Business leaders hope GOP's return to power will benefit them

With Republicans gaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives and both houses of the Minnesota Legislature, business leaders in the state are optimistic things may go their way on a wide range of issues.

Their wish list includes taxation, regulation, the state budget and energy policy.

Many corporate leaders figure Tuesday's election results marked a turnaround in how businesses will be treated.

"From a business perspective, it was a great night," said Charlie Weaver, a former chief of staff for Governor Tim Pawlenty and president of the Minnesota Business Partnership. The organization's members include the CEOs of the 100 largest companies in the state.

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The way Weaver sees it voters told government to focus on getting people back to work. And Weaver expects that means more politicians -- Republican and Democrat -- will support pro-business policies.

"That should allow us, should allow business to more quickly and more effectively grow jobs in this country and in Minnesota," he said.

Weaver says his group's top state legislative priorities include a reduction in the corporate income tax, to help businesses invest more in growth initiatives. The tax is now about 10 percent. Weaver says his group would like to take it down to at least 7 percent now, and eventually get rid of it.

At the national level, Weaver sees several issues that irked businesses going away, including proposed legislation that would have made it easier for workers to unionize.

Minnesota's medical device companies are certainly hoping the election outcome will help their efforts to address a looming $20 billion federal tax on medical devices over the next decade. The tax helps pay some of the cost of federal health care reform.

Don Gerhardt, president of LifeScience Alley, a trade group composed of some 640 medical techechnology, biotech and related companies, said Minnesota medtech companies could wind up paying about 20 to 25 percent of the device tax because of the high concentration of medtech companies in the state.

"That's an enormous hit," he said. "We are really concerned about that, how it impacts the state."

Gerhardt says an onerous tax burden could really harm small and emerging companies.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the state's largest business organization, hopes the political shift will lead to policies that foster private-sector job creation in Minnesota.

Bill Blazar, the chamber's senior vice president for public affairs, said the business community also would like some impediments removed. He said the permitting process is too slow, especially for environmental permits required for construction projects.

Blazar said businesses also hope the state Legislature will lift a state ban on nuclear power plants. Businesses would also like to see a relaxation in the mandate electric companies face for sourcing power from renewable sources, some Blazar said is driving up electric rates.

"To the extent state policy is making those rates or driving them up, making them uncompetitive, that's something the legislature and new governor has to address," he said.

But just how much of the business agenda Repubicans will be able to accomplish in Minnesota is still an open question.

While the GOP is taking control of the Legislature, it's not clear Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer will be able to overturn DFLer Mark Dayton's nearly 8,800 vote lead in an expected recount.

And in Washington, Democrats still control the Senate and White House. In the end, the election results may produce little more than gridlock.