With a lame-duck governor calling a special session to close a multibillion-dollar budget gap and two leading gubernatorial contenders in the Legislature, the elements were in place for just about anything to happen.
The fact that not much did happen — at least from the perspective of the Tom Hesse, vice president of government affairs for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce — was an accomplishment worth touting as he and his team of lobbyists met with about 60 Chamber members to recap the session.
Going into the session, the Chamber recognized that most of the attention would be focused on closing the budget gap for 2011 and that they would be “playing defense,” Hesse said. The group expected “a status-quo session” in terms of other legislative priorities, he said.
While some of their key legislative priorities, such as lifting the moratorium on nuclear power plant construction and enacting alternative licensure requirements for teachers did not pass, neither did proposals the Chamber opposed. Those included efforts to enact a new 9.5 percent personal income tax bracket on high-income earners and the elimination of tax deductions for foreign royalty payments.
In all, the Chamber listed more than $645 million in proposed fees and taxes that were successfully beat back (see accompanying chart).
In addition, Hesse and his team pointed to several successes, including a newly enacted angel investment tax credit intended to stimulate private investment in emerging businesses. The Legislature allocated $17 million in 2011, $12 million in 2012 and $11.9 million in 2013 in tax credits for investors or funds that back high-tech startups. The Legislature also expanded and broadened the research and development tax credit and raised it from 5 percent to 10 percent.
Claiming some partial successes, the Chamber pointed to initiatives that include a streamlined environmental permitting process in some areas and a requirement that both the Met Council and the Department of Transportation submit plans to the Legislature on anticipated transit operating funds as the area’s light rail system gets built out.
Lifting the nuclear plant moratorium failed because the House could not agree on specifics of the legislation, but Mike Franklin, director of the Chamber’s energy & elections policy and political action committee, took some comfort in knowing that both branches are now on record against keeping the ban. The opposition to nuclear plant construction is “living on borrowed time,” he said, as legislators recognize that lifting the ban will be a necessary element in reducing carbon emissions and supporting economic development.
Perhaps the biggest and most visible accomplishment for the Chamber was a new campaign finance law. It allows independent expenditures by corporations and nonprofits either in support of or opposition to candidates while imposing reporting requirements similar to those existing for Political Action Committees.
Following the recent landmark Supreme Court decision Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission, which recognized free speech rights of corporations and nonprofits in election expenditures, the Minnesota Chamber brought suit in federal court challenging the Minnesota campaign finance law.
A recent favorable ruling on the Chamber’s lawsuit brought proposed legislation that had been moribund back on track. Saying it was “one of the last trains to leave the station,” Franklin told Chamber members that the package passed late Saturday just before the session wrapped up.