Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

Dayton’s budget: Tom Bakk seeks out business leaders’ views

Dayton’s budget: Tom Bakk seeks out business leaders’ views
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk: “Things are different coming from business lobbyists’ communication than it is coming from the decision makers.”

For lobbyists, access to Minnesota legislators -- in the State Office Building, outside the House and Senate chambers or just over coffee -- has never been more critical, given the potential impact of Gov. Mark Dayton’s sweeping budget proposal.

But Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk is making it clear: he wants to hear less from business lobbyists and more from top business leaders.

“Things are different coming from business lobbyists’ communication than it is coming from the decision makers,” said the DFLer from Cook.

Bakk says he’s heard that disparity in the last several weeks as he’s met with the CEOs and other executives of some of Minnesota’s Fortune 500 companies.  Bakk won’t specify which companies have filled up his appointment calendar, but he’s likely to find time to talk to the heads of Ecolab, ALLETE, the Mayo Clinic, 3M, US Bank and the Carlson Companies.

“They understand that we need to invest in the state’s education system,” he said. “I think uniformly they are facing a significant number of retirements over the next decade, and that comes across as a great concern about work force issues as it relates to retirement. I don’t sense they are against all tax increases, but they want it to be spent on things that are important to them.”

Relationship with business

David Olson, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, has a long and friendly relationship with Bakk. He said Bakk’s contact with business people is helpful.

“We’ve said for years, if we can get our members to speak up, that’s the best thing because they are the ones that grow the jobs,” he said. “But most of our members are small businesses and they don’t have the time to go to the Capitol.”

Bakk acknowledges as much. “When it comes to the day-in, day-out business, we are going to interact with the business lobbyists,” he said.

That’s a relief to Mike Hickey, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business. Hickey said when Bakk met with the state NFIB board, he told them that he wanted to talk to the decision-makers. “And I told him, ‘Make sure you contact the people who will be the most affected,’” Hickey said, referring to the small businesses that will pay more taxes through a new higher income tax bracket.

Hickey and Olson are worried about Dayton’s proposed extension of the sales tax to business services. Hickey characterized it as “devastating” and said he has alerted his members to let Bakk and other legislators know of their concerns.

Bakk appears to be listening. Olson said Bakk and House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, told the chamber board they believe the business-to-business tax extension is bad policy. 

'Down the road together'

Bakk wouldn't directly respond to Olson's description of the chamber board meeting, but said he wants to “go down the road together” with business as budget negotiations progress.  “I have not heard them critical with the governor's spending initiatives; I've heard them generally supportive,” he said. “But they tell me, ‘As you look for money, we still need to be competitive.’ And I don't think you’re ever going to hear that from a business lobbyist.”

Certainly, increasing state spending is not on the Chamber of Commerce agenda, but Olson said the chamber will offer more than stubborn opposition to the Dayton budget. He said his lobbyists are working on spending reforms, workers’ compensation, higher education and the health insurance exchange. “But the big thing is the budget,” he said.

Hickey is sympathetic to Bakk’s political position. “He’s an astute guy and he’s got his own way of working through these things. He’s been thrown a firecracker by the Dayton administration.”

Bakk doesn’t minimize the impact of a budget plan that’s more than just one firecracker but rather a full pyrotechnic show with all the fuses lit. “What the governor proposes is a significant departure, such a big change, that we are susceptible to making mistakes,” he said. “To the extent we can minimize mistakes, I want to engage the real decision-makers. If we make a mistake, if businesses react, I want them to have some ownership.”

In the end, lobbyists will likely carve out the legislative language that reflects business input in the next state budget.  “I think whether [legislators] agree with us or not, they respect the ideas we bring to the Capitol,” said Olson. “And everybody realizes this budget is going to take a lot of voices to figure it out.”

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Related Tags:

About the Author:

Comments (6)

Henny Pennyism

I'm glad that Bakk is talking to the leaders, but it's also clear that there's a lot of Henny Pennyism amongst conservatives and conservative businesspeople (at least people who think they're business savvy). The sky will not fall. This will not be a disaster. In the end, if the budget is carefully planned, it will be far more predictable, and overall cost less due that predictability. But make no mistake about it, balancing the budget will not be free. Get used to it.

Work Comp

Will the Chamber have suggestions reform work comp insurance, or just to make it tougher for injured Minnesotans to qualify? Will injured workers have less of their pre-injury compensation replaced? Or will doctors still be allowed to charge two and three times their normal rates for work comp cases?

Fellow business owners...... Don't do it!!

Some time last fall I was asked by a well meaning friend to join a discussion about the Marrige Amendment. It was advised by the Anti-Amendment pro Marrige supporters to engage those who disagree with them in a fair and open minded fashion. The thought being that open discussion, polite debate, and alleged moral persuasion just might change minds. I chose to engage in such an online debate.

What I got was venomous name calling, 3 organized boycotts of my business. My child was ostracized on her basketball team ( and still is). My wife has had her inteligence questioned by strangers. This was all brought to us by Paul Welstone's Minnesotans, and by holding the position of Barak Obama less then 8 months ago.

Do not show up at a meeting hosted by Chairman Bakk. Or any other DFL'er controlled meeting, unless your looking to curry special favor.

Hey, you forgot about the little guy again!

Dear Sen. Bakk:

In your plans to meet with Fortune 500 business leaders, you have forgotten about the little guy in Minnesota again, someone like me for example. That's ok... I am sure my Representative, Democratic Majority Leader Erin Murphy or Democratic Governor Mark Dayton will be responding to my e-mails any day now.

I am politically independent and I am willing to talk to anybody. Those two just happened to put themselves out to say, "We'll listen to ideas from anybody" and one just happened to be elected out of my district. I suppose that make me a constituent.

Well, I'll tell my ideas to anybody, really, so if there are an Republican lawmakers that want to talk to an interesting guy under thirty with ideas, they would also be welcome to contact me also.

Yours in Minnesota,

~Bob Helland

onemantaxplan @

P.S. Don't all rush at once, I'd hate to knockout a Google server with too much server traffic.


Because business doesn't have enough of a voice at the legislature?

Tom Bakk seeks out business leaders’ views

Didn't he already do that? Something about building a stadium.

Democratic Farmer Labor Party: representing the working class. Yup.

(No sarcasm from the progs: I place blame on the Republicans as well.)