GOP legislators ready to go to ‘war’ with neighboring states in the battle for businesses

You thought things were tough in Minnesota now? It’s gonna get tougher.

We’re at war with South Dakota.

Rep. Kurt Zellers
MinnPost/Jay Weiner
Rep. Kurt Zellers

Kurt Zellers, speaker of the Minnesota House, made that startling announcement at an otherwise bland news conference this morning at the state Capitol.

Zellers noted that South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, up until now an unknown figure, has joined with the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce in inviting Minnesota businesses to move across the border to a land free of taxes, regulations and high wages.

“The governor is saying, ‘Come over here,’ ” said Zellers. “This is war.”

Zellers does think we can beat South Dakota, but the point is, he said “we have to be competitive with everybody.”


Wisconsin, for example, is trying to take our businesses.

“They’ve got billboards up,” Zellers said.

He also warned that “we’d better watch out for Michigan and Ohio.”

How do we beat all these foes?

Republicans launching effort with emphasis on ‘listening’
Republican House members are starting by “launching” what they call the Reform 2.0 campaign.


That was the main reason for this press conference. The 2.0 campaign will feature GOP legislators going about the state, listening to people about ways government can reform its practices.

“Our state’s economic climate and fiscal future rely on the reforms we are able to make today,” Zellers said.

This Reform 2.0 campaign is supposed to be different from the typical political “listening tour.”

The GOP legislators say they want “to listen to everybody who has a good idea.” DFLers, Greens, people at their kitchen tables and, of course, business leaders all will be asked to make reform suggestions.

Why 2.0?

Zellers and House Majority Leader Matt Dean explained that Republicans — with a little help from Gov. Mark Dayton — already accomplished Reform 1.0 during the legislative session.

A lot of people probably missed out on those reforms, because so much attention was focused on the disastrous session that ended in a government shutdown.

Refreshing the message
As much as they say they want to listen to all sorts of ideas, it sounds as if the GOP now is using “reform” as a new way of saying they want to cut regulation, cut the size of government and stop “the increasing” in taxes, even though it’s been a long time since there have been any increases in taxes at either the state or federal level.

“If you like more spending, vote for President Obama,” Zellers said at one point.

For all the talk of reform — and war with South Dakota — and for all the talk of listening to all people, it sounds as if Repubs are going to listen to the same people they’ve been listening to for years.

“We’ve talked about reform for many years,” said the reform guru of the GOP, Rep. Keith Downey of Edina. “I know the buzzword has been around for a long time.”

So what’s different now?

“We’re going to honor the common sense of most Minnesotans,” Downey said.

And what does that mean?

He told of a colleague who was talking to an 80-year-old fellow.

“The advice was to quit spending money you don’t have — separate your needs from your wants,” Downey said.

That sounds like the same sage advice Republicans have been hearing “from Main Street Minnesota” for years. The difficulty, of course, is that one person’s want is another person’s need.

The idea of coming up with reform as the message of the day appears to be a way to tidy up the old No New Taxes message.

Zellers admitted that Minnesotans are tired of the old taxes debate, which led to the shutdown.

The Republicans did give Dayton, who is embarking on his own listening trips around the state, a few pats on the back for being willing to accept some reforms.

Zellers even said that reform is “not a partisan idea.”

That he was surrounded by a group of Republican freshman did, however, seem a little partisan.

Why no DFLers?

“In a lot of cases, our friends on the other side of the aisle aren’t interested in reform,” Zellers said. “The status quo is their best friend.”

A ’60s jalopy
Their ideas, the speaker said, are ancient, from the 1960s.

“We have a 1960s jalopy,” said Zellers of the government vehicle. “It practically needs a crank to get it going.”

But Reform 2.0, he believes, will change all of that. Minnesota won’t be going to war with South Dakota in a car that needs a crank, or even a classic old Mustang.

The GOP is going to find the things in government “that have outlived their usefulness” and reform them.

Along the way, Republican legislators might come up with an amendment to place on the 2012 ballot that would require the Legislature to have a super-majority to pass any taxes.

That’s an idea being floated by Rep. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa.

Drazkowski already has been out listening to people.

“I don’t hear anyone asking to raise taxes,” he said.

The other GOPers nodded their heads solemnly.

Reform 2.0 is on its way. There’ll be listening, a web page, a Twitter account and, of course, more listening at the State Fair.

Yes, Minnesotans are tired of hearing politicians blather on, Zellers admitted. It’s time for pols to listen to the ideas of the people.

“The good Lord gave us two ears, one mouth,” he explained of all this listening.

Reform is on the way the GOPers said over and over.  

Look out, South Dakota.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/18/2011 - 03:17 pm.

    And thus begins another heat in the Race To The Bottom.

    There ain’t no free lunch. If you want roads and schools and edible food and safe water to drink, you have to pay for them. State taxes haven’t gone up since I arrived, and federal taxes are at their lowest level since the Eisenhower years (and I’m old enough to remember those years).

    The sooner Republicans drag themselves out of the 19th century, the sooner they’ll be of use to people in Minnesota.

    Education, roads, water and sewage systems, health care, child care, public transportation, regulations to protect the environment, and a host of other programs and services are not just nice things to have. They are public investments. Failure to make them dooms us to a declining standard of living because, as Republicans only half-realize, capital in this global economy can go anywhere, and because it can go anywhere, it will go where the infrastructure is in the best shape, where the workers at all levels are the most productive and adaptable and best educated, and where the overall human climate and society offer the most promise.

    No taxes, no regulations, and low wages are the antithesis of what Minnesota needs to do, and offering that as a platform is essentially to offer business a short-term bribe that will benefit a few at the expense of long-term prosperity for the whole region. Minnesota deserves better.

  2. Submitted by Jeff Wilfahrt on 08/18/2011 - 04:32 pm.

    At what point will this nonsense coming from the GOP become totally repudiated. Ten years of tax reduction and we are still in the hole.

    Reagan proved it, Pawlenty proved it; trickle down doesn’t work!

    As grandpa used to say sometimes you got to spend a buck to make a buck.

    Jeff Wilfahrt, Rosemount, MN

  3. Submitted by James Collins on 08/18/2011 - 05:49 pm.

    Now Mr. Zellers wants us to engage in a ‘Race to the Bottom’ with a state without a vibrant metropolitan area and a workforce the fraction a size of ours?

    As Doug Grow says, reform is just a nicer way of saying slash government. I know I might not be the brightest, but I still wish GOP leaders would explain how laying off state employees will magically create an abundance of high paying jobs.

  4. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/18/2011 - 07:25 pm.

    Polaris Industries recently moved an ATV assembly plant out of Osceola, Wisconsin. Polaris relocated the plant in Mexico. This plant was non-union and located in what Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker calls a “tax friendly” state to do business in.

    This is but another example of a race to the bottom. The state of Wisconsin was open for business (tax subsidies) and has a well educated workforce that worked for non-union wages. As long as there are developing economies with cheaper labor and less regulation. How do you effectively compete against that type of environment?

  5. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/18/2011 - 07:25 pm.

    As they’ve made abundantly clear over the years, government “reform” is just the latest word that is meant to sound good to the rest of us but, like a whistle pitched so high it’s inaudible to humans but can still successfully bring a dog running, “reform” means something quite different to their their small (and shrinking) base.

    Reform might sound good to us, but the Republican base knows “reform” really means Republicans politicians intend to enable new and better ways for the fabulously wealthy folks whom they so worship to rip off the rest of us and destroy the infrastructures and the environment on which we, our children and our grandchildren will depend in the future.

  6. Submitted by John Olson on 08/18/2011 - 07:52 pm.

    This “war” was fought once before during the 1980’s.

    The late Governor Rudy Perpich (dubbed “Governor Goofy” by the Republicans of that era) engaged in a highly visible war of words in the press with then-Governor Bill Janklow of South Dakota. The issues of those days were similar: high workers’ compensation costs, high corporate and property taxes, etc.

    Keep in mind that the internet did not exist in those days (the original IBM PC was a mere two years old at the time). The “war” was fought on the front pages and editorial pages of the Pioneer Press, Minneapolis Tribune and the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls.

    It was a much different world then.

    The idea of trying to use South Dakota as a foil again 30 years later is almost laughable. South Dakota now has it’s own casino (A.K.A. the City of Deadwood). South Dakota’s total nonfarm employment is somewhere around 402,000 while Minnesota’s nonfarm employment is at roughly 2.6 million. South Dakota’s total state population is roughly 3/4 of the population of just Hennepin County. They have a smaller government since they have fewer people.

    Today’s competition is no longer Sioux Falls or Aberdeen–it is Vietnam, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, China, etc.

  7. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 08/18/2011 - 10:10 pm.

    At least they were honest that low wages is one of their goals. The Republican vision of Minnesota is a working poor enriching a few and a crap quality of life for most Minnesotans.

  8. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 08/18/2011 - 10:17 pm.

    According to a new ranking of top 100 places to live, there is not a single North or South Dakota town in the top places to live in the country. Minnesota is well, well represented.

    Forbes Magazine rates us as the 15th best state for business.

    Why are we accepting this nihilistic race to be the northern version of Texas, where there is basically a ruling elite and a working poor?

  9. Submitted by Bruce Anderson on 08/19/2011 - 07:55 am.

    Anyone else hear that giant sucking sound?

    Hey Doug, I don’t suppose that in manufactoring this crisis the GOP provided any empirical evidence of how many businesses moved to SD or Wisc. in the last ten years (much of that during the T-Paw years)? Didn’t think so.

    According to the Census Bureau SD gained 57,539 people from 2000-2009.

    I suppose the GOP will claim every one of those people would otherwise be working in Luverne.

  10. Submitted by David Koller on 08/19/2011 - 08:12 am.

    Every time I hear Repubs use the word “war” I know it is going to cost us money. Nobody likes government spending but everyone likes government services. Why should I trust legislators who just proved they can’t listen, can’t use basic math skills, and are unable to see multiple sides of any issue? I’m all for making Minnesota’s business environment better but don’t have confidence our current legislature is capable of doing that. It’s like asking a pig to sing.

  11. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/19/2011 - 08:20 am.

    Stupid political brinksmanship games will have more to do with companies leaving than anything else because of the system instability it causes. What CEO wants to manage a company in a climate of political gridlock. Zellers and Koch are just trying to fulfill their zealot based republican philosophies. There is no balance in their policies. There all or nothing stance has done more to hurt Minnesota than it has helped it. What CEO wants to move his company to a state that doesn’t serve its people or provide needed services. What he would end up with is a unmotivated employee base. The political pendulum swings hard left and it swings hard right. Minnesota is at its best when the pendulum is centered. Right now we have gone past hard right all the way to stupid.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/19/2011 - 09:48 am.

    //the GOP now is using “reform” as a new way of saying they want to cut regulation, cut the size of government and stop “the increasing” in taxes,

    You have to have been living in a cave for the past 30 years to think there’s anything “new” about this.

  13. Submitted by Derrick Schluck on 08/19/2011 - 02:25 pm.

    Want to help the small business owners of Minnesota, help them control they “private” company health care costs. My fathers small machine shop wants to hire more employees, give employee’s raises, and make a profit, however the healthcare costs continue to rise at 10 to almost 20% a year. Taxes have stayed flat or even gotten lower during that same time. As my father would say, I much rather pay a higher tax rate then try and keep up with the outragious health insurance cost for his employees. Infact, in order to keep the same amount of workers, he and my mother often take a much less expensive and of course less exstensive coverage for themselves.

  14. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/19/2011 - 06:02 pm.

    @ 14
    American business will dump health care even if it’s just a break even proposition for them. Providing health care is a tremendous distraction for business. It gets employers involved in aspects of the employees’ lives where they don’t belong and aren’t comfortable. Much as you don’t want your employer making life or death decisions about coverage for one of your family members, your employer really doesn’t want to be in that position either. I fully expect to see a trickle of businesses, starting with small ones, dropping their employees onto the exchanges, which will grow to an avalanche. Health care insurance from your employer will become rare.

    Which makes the structure of the health care bill so poor. By charging a penalty per employee, the health care bill creates an incentive to minimize the number of employees, work them as many hours a week as you possibly can, burn them out, then fire them and hire someone new. In other words, just like the current system. If you feel the need to tax compensation, then make it a fixed percentage. Better yet, put in a national value added tax to pay for health care and tax consumption.

    The Republicans are very unlikely to repeal the health reform law. But they could improve it by paring back the minimum plan to a high deductible, high co-pay plan with a maximum on the co-pay.

    In general, businesses would be better off if they got out of the benefits business and paid only in cash. All forms of compensation should be taxed with no exemptions.

  15. Submitted by Annie Grandy on 08/22/2011 - 12:21 am.

    Focusing on government “reform” to keep/appeal to companies to stay/move among the states is not creating new jobs. It’s just moving the same jobs around from one state to another.
    The focus needs to be on developing real “new” jobs. Green jos are one area of “new” jobs that should be being encouraged in Minnesota.
    Research and education are other sources of real “new” jobs and should be encouraged in Minnesota.
    Republicans want ‘reform’ cuts not jobs and they are getting them by cutting funding for the University of Minnesota our primary engine for research in the state. Their denial of global warming/climate change is inhibiting the growth of green jobs throughout the entire country.
    Republicans talk about jobs but their focus on cuts is just about moving the same old jobs around, not creating real “new” jobs. Maybe they need to get different jobs.

  16. Submitted by Derrick Schluck on 08/22/2011 - 03:14 pm.

    @ Richard Schulze

    Ok Richard, I can understand a few of your viewpoints, but were does the health care come from then? Obiviously the individual private sector health care coverage has failed (rising costs well beyond inflaction and COLA, or whatever measurement you want to use) and Public Health Care is the “devil” according to the Tea Party folks and some big business. Companies like ours are more then happy to provide medical coverage as a benefit to our employees, infact we would like to provide even better coverage, healthy employees are far more productive and reliable then sick absentee employees. The current system, which I will agree is not working, however blowing it up completely isn’t the answer either. I am not infavor of 100 public run health care, but a system were an employer buys into a coop or some sort of market system were our buying power is enhanced.

    An all cash system in John Smiths utopia capitalistic society is ideal, but this is the real world. Employers have been paying benefits for hundreds of years, in many different forms in return for their time and effort.

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