House Speaker Zellers visits Worthington
WORTHINGTON -- Curtailing the size of state government was the central theme during a Tuesday visit by Minnesota House of Representatives Speaker Kurt Zellers to the Daily Globe.
Zellers, a Maple Grove Republican, represents District 32B. He traveled to Willmar Monday to attend a fundraiser for fellow Republican Rep. Bruce Vogel, and was in Luverne Tuesday morning for an event for District 22A Rep. Joe Schomacker. Zellers also traveled to Albert Lea later Tuesday to support Rep. Rich Murray.
In Luverne, Zellers said he had the opportunity to meet with "ag folks and local business folks," and explained that much of the discussion centered upon "Reform 2.0," a Republican-led effort that party members hope will continue streamlining of the state government.
While noting that southwest and northeast Minnesota have many different concerns, Zellers said both regions are hindered by complex regulatory issues.
"An overlying theme is how long our permit process takes," Zellers said. "You can get a Minnesota business owner that comes back from South Dakota and says, 'It takes six weeks over there and six months here.' In a lot of cases, they wonder why they can do it online somewhere else where they have to bring a piece of a paper into an office here.
"The whole goal is to make sure we're competing with surrounding states, as well as across the country," Zellers added. "Whatever it is, we want Minnesota to be on par with those other states. If we are, we win. ... Given a fair playing field, we will be more successful."
Zellers said he believes most Minnesotans realize the best way to bolster the economy is by loosening state control.
"They (state residents) realize we're not going to help them in the revenue side," he said. "If we can help them reduce things on the expense side, or at least free up dollars by taking (regulatory) silos off, you let folks at the local level have more flexibility. They know how to better spend those local dollars than someone in St. Paul."
The message of scaling down government, Zellers stated, is coming from interests as divergent as school boards, county commissioners and business owners.
"It's a broad spectrum of people saying government is doing too much -- that tells you it's critical mass, and you'd better do something," he said, explaining reforms will likely come in small, incremental changes as opposed to front-page, headline-grabbing stories. "It's not sexy stuff, but it's stuff that makes a difference."
Attracting new business is great, but encouraging Minnesota's current employers to expand within the state is "our great challenge," Zellers declared. He said Minnesota wasn't even among the top 100 sites picked in a national locator-selecting study for a hypothetical expansion by corporate giant Medtronic.
"It's tax policy, energy costs, workers compensations, those sorts of things," he said. "It was kind of an eye-opening experience to hear what they're looking for."
In another matter, Zellers also spoke about proposals for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, adding that Gov. Mark Dayton's Nov. 23 deadline doesn't provide enough time for the public to weigh in. He also thinks economic support of the Vikings should be done via personal choice.
"I love football, but if I choose to go the game ... or if I choose to buy 10 scratch-off tickets, it's my choice," Zellers said. "It's not mandated on me. Passing a sales tax without a referendum, especially for members of our caucus (is unlikely)."
Zellers also said it's important for the state to prepare for a shrunken state workforce as members of the baby-boomer generation continue to retire. Consolidation and technological improvements will each be important, he described.
"Maybe we don't have seven different agencies that deal with water," Zellers said. "I realize that we're the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but if you dilute responsibility, you dilute accountability."
Also of long-term importance will be taxation for retired individuals.
"How you tax that deferred income and retirement income -- if this will be a flat tax or income tax increase -- that will be the battleground for state governors and legislators across the country," Zellers said.