Herald editorial board

An idea being pushed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Democrats in the Legislature would come with a $900 million price tag and would require 352 additional state workers to run it. That's according to predictions from Minnesota's state budget office.

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The program has good intentions: To give Minnesota workers extensive paid family leave through their places of work. Yet the proposal would be big trouble for businesses and the people who toil to run them.

Just ask.

Doug Runyan, co-owner of Valley Truck Parts and Service in East Grand Forks, told the Herald's editorial board last week that the family-leave proposal and other tax ideas still alive in the Minnesota Legislature could be devastating to small businesses.

"Minnesota is trying to chase us out of the state," he said. "We provide 100 percent health care for the individuals who work with us. If we were to add the costs for (the proposed paid leave) on top of that, there isn't enough money to pay the bills at the end of the day."

Penny Stai, of East Grand Forks River Cinema, agrees.

"I still have a bottom line to meet. If they continue these taxes, I have to find the money somewhere," she said. "My prices will go up."

According to a recent survey of Minnesotans, others are equally concerned. When asked earlier this month by an organization called Meeting Street Research, a sampling of registered voters showed that 55 percent of respondents oppose a new payroll tax to fund a state-run paid leave program. Only 37 percent of those surveyed support it.

More telling: Of those who say they oppose it, 37 percent said they are strongly opposed.

The proposal comes with double trouble: First, it would allow for up to 24 weeks of partially paid leave - including 12 weeks of parental/family leave and 12 weeks of paid medical leave - to employees; that's 44 percent of the work days in a year and doesn't include holidays and other vacations. It also would apply to part-timers.

It would be crippling to many businesses. In a region with low unemployment rates, imagine trying to run a business with that kind of potential commitment hanging overhead.

Second, it would be paid for with - you guessed it - a new payroll tax on employers and employees. Again, for a business it's a lose-lose proposal.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is strongly opposed. The Chamber believes employers are in the best position to design benefit packages that serve the needs of their employees.

We agree. Businesses must be in charge of their own fate when attracting and retaining talent. A government mandate - and one that costs hundreds of millions of dollars to operate - isn't the answer.

Hopefully, the proposal meets the appropriate roadblocks in the Legislature.