doing a better job than in most in addressing those issues. ... Creating jobs is great, but creating a solid workforce is even more critical at this point."

Referring to those on welfare and what he called the "big white elephant in the room" at the Gull Lake resort, Heintzeman said, "Speaking for myself, I can say I'm a big believer in safety nets but not a sofa."

Gov. Mark Dayton's veto of the Uniform State Labor Standards Act, "which would have prevented a city-by-city patchwork of different minimum wage and benefit," was disappointing to organizers of Friday's event, but Poston, a Lake Shore Republican, wanted the feedback.

"I'd just like to say that I really appreciate coming to this every year. I love the way the chamber is so engaged in the process. I love the fact that you all come down and visit us at the Capitol quite a bit. You're unique," Poston said before the breakfast and panel discussion ended.

"We don't get chambers that are as involved as you all are, and that's important. It's important that we hear how we can help you and we can hear your concerns—not just when you are visiting, not just when we're at one of these meetings—but please stay in touch with us."