The split Legislature increased K-12 education funding, lowered slightly the 2% tax on medical providers, failed to compromise on Gov. Tim Walz’s 20-cent-a-gallon gas tax over four years, and took a pass on a few bills with business implications.
Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Doug Loon summarized the session this way: “Policymakers overall rejected costly new taxes and mandates that would have significantly increased the cost of doing business in Minnesota. A number of proposals — both helpful and harmful to Minnesota employers — fell by the wayside. That is the nature of divided government.”
Here’s the quick wrap on a few issues I wrote about:
• Energy: Walz’s proposal for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 didn’t pass the legislative conference committee. Walz and mostly DFL legislators pushed to boost Minnesota’s current goal of 80% carbon-free energy by 2050 to 100%. While the proposal passed the DFL-controlled House, it never received a hearing in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The good news is that businesses and consumers increasingly see the perils of climate change, and understand that the environmental and economic opportunities of increased energy efficiency and renewables, such as accelerating wind and solar, are key to a cleaner, growing Minnesota economy.
The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition of 30-plus Minnesota-based companies that includes 3M, Cargill, General Mills as well as smaller organizations, advocates surpassing the state’s current economywide greenhouse-gas emissions targets of 30% reduction by 2025 and 80% reduction by 2050, and “affordable, reliable, clean energy to improve racial, economic, social and public health outcomes.’’
And General Mills, Best Buy, Uponor, Tennant, Target and other companies, through Ceres, the national clean-energy advocate, backed exceeding the state’s renewables-and-conservation goals. This trend is accelerating for environmental and economic reasons.
• Home health: House-Senate negotiators declined to raise the state reimbursement paid to home-health agencies to compensate for the earlier agreement reached between the union for personal-care attendants (PCAs) and the state to raise the minimum wage from $12 to $13.25.
The Human Services Department awarded a 41-cent reimbursement to $17.81 an hour to PCA agency owners, who fear that the narrowing margin between Medicaid reimbursement rates and what they must pay workers, along with other expenses, will mean losses. The legislators noted that many employers already paid at least $13 an hour.
Sen. Jim Abeler, an Anoka Republican and chairman of the Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee, said the department may have miscalculated in its wage survey. This issue will be back next year. This is a critical Medicaid waiver program that allows 43,000 disabled and elderly Minnesotans to get care in their homes instead of moving to more expensive institutional settings.
Owner Andre Best of Best Home Care, a key employer and observer, predicted some smaller firms will fail without state support.
• Fair digital repair: For the first time, a bill that would expand the network of small businesses that could work on everything from consumer electronics to tractors made it to the floor of the House. However, Democrats, led on this issue by Rep. Peter Fischer of Maplewood, were unable to convince enough Republicans in either the House or Senate to garner a conclusive vote.
The digital-repair bill has been a goal of a consortium of independent repair shops, environmentalists, the Minnesota Farmers Union and others. They contend that the manufacturers of everything from iPhones to computer servers and entertainment devices have violated rights of owners by restricting device repairs through licensing and restrictions on repair instructions and diagnostic tools, essentially forming cartels that also encourage product replacement. In addition, advocates contend that too much electronics goes to recyclers or landfills, items that could be refurbished amid a growing market for less costly, secondhand equipment.
“The only people who don’t like this bill are large original-equipment manufacturers, who have become monopolistic and [are] abusing their market power,” said Jennifer Larson, CEO of Vibrant Technologies of Eden Prairie, which refurbishes computer equipment.
• Payday lending: The DFL-led House passed an interest rate cap of 36%, including fees and finance charges on multiple loans, that critics said often lead to a “debt trap” of 200 percent-plus annualized interest as borrowers refinance with ever-larger loans. But the Senate balked.
Exodus Lending, a nonprofit, Sunrise Banks and others are offering payday-loan alternatives that cost less and limit the amount of debt through employer-based loans or other short-term loans. Payday borrowers have regular-paycheck jobs and lenders can make up to 24% under existing consumer-finance law.
Reform advocates note that the U.S. military limits payday lenders near bases to protect the troops, and 16 states have similar laws.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at email@example.com.