WASHINGTON — Minnesota needs to lower the cost of doing business and simplify its regulatory structure if it’s to attract and retain more businesses, says Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
“Minnesota is a state that prides itself on its quality of life,” Pawlenty told business leaders at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Monday. He led a panel of governors in a discussion of their states’ assets (and the relative perils of increased regulation) as the Chamber released a report on the state of free enterprise in the states.
Among the state’s assets, Pawlenty noted Minnesota’s abundant fishing, hunting — and the presence of the Minnesota Vikings. “All of these things are important, but they are somewhat secondary to the threshold issue – are we providing enough jobs for our citizens so they can enjoy that quality of life?”
“Minnesota probably isn’t going to be the cheapest state, because we have some other advantages,” Pawlenty said, “but we also can’t be so smug about how special we think we are in terms of the quality of our life and the other amenities that we have to offer that we price ourselves out of the market and expect that not to affect the employment aspect.”
Best in the nation was neighboring North Dakota, little surprise considering its best-in-the-nation 4 percent unemployment rate. South Dakota came third and Iowa placed eighth.
Getting to yes or no
Among the largest areas of concern Pawlenty highlighted was the ability for businesses to get an answer, even if it’s a no, in a timely fashion.
“From 2003 to 2008 in Minnesota, for 80 percent of the permits we cut the [waiting] time in half,” Pawlenty said, “but for the other 20 percent it still takes way too long.”
Example of that, he said, can be found in large mining projects in northern Minnesota, which have waited years for a resolution. While not mentioning the PolyMet mine project in northeastern Minnesota by name, it was hard to miss the parallels.
That mining operation has been on hold for years over concerns that the sulfide-metals mine could lay waste to precious natural resources through its waste rock, which can contain small amounts of sulfur that, mixed with air and water, convert into highly-toxic sulfuric acid.
Ely-area resident C. A. Arneson summed up the concerns in a column for MinnPost earlier this month that opposed the mining. “Minnesota’s water rich legacy is invaluable,” Arneson wrote. “To put it in jeopardy, by not recognizing the inevitability of surface and groundwater contamination is unconscionable.”
Regulation in that case includes not just state and federal environmental reviews and land transfers, but also legislative efforts led by some DFLers to change the rules on non-ferrous mining in Minnesota.
PolyMet President and CEO Joe Scipioni, in the company’s latest statement on March 15, expressed confidence that the mine would eventually be opened.
“The PolyMet team is steadfast in its resolve to complete this project, creating much-needed jobs, and helping to diversify the economy of northeastern Minnesota,” Scipioni said.
Opposition to increased regulation
As one might expect, panelists and presenters at the Chamber-sponsored event spoke unfavorably of increased regulatory efforts on the federal level, especially the new health care law, arguing that too much federalism would squelch the individual creativity of the states.
“As our country grows, reaching 400 million people by 2050, the differences between our various states and communities will grow,” wrote Joel Kotkin, author of “THE NEXT HUNDRED MILLION: America in 2050,”in the study’s introduction. “We will have more diverse regional economies, demographics and cultures. We need to look at these local sources — what Thomas Jefferson called ‘our little Republics’ — to lead the jobs imperative. It is an imperative upon which depends the future success of our entire nation.”
“If something starts in Minnesota and it works, other states will do it,” Kotkin further explained at the study’s unveiling. “It’s very important to have that demonstration, and states can’t do that if everything is done at the federal level.”
No one on the panel of three Democrat and three Republican governors, chaired by Pawlenty, dissented from the view that there is enough government regulation, though better enforcement could work to prevent disasters in the mining, oil and gas exploration and financial sectors – all industries that are federally regulated already.
“I’m not an anti-government guy, I just want government to work,” said Rick Perry, the Republican governor of Texas. “We’ve got plenty of oversight, enforcement is the issue.”