2014 Legislative Session Wrap-Up

There is much for Greater Minnesota businesses to celebrate now that the the 2014 legislative session has come to a close. The GMNP helped pass significant legislation for economic growth and was successful in raising many important issues that lay the groundwork for future advancement. Here is a rundown of how the session turned out in regard to the GMNP’s top priorities:

Our biggest accomplishment this session was the passage of a $20 million broadband infrastructure fund, which will help bring high-quality Internet service to areas that currently lack adequate coverage. Broadband expansion has been the top priority of the GMNP since last fall, when regional meeting attendees and survey respondents from throughout Greater Minnesota named a lack of reliable Internet service as the number one issue affecting economic growth in their communities.

The battle wasn’t easy. We had to fight against industry heavyweights and reluctance on the part of some lawmakers to get the legislation passed. Our success was the result of hard work by GMNP lobbyists and staff, crucial testimony from GMNP President Gary Evans and other broadband expansion advocates, a powerful media relations campaign that generated editorial support from 17 newspapers and a lot of news coverage, and strong support from bill authors Sen. Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing) and Rep. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth) and House leadership.

It is important to note that the broadband legislation that passed allows the fund to be used by both “unserved” and “underserved” areas. Some lawmakers attempted to limit it to “unserved” areas only, but we felt strongly that in order to have the greatest economic impact the fund must be available to any area that does not meet the state’s broadband service goals.

The legislation lays a solid foundation for additional broadband expansion in the future. We hope the legislature will continue to fund this important program so that the state can reach the goal of border-to-border broadband.

The Business Development Public Infrastructure (BDPI) program, which provides grants for cities to update public infrastructure to encourage private business growth, received $6.2 million in funding for the next biennium ($4
million in the bonding bill and $2.2 million in the supplemental budget bill). We are disappointed that the legislature failed to put more money into this successful and widely used program. Since the program began in 2003, it has been funded at an average of $10 million a biennium. Last-minute attempts to amend the final bonding bill to include more money for the BDPI program ultimately failed to pan out.

Angel Investment
The GMNP was successful in getting the legislature to enact some positive modifications to the Angel Investment Tax Credit program. Under the changes, the angel investor funds will be reserved for businesses in Greater Minnesota, or those owned by women or minorities, for the first nine months and industries eligible for this credit have been expanded to include agribusiness, manufacturing and tourism. Unfortunately, we were not able to garner enough support to reduce the wage requirement to make it more feasible for Greater Minnesota, but we will continue to advocate for a wage modification in the future. Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester) was our strong advocate for making the program more viable for Greater Minnesota.

Greater Minnesota Job Training Program
The GMNP worked hard to develop legislation that would create an innovative new job training program to provide up to $3,000 in grants per new employee to businesses with DEED-certified training programs. We secured bill authors, received legislative hearings and succeeded in passing the bill through the House. However, the Senate did not pass the bill. We think this flexible, innovative job training program is what the state needs and we hope to get more legislative support next year.

Corridors of Commerce
The GMNP advocated for a robust investment in the Corridors of Commerce program from the state’s General Fund surplus. However, a large portion of those funds were directed toward tax cuts and building up the budget reserve, leaving little available for competing programs. Both the House and Senate Transportation Committees agreed that Corridors of Commerce was a priority and included program funding in their budget recommendations, but those committees’ budget targets were later significantly reduced. Responding to advocacy from Greater Minnesota officials and businesses, the committee chairs worked to dedicate a total of $31.5 million in Trunk Highway Fund dollars (gas tax, motor vehicle sales tax and tab fee revenues) to Corridors of Commerce over the next two years. In Fiscal Year 2014, $6.5 million will be provided for Greater Minnesota Corridors of Commerce projects and $25 million was appropriated in FY 15. This funding helps establish the Corridors of Commerce program as an ongoing priority for future state budgets.

Greater Minnesota Internship Program
The GMNP championed the passage of the Greater Minnesota Internship Program in 2013, and this year we helped work out some kinks to make it even better for students and employers. The changes enacted this year remove some restrictive language and shorten the required length of an internship from 12 weeks to eight.

Greater Minnesota Business Expansion Credit
Another program the GMNP fought hard to create in 2013 was the Greater Minnesota Business Expansion Credit, which allows a sales tax exemption on construction materials for businesses that want to expand in their current locations. In 2014, we helped make the program easier to use by convincing the legislature to simplify the number of employees and capping the grants. The adopted provision says a business must be adding 10 percent of its workforce in new employees to qualify and caps the grants so that one entity cannot absorb all of the money.