Thissen Addresses Southeast Minnesota Leaders

What's Important to Southeast Minnesota, Rochester Post-Bulletin

More than 200 people from across southeast Minnesota headed to St. Paul for the chance to listen to state lawmakers and advocate for the region.

 

It was all part of Southeast Minnesota Day Not at the Capitol. In the past, the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce sponsored "Rochester on Tour" at the Capitol — an event focused on the Med City. But this year, chamber President Rob Miller said the chamber decided to team up with nine other southeast Minnesota chambers to help lobby for the needs of the region as a group.

More than 200 people from across southeast Minnesota headed to St. Paul for the chance to listen to state lawmakers and advocate for the region.                                                                                                                                                              

It was all part of Southeast Minnesota Day at the Capitol. In the past, the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce sponsored "Rochester on Tour" at the Capitol — an event focused on the Med City. But this year, chamber President Rob Miller said the chamber decided to team up with nine other southeast Minnesota chambers to help lobby for the needs of the region as a group.

"It's important that we talk to these legislators about what's important to southeast Minnesota — not just what's important to Rochester," Miller told participants gathered for a luncheon at the InterContinental St. Paul Riverfront hotel.

Other chambers participating included Blooming Prairie, Byron Area, Faribault, Lake City, Owatonna Area, Red Wing Area, Stewartville Area, Wabasha-Kellogg and Winona Area.

The day kicked off in Rochester with a continental breakfast at Paragon Theater before participants loaded onto a bus bound for the Capitol. Buses headed for the event also left from Owatonna and Winona. Organizers planned the event at the downtown St. Paul hotel because the Capitol is closed due to construction. Instead, lawmakers rode shuttles to the hotel to meet with residents.

During the event luncheon, participants had the chance to hear from three of the four legislative leaders — GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt, GOP Senate Minority Leader David Hann and DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen. DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk was unable to attend due to a relative's funeral.

As leaders talked about their priorities, it became clear that plenty of work remains to bridge the partisan gap on issues like transportation. Thissen told the audience that the House DFL's No. 1 priority is to pass a comprehensive transportation funding package that invests not only in roads and bridges, but also in transit.

"We can't ignore that part of our transportation system as we move forward," Thissen said.

Daudt and Hann made clear that Republicans want the focus to be on funding roads and bridges.

"The more we spend on transit and trains, the less we spend on roads and bridges. That's the reality," Daudt said.

Republicans also reiterated they are not interested in raising the gas tax to pay for road upgrades. When Daudt asked if the audience had any questions, Rochester business developer Joe Weis piped up.

"I'm probably the only one in the room who thinks we ought to throw a nickel gas tax in there and get it settled," Weis said.

Daudt responded that Democrats' proposals have called for a minimum 16-cent gas tax increase and said they are trying to get it passed now because gas taxes are low. At some point, he said gas taxes will go back up.

Republicans emphasized the need to pass tax cuts this year. Topping the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce's priority list is a reduction in the statewide business property tax and the elimination of the automatic inflator on the tax. Both Daudt and Hann mentioned wanting to reduce the tax, along with phasing out the tax on Social Security income.

Thissen said House Democrats want to see steps taken to improve workforce readiness in the state. He said a common complaint he hears from business owners is the inability to find skilled workers.

"The area you are from, southeastern Minnesota, is probably the area of the state that is going to see the most growth over the next several years. it's going to be really the economic engine, along with the metro area, for the state of Minnesota," Thissen said.

The talk about a shortage of workers struck a chord with Rochester business owner Jeffrey Allman. He owns Multiple Financial Services Incorporated, a property management company, and is vice president of KPB Engineers, Inc.

"We have current opportunities to do great work, and it's hard to find the staff to do it," Allman said.

The daylong event wrapped up with a reception at the hotel that included food and the chance to have a picture taken with an eagle from the National Eagle Center.

Rolf Thompson, executive director of the National Eagle Center, was among those who traveled to St. Paul for the day. He said the event gave him the chance to make the pitch for a $4.4 million bonding request to help expand the eagle center, build a community center in Wabasha and upgrade the city's waterfront infrastructure. Thompson said it makes sense for southeast Minnesota communities to team up when lobbying lawmakers.

Thompson added, "In my mind, Rochester as a destination medical center needs communities like Wabasha to thrive in order to really realize their full potential."

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