Small Business Minnesota 2015 Legislative Wrap Up

The state legislative sessions have ended for 2015. Time ran out for many bills and the regular session ended in a flurry of activity and angst. The governor vetoed three major bills and a one-day special session was called. The public including groups like Small Business Minnesota, the media and almost all legislators, were barred from participating in or observing the special session. In the end, a surprising number of provisions were added to bills that had not been vetted and previous agreements were altered or eliminated. Read small-business legislative wrap up.

Health Insurance needs more attention

In survey after survey most small businesses owners identify affordable healthcare as their top concern. We saw little movement on this issue this session. During the 2013-2014 legislative session, Small Business Minnesota made significant changes to the state’s MNsure program to support of small businesses. However, the work is far from over. This session, we met with and contacted   state legislators, congressmen/women, and others to express concerns including the proposed double-digit health insurance rate hikes on small-businesses. These efforts continue. Details on the state health insurance exchange.

Crowdfunding for small businesses passes

Minnesota joins other states that allow equity crowdfunding options for small businesses. This effort, supported by Small Business Minnesota, passed with ease. Before the law can be enacted, the MN Commerce Department must develop rules. We have asked MDC for a timeline. Details at MNvest.

Internet Access for Greater Minnesota

In Greater Minnesota, tens-of-thousands of small business owners, customers and employees do not have adequate Internet access. Last session Small Business Minnesota supported the current Internet access program for Greater Minnesota. This session, the House first proposed eliminating the program and, after protest, returned it with only 10 percent of its funding.

Transportation

Transportation is important to small businesses to get our goods to market, employees to work and customers to our door. Billed as key initiative for this session, but little was done. A small amount of funding for infrastructure was gained.

Education for a ready workforce

Small Business Minnesota has been a longtime supporter of education. We understand the need for a ready workforce. Funding for job-training and skill-match programs increased. Early childhood saw a significant increase in funding. Native American students received additional funding to improve graduation rates that hover around 46 percent. 

A tough session for family farms, small growers, and downstream small businesses

A controversial environmental and agriculture bill emerged from the special session generating several new laws that Small Business Minnesota opposed. There is some concern that large business competitors receive special treatment and that laws are creating unequal conditions.

1) Decades-old sulfate dumping standards have been repealed by defunding enforcement. Downstream small business rice farmers and others are concerned this may destroy their products. Related, sulfide mining waste is now exempt from the state’s solid waste rules.

2) New laws allows any product to use the “pollinator friendly” label whether or not it is pollinator safe. This places legitimate pollinator-friendly small businesses at an unfair disadvantage competition.

3) The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency citizen’s board was abolished because it requested environmental impact reviews of corporate farms, signaling more legislative assistance to corporate farms.

4) The legislature is funding an industry-cost analysis of existing and anticipated water quality standards. The study excludes the benefits of clean water to small businesses and others. Many believe the study will misstate the true cost-benefit analyses of unpolluted waters and give large businesses state-sponsored data to further decrease their environmental responsibilities.

Taxes

While the legislature was unable to pass a tax omnibus bill, tax-related laws passed that affect small businesses.

1) Utility rates were lowered for many big business and rates were increased for many small businesses.

2) New customers of solar and wind energy small-businesses will be assessed a fee. This discourages customers from buying and future small businesses in this segment from operating in Minnesota. (The author of this bill frequently refers to renewable-energy businesses as “stupid.”)

3) In 2013, Small Business Minnesota testified in favor of today’s program that provides property tax relief specifically to small businesses. We opposed extending the program to big businesses since big business already receives the vast majority of all business-related tax favors. The House heavily favored extending the program to big business and will be back next year. Small Business Minnesota will continue to oppose.

4) Small Business Minnesota continues to speak out on tax simplification. Small businesses are more likely to be audited, least likely to afford an audit and unlikely to have tax experts on hand. Several Minnesota small business owners have told us stories of paying large sums for audits over minor errors and nuances.

5) Small Business Minnesota continues to oppose off the books tax extenders at both the federal and state level. Minnesota has approximately $25 billion hidden tax extenders (tax breaks and favors) making our state’s reported $42 billion budget actually a $67 billion budget. A large portion of these tax extenders unfairly favors big business. Currently, the tax extender program is largely on automatic pilot. We propose including all tax expenditures into related areas of the budget for ongoing review and up/down votes. We have made some progress in Congress on this issue.

Why we support small businesses

Small businesses are, by almost all accounts, the backbone of our economy. Small businesses are creating two of every three new jobs. They employ more Minnesotans than all the Fortune 500s combined. Small businesses produce the vast majority of patents and those patents are most often cited in the top 1 percent. Small businesses contribute 50 percent of the nation’s GDP and that number is growing.

However, over the years, small businesses have been ignored in the public policy arena. Small Business Minnesota has been making a difference and bringing greater attention and understanding to small businesses in Minnesota. Please join or renew your membership, or make a contribution today.