TwinWest revises tax policy, discusses future dilemma
Annual statement review draws concerned conversation
The TwinWest Chamber of Commerce held a Government Affairs Committee meeting Nov. 21 to review changes in policy for 2013.
TwinWest publishes a number of statements regarding the viewpoint of the organization and shares them with state legislators to review.
The chamber, made up of roughly 900 members from more than 10 cities in the metro, is about halfway through updating all policies, an annual process.
The statements are drafted through subcommittees and sent to committees such as government affairs for consideration. Upon approval, the policies are sent to the TwinWest Board of Directors for final discussion and approval.
At the meeting the committee discussed tax, healthcare and local government policies. Sixteen members sat in on the conversation representing companies and organizations including Allina Health, Minnetonka Schools, Centerpoint Energy and Interfaith Outreach Community Partners.
The tax policy, which involves state government spending and government services redesign, drew the most discussion.
While many of the changes were simply to bring the policy up-to-date from 2012 to 2013, some of the edits were made to accommodate the uncertain tax climate going forward.
Most noted was the paragraph leading with “Despite [cited] budget pressures, now is not the time to raise taxes…”
The new policy strikes the condemnation of tax increases and instead highlights the need to “… utilize current tax dollars … more effectively …”
Greg Korstad of Larkin Hoffman Attorneys recognized the language of the edit, but expressed concern for possible misinterpretation.
“I want us to have an understanding about [the edit],” Korstad said. “Does this mean we are saying that now is the time to raise taxes? We need to be very careful about raising taxes.”
“As I read it, we aren’t necessarily stating [it is time] to raise taxes,” replied Committee Chair Mike Lehmann. “But that if they [do] get raised, they get shifted so it’s revenue neutral.”
Much of the TwinWest tax policy calls for reduction in governmental spending and reform in taxation policy.
“The more we raise indirect taxes on business, the less accountability we have in our government decision- making,” Korstad added. “We need to say something that pushes back on tax increases as the solution.”
“This [policy] mirrors the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce,” said Judy Johnson, Director of Government Affairs at TwinWest. “I want us to be cautious on timing. [TwinWest] may, indeed, want to take a position on supporting a tax increase. We haven’t had that conversation yet, but some of the projects we’ve supported, like Southwest Light Rail, face big shortfalls in funding right now.”
Johnson clarified that within the current economic climate, a policy that specifies a “no raise in taxes” position could box in the chamber.
As tax conversation continued, Gary Aiken of Tonka Financial questioned the role of the chamber in tax policy and suggested he would like to see it function more in an educational role.
“We have a big opportunity in the chamber, and I don’t think we’re seeing it,” Aiken said. “We’re in a major crisis here and I think [the chamber] has a lack of direction. We need to get our arms around what’s happening and start educating people about the effect of taxes on our economy.”
Aiken commented that most people aren’t fully aware of the current tax structure and how it plays into the condition of both the national and state level economies.
The revised TwinWest tax policy was approved by all on the committee, save two members, and will move to the board of directors on Thursday, Dec. 20, for final approval.
TwinWest policy on health care and local government remain unchanged from their 2012 versions.
The Chamber continues to advocate health care solutions such as increasing competition, controlling state imposed costs, rewarding value not volume and improving health information technology.
The policy recognizes difficulties within the health care system in stating: “Minnesota is not insulated from staggering health care costs and needs to find solutions to this issue.”
The local government policy notes TwinWest’s support for tax relief for cities.
“TwinWest supports the reinstatement of the sales tax exemption for local units of government,
the policy reads. “One government taxing another government doesn’t make sense …”
The TwinWest Chamber of Commerce serves members from Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Crystal, New Hope, Golden Valley, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka, Medicine Lake and Plymouth.