The U.S. Chamber of Commerce does not hide its political leanings, and usually can be counted on to be fairly in-your-face when it comes to delivering its message on what it wants, and criticizing those it disagrees with. Here in Crookston and in similar communities, the local Chamber of Commerce simply tries to positively impact the community by supporting its member businesses in any way it can.

    Between those levels sits state Chambers of Commerce, and although a lot is constantly at stake financially, politically and legislatively, our Minnesota Chamber of Commerce should be praised for the measured, deliberate and realistic approach it typically takes when its trying to advance its agenda by trying to influence the decisions made by lawmakers at the State Capitol in St. Paul and the governor.

    Jim Pumarlo, the Minnesota Chamber’s communications director, travels the state each year to get the word out. He often is accompanied by the local chamber director and/or some local chamber business members. This spring, during his visit to the Times, he was accompanied by Lisa Swanson, communications director for Hugo’s Supermarkets, who spoke of seemingly reasonable things the Minnesota Legislature could do to benefit her employer, which is not only a “border business,” it has locations in both Minnesota and North Dakota and deals with the two states’ rules and regulations, which in many instances are vastly different.

    Pumarlo and the Minnesota Chamber, when it comes to the tax and budgetary legislation they push for, are generally pleased to work with Republican majorities in both the Minnesota House and Senate because they agree with the tax and budget priorities put forth by those Republican majorities. But with a DFLer in the governor’s mansion all these years, Mark Dayton, Pumarlo and the Minnesota Chamber know that victories are going to be small, and losses will continue to frustrate.

    So to their credit, the Minnesota Chamber doesn’t ask for, at least openly, things it knows it will never get. For instance, Pumarlo says, the Chamber is urging the legislature and governor to get Minnesota in line with the new federal tax law. If the state simply adopts the new federal definitions, he says Minnesota taxpayers will pay $1.6 billion more in taxes over the next four years. With the state’s biennial budget already set, Pumarlo says, more than 90 percent of business owners pay taxes through their personal income need and deserve some relief.

    Minnesota’s top individual income tax rate is 9.85 percent. That’s the fourth highest in the nation, Pumarlo says. Minnesota’s top corporate income tax rate is 9.8 percent, third highest in the nation, he says. Pumarlo and the Minnesota Chamber aren’t asking that legislation suddenly and stunningly drop Minnesota to the middle of the pack tax-wise compared to the rest of the country. He’s just asking that maybe some things get accomplished that drop Minnesota a few notches.

    “With the tax law changes, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity for reform,” Pumarlo says.

    Much more common is the legislature’s inability to get much of anything substantial accomplished until the last second of a session. That’s looking to be the case again this year, with five short weeks to go in the session and much important work still to get done. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Chamber will be in the midst, hoping to make things better for the state’s business taxpayers.

– Mike Christopherson