By PATRICK CONDON
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) â¿¿ With the new legislative session under way and Democrats now fully in charge at the Capitol, nerves were on display Wednesday at an annual dinner for Minnesota's top business leaders.
"We'd like to be hearing a little less about new revenue and a little more about cutting spending," said David Olson, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which holds a yearly dinner in downtown St. Paul for business owners and executives, lawmakers and lobbyists to mark the start of the session with schmoozing and strategizing.
Olson didn't get his wish. At the dinner, Gov. Mark Dayton's chief of staff told the crowd that taxes must be part of resolving the state's $1.1 billion projected deficit and taming chronic budget shortfalls. And at the Capitol, Senate Democrats filed a crop of new bills seeking to put the state sales tax on clothing and online purchases, raise the state's minimum wage and end a tax exemption for business profit earned overseas.
"We understand the pent-up demand, but we're not crazy about the message that sends," Olson said.
Debates over taxes and spending are likely to take center stage at the Capitol this year. While Dayton has until Jan. 22 to release his tax and spending proposals, he repeatedly has made it clear he will seek an income tax increase on the state's top income bracket. That could hit some business owners who pay taxes on business profits through the personal income tax.
"Cost savings and reform are important parts of the equation for long-term fiscal stability," said Dayton's chief of staff, Tina Smith, who filled in for the governor as he continues to recover from back surgery. "But fair, progressive, sustainable revenue also needs to be part of the solution."
Smith said the Dayton administration will pursue business-friendly changes in state environmental permitting. She revealed the administration will push to complete certain permits within 90 days, responding to perennial complaints among business owners that state regulations stifle business growth.