Minn. House DFL wants more spending for jobs

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota House Democrats pushed ahead Monday on a big spending increase for state programs aimed at creating new jobs.

The centerpiece of the House’s jobs, commerce and housing finance bill is a more than 50-percent boost in spending in the next two years for the Department of Employment and Economic Development. The bill’s author, St. Paul Democratic Rep. Tim Mahoney, said it’s a deliberate effort to foster employment growth by spending more on job training, grants and loans to small businesses, scholarships and apprenticeships, and other economic development programs.

“For the last 10 years, the Legislature has been cutting economic development,” Mahoney said.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, added that the bill includes “all the tools we can get to Minnesota on a better economic footing.”

The House bill calls for $140 million to fund the employment and economic development office for 2014-15, which is $5 million more than Gov. Mark Dayton requested for the agency. In 2012-13, the agency’s state funding was about $83 million. The House bill also would hike spending on affordable housing programs by about $22 million.

Some House Republicans supported the jobs and economic budget when it passed through committee, not a surprise given that it includes multiple small spending hikes on local economic development and job training initiatives. Still, Republican Rep. Steve Drazkowski said the overall bill amounts to government “picking winners and losers” from the ranks of the state’s businesses.

“The bill takes money from hard-working Minnesotans, brings it into government and redistributes it,” said Drazkowski, of Mazeppa.

Among the bill’s elements meant to promote job creation include:

_ A $20 million fund to give financial incentives to out-of-state businesses thinking of locating in Minnesota and in-state companies that want to expand within the state.

_ A separate, $18.5 million state fund to give state grants to businesses if they commit to hiring additional employees and making large investments in capital. The grants aren’t paid until those employment and investment goals are met.

_ A $1.5 million funding boost for the Minnesota Trade Office, which has a mission of helping the state’s businesses tap into overseas markets. The money is meant to help the office open three additional overseas locations on top of an existing office in China.

_ Small funding boosts to several competitive grant programs for nonprofits that offer workforce training, and money for state colleges, employers and the Department of Education to collaborate on local education and training programs.

_ A $450 million reduction in taxes that employers pay into the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

The bill also includes a provision that extends state unemployment insurance benefits for up to three years for workers who are locked out by management in contract disputes, a pertinent discussion after recent high-profile lockouts at American Crystal Sugar and both Twin Cities professional orchestras. House members approved amendments to exempt locked-out professional athletes and people who earn more than $150,000 a year from being eligible for those benefits.

Source: startribune.com

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