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Dave Olson, Published May 31 2013

Moorhead business owner shares tax climate displeasure

MOORHEAD – Brady Olson, owner of Brady’s Service Center in Moorhead, believes taxes in Minnesota are out of whack, and he plans to air his unhappiness in public, or at least over the public airwaves.

WDAY-AM soon will begin airing a radio spot in which Olson takes aim at Minnesota’s tax climate and the state’s Democratic governor, Mark Dayton.

At the core of Olson’s displeasure is what he described as a history of tax increases he believes has put Minnesota business owners at a disadvantage compared with their counterparts in North Dakota.

One thing prompting his upcoming radio ad was the Minnesota Legislature’s recent move to boost taxes on cigarettes by $1.60 a pack, bringing the total tax on a pack of cigarettes to $2.83.

The tax on a pack of cigarettes sold in North Dakota is 44 cents.

In his radio spot, Olson references the increase, as well as other taxes, including Minnesota’s gas tax.

“I love Mark Dayton’s tagline, ‘It’s time to level the field for the middle class and collect from the two-percenters,’ ’’ Olson says in the ad. “All of the above are taxes on the poor and the middle class,” he adds. “It’s time to let them know we want less government.”

Olson isn’t the only one paying attention to the Minnesota Legislature.

Aiming to attract shoppers and businesses, the Greater North Dakota Chamber recently set up a billboard along Interstate 94 near Moorhead stating North Dakota was “open for business.”

Olson said one thing reinforcing his decision to air his point of view in radio ads was a public forum he attended in Moorhead this spring, at which Dayton was a guest.

Olson said he and other business owners told Dayton they were concerned about proposals to raise Minnesota’s cigarette tax when their businesses already were at a disadvantage.

Dayton’s answer, he said, was that the move was being taken to encourage young people to stop smoking and the revenues gained were not that important.

When it comes to staying competitive in a market spanning state borders, Olson is not alone in his concerns, said Chuck Chadwick, executive director of the Moorhead Business Association.

Chadwick said because of tax differences between Minnesota and North Dakota, businesses on the east side of the Red River must be at the top of their game at all times.

“When you’re dealing with a cost disadvantage, you have to be sharper,” Chadwick said.

State Rep. Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, said he knows where small businesses are coming from on the border cities issue, but he said the reality is Minnesota will never be able to compete with North Dakota on tax rates.

Where Minnesota can compete with any state, he said, is on quality of life, and Marquart said the fact 19 Fortune 500 companies make their home in the state is proof that things like high-quality education and workforce matter.

“The bottom line with this tax bill is, if you don’t make over $250,000 and you don’t smoke, you’re hardly going to be hit at all by any new taxes,” Marquart said, adding that lawmakers decided to protect middle-income earners from tax increases because they were the ones who took huge hits in the past 10 years when property taxes doubled.

“We said enough is enough,” Marquart said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555