Archive for December, 2009
December 14, 2009
It would have been easy to miss, “Sobering price tag put on health care” (Minneapolis Star Tribune, Dec. 12, page 6). The first two paragraphs read, “Democrats trying to get a health care overhaul through the Senate got a sober warning Friday. A report from government analysts at the Health and Human Services Department found that the nation’s $2.3 trillion annual health care tab won’t shrink under the Democratic blueprint that senators are debating. Instead, it would grow somewhat more rapidly than if Congress does nothing.”
Having made two recent trips to D.C., I admit I’m more than cynical on the health care reform front. But is it just me, or did this revelation deserve front-page attention? Most important, and buried on page 6, the story concludes: “Unlike estimates from the budget office, which have mainly focused on the legislation’s impact on the federal deficit, the analysis from the Office of the Actuary looked at total public and private costs over the next 10 years.” The report is significant in offering a long-term and broad-based perspective of the health care “reform” debate. I find that refreshing – and worthy of more prominent headlines.
December 11, 2009
The precious metal mine proposed by PolyMet Mining Co. for northeastern Minnesota is an excellent example of an extraordinary economic development opportunity designed with the uppermost in environmental protection. The hearings conducted this week underscore that the project should be approved for all the right reasons. The lengthy and costly application process also sends a clear message that Minnesota needs to streamline its environmental permitting/review process.
PolyMet will employ about 300 construction workers for two years. Once operational, the mine will support 400 families with stable employment and a payroll of about $40 million. In addition, more than 500 spin-off jobs are anticipated with an annual impact exceeding $242 million.
Environmental benefits are substantial, too. The economic activity will be created as PolyMet mines metals that each of us uses every day and that often are not available from domestic mines. It’s most responsible if we process these materials under our state’s tough environmental standards. We’ll also shrink the carbon footprint by eliminating the need to transport imported metals from overseas mines to U.S. processors.
And now for the real kicker. To date, Polymet has spent four years and $20 million on the environmental review – the first phase of the project. Assuming state agencies rule the Environmental Impact Statement sufficient, PolyMet then will begin the actual process of seeking the necessary air and water permits. It’s little wonder that Minnesota’s excessive red tape is sending business outside of our borders. Streamlining environmental review and permitting is among the Minnesota Chamber’s 2010 legislative priorities.
December 10, 2009
It looks like it is more important to “get something done – to do something historic” than to really solve a problem. After another day visiting with our Congressional delegation in D.C., that was the conclusion I reached on the whole health care debate. As one of our group noted, “Sure, they are trying to do the right thing” and “Sure, they really believe in what they are doing,” but at the end of the day, what will be the result? By all indications: No progress on improving the quality of our health care system, higher prices and a clear trend toward a government-run system. Scary actually, very scary. It may be hard to believe, but I am not sure Washington has ever moved so fast and we will all pay for it. Well intentioned or not, “the President needs a victory” and Congress has picked health care. Can you think of a more complicated issue to deal with at a speed Congress has never seen before? I can’t.
I don’t know how many times I heard, “We know Minnesota is a national leader on health care” and “We know Minnesota employers have a strong tradition of providing health care benefits,” but … Why but?
The best idea I heard on the trip, besides an earlier flight out: What if we pause for a year and put every member of Congress on Medicare? Then let’s debate health-care reform. Works for me.
December 4, 2009
The latest budget forecast brings more anticipated bad news. Depressing? Yes. Surprising? No. General fund spending is badly out of sync with revenues. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is at work on a three-part strategy designed to bolster our state’s quality of life while making our cost of doing business competitive worldwide. We will propose changing the way we budget and spend to:
- Prioritize services and reduce the likelihood that resources are overcommitted.
- Increase the productivity of services by totally redesigning the way many are delivered.
- Bring state overhead expenses in line with comparables in the private sector.
This is not just the business community’s prescription for reform. Our polls and focus groups show that the general public opposes tax increases to support general spending, and has deep concerns about the value received for every state dollar spent.
This message is not new and, unfortunately, neither has been the response from policy-makers. The real challenge and the public’s expectation are for policy-makers to focus on budget and spending reform and erase the old tapes. In 2010, we must take major steps toward delivering more effective public services with fewer resources. Just like Minnesota companies are doing.
December 3, 2009
As president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, I am frequently asked for my opinion on a variety of subjects. Sometimes I also feel moved to give my opinion without being asked. So when this “blog” opportunity came along, I figured, “Why not?” Some of my blogs will be serious and others not so much. Some may be offensive to some, but I am told that is pretty much in character which is the key to the success or failure of this opportunity.
I visit every day with folks from all walks of life from every corner of the state. These blogs will attempt to cover a host of issues that come through those conversations. My opinion on those subjects will be quite clear but, as always, I am interested in your opinions – especially as they relate to making Minnesota a better place to do business.