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Editorial: Lawmakers should see session as a chance to undo messes

As long as Gov. Mark Dayton wants an “unsession” to undo outdated and unnecessary actions of Legislatures past, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is among those with some “un” ideas worth considering.

The state’s biggest business-representing group urges starting with the repeal of a trio of business-to-business sales taxes that were enacted in the rush to wrap up last year’s legislative session. One taxes the labor on electronic equipment repairs, another taxes telecommunications equipment and the third adds a 7.5 percent tax on warehouse space. The warehouse tax is poised to go into effect April 1, adding to the urgency to wipe it away with the others.

“Anybody in the warehousing business will tell you that increase is a huge change in their competitive situation because the margins in that industry are razor thin,” Bill Blazer, the Minnesota Chamber’s senior vice president of public affairs and business development, told business leaders in Duluth this week. “You know, if you don’t like the price in Duluth you go half a mile and you’re in Wisconsin, and here’s a news flash, they don’t have a sales tax on warehousing (there).”

The good news is Gov. Mark Dayton favors repeal. So do House leaders, assuming the state budget forecast later this month is favorable, like the previous projection that estimated a $1 billion surplus. The only question, Blazer said, is what the Senate might want to go along with the repeal.

Once those repeals are done, though, the Minnesota Chamber urges removing barriers preventing Minnesota from having a speedy and predictable environmental permitting process.

“Minnesota has been on a path for about four years to try and streamline our permitting process,” Blazer said at the gathering. “Streamlining means that when you apply for a permit you know how long it’s going to take to get a decision and how much it’s going to cost. We’re not asking the Legislature to change standards. … We think we’ve got to add certainty both to the time and the cost of getting a permit in Minnesota.”

The next “un” for the Legislature, Blazer said: transportation infrastructure. Before considering more money, the Legislature can insist on the 15 percent increase in efficiency it mandated in 2008.

And then it can undo the rolling back of K-12 education reforms it enacted in 2010 and 2011, Blazer said. One example was the repeal last year of the requirement to pass a graduation test to get a high school diploma.

“You have to take the test, but you don’t have to pass it now,” Blazer said. “I don’t understand the logic of that. I don’t think we’ve done a service to any young person in Minnesota by saying to them, ‘We’ll give you this diploma whether or not you’ve mastered what we believe you need in order to get a job in this 21st-century economy.’ Our fear is the next step will be to roll back the requirement that our teachers pass a basic-skills test in order to be able to teach in Minnesota.”

The Legislature also can undo the premium tax used to fund MNsure, the Minnesota Chamber said, and it can stop sending $32 million a year of sales taxes on leased vehicles to the general fund rather than to transportation needs as they originally were dedicated.

And the list goes on.

“The governor’s got a list. We’ve got a list. Other folks have them. I think we ought to take the governor seriously,” Blazer said, “and use the 2014 session to clean up our statutes. (Let’s) really make this an ‘unsession.’ ”

— Duluth News Tribune