Monday, February 11, 2013
Responding Responsibly to Local and State Issues
In late 2012, Mayor Ness and his leadership team announced they planned to raise Duluth's property taxes by 2.9% in 2013. The Chamber was the one organization that publicly opposed the tax increase. We challenged the Mayor to reduce the tax increase. Many of our members appreciated the Chamber's advocacy. The Chamber was applauded.
Similarly, one month ago the City of Duluth announced it intended to raise the City's Comfort Systems rate for natural gas by 5%. Again, the Chamber was the one organization that publicly opposed the rate increase. We openly challenged the Duluth Public Utilities Commission to delay any rate increase until more citizen feedback could be provided. Many of our members appreciated the Chamber's advocacy. Once again, the Chamber was congratulated.
Likewise, the Duluth City Council was poised to pass into law the City's new and more restrictive sign ordinance. Once more, the Chamber was the one organization that openly challenged the City to delay implementing the ordinance until more business community input could be provided. The City agreed to the delay. Many of our members appreciated the Chamber's advocacy. For a third time, the Chamber was affirmed.
Conversely, when Governor Dayton announced his budget recommendations for the 2013 legislative session, I stopped short of immediately publicly opposing the recommendations. Instead, I expressed an appreciation for the challenges being faced by the governor as he attempts to balance the budget responsibly and without borrowing. A few of our members did not appreciate this measured response.
Why a different response to the governor's recommendations when the Chamber has been so decisive on the local issues? It was in recognition of the complexity of our state's chronic budgeting problems. It also recognized how the governor's proposed budget provided a needed starting point to what will be an elongated budget debate.
I am reminded of the quote by H. L. Mencken, "to every complex problem, there is a simple solution - and it is wrong." There is no simply solution to our state's billion dollar budget deficit. State legislators have faced a budget deficit in eight of the last ten years. Something has to change. Change won't come by responding to this shared challenge with an immediate and simple, "no new taxes" or "no more cuts."
My colleagues and I at the Chamber are learning as much as we can about the governor's budget recommendations. There are many details to evaluate. We will also work to understand and respond to the subsequent proposals offered by those who oppose the governor's proposal. It will be a budget battle that will evolve throughout the legislative session. Through it all, we will continue to meet with our members to learn how the various budget recommendations will impact them. We will ensure that our members' concerns, suggestions and opinions are conveyed to our elected officials.
Be assured, we will advocate at the Capitol on our members behalf. We will do this with the same energy and conviction at the state level as we have done at the local level. Our collective voice will be heard - if we interact with the state's decision-makers in a reasonable, respectful and pragmatic fashion. If we do so, we have a chance to be a part of the needed change at the Capitol.
posted by David Ross