Commentary: There's still time to help Greater MinnesotaTo date, there’s been little focus on the needs of Greater Minnesota during the 2012 legislative session. Our rural cities are struggling to attract economic development, create jobs, and hold down property taxes.
By: Alan Oberloh and Dave Larson, The Republican Eagle
To date, there’s been little focus on the needs of Greater Minnesota during the 2012 legislative session. Our rural cities are struggling to attract economic development, create jobs, and hold down property taxes.
We want our Greater Minnesota cities to be healthy and economically vibrant, and there are concrete legislative proposals out there that could go a long way to help us strengthen our communities. Rather than spending time on politically divisive issues that don’t create jobs, Greater Minnesota legislators should use the last eight weeks of the legislative session to enact proposals that will provide real, meaningful help to Greater Minnesota.
Property taxpayers in Greater Minnesota have been hit harder by cuts to local aids and credits than their counterparts in the metro area. From 2011 to 2012, property taxes in Greater Minnesota cities have increased twice as much as in the metro: 6.6 percemt compared to 2.6 percent.
To make up for the cuts to local aids and credits that have been handed down by the state to balance budget deficits, many Greater Minnesota cities have cut staff, eliminated programs, and reduced their budgets. We’ve done our part to balance the state budget and hold the line on property tax increases, but there’s only so far a dollar can stretch.
It’s the right thing to do for the state to help us provide the services and infrastructure we need to grow and attract economic development. Putting $31.25 million towards Local Government Air would give cities at least a 5 percent increase and would go a long way to help us recover.
Attract young, skilled workers
Demographic trends show that the Greater Minnesota work force is aging and that rural communities are losing young, educated workers to the metro area. To help attract this next generation of talented workers to Greater Minnesota, the state should provide a 40 percent tax credit (up to $2,500) to Greater Minnesota businesses that hire interns from Minnesota colleges, universities, and technical schools.
Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud, and Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, have authored bills establishing the Greater Minnesota internship program. This legislation has already received committee hearings in both the House and Senate. It should be passed into law.
Boost private investment
In order for our Greater Minnesota cities to grow and prosper, we need new industries to start up in our communities.
The current Angel Investment Tax Credit program, which provides a 25 percent tax credit for private investments in new small businesses, is not working for Greater Minnesota. In 2011, 90 percent of the businesses receiving investments were located in the metro area. Of the programs’ total investments, 87 percent went to the metro area.
This program should be enhanced to provide a 50 percent tax credit for small business in Greater Minnesota. Increasing the credit for investments in Greater Minnesota businesses will draw in more private investments and spur economic development in rural communities.
Rep. Rich Murray, R-Albert Lea, and Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, have advanced bills to this effect in both the House and Senate. This legislation can and should be passed this year.
There’s been some signs of economic recovery in our nation and state, but we need to make sure Greater Minnesota isn’t left behind. With these proposals, legislators have a real opportunity to help Greater Minnesota cities grow strong and attract economic development.
Let’s hope they do it.
Alan Oberloh is mayor of Worthington and Dave Larson is mayor of Bemidji.