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Danielle Killey and Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published April 15 2013

Jobs bill passes Minnesota House

ST. PAUL – House members approved a jobs bill 75-57 Monday that funds job training, tax cuts for employers and other economic development measures.

Investing in jobs and economic development are top priorities for Minnesotans, House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said. “So much of our future is based on that.”

The budget target for jobs spending increased by more than 50 percent over that of the last budget, bill author Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, said. It was the first overall budget bill of the session to get a vote by the full House, after about 5½ hours of debate.

At $139.75 million, the bill includes about $5 million more than the governor’s recommendation for Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The bill has $20 million for the Minnesota Investment fund and $18.5 million for the Job Creation Fund, both DEED job creation efforts. It also would fund a job skills partnership designed to train current workers when a business wants to expand or add new technology.

Under the bill, “there is no question the money will be there” for people seeking job training, Mahoney said.

It also includes a controversial provision allowing locked-out employees to collect unemployment for the duration of the lockout, up to three years.

“The impetus of the provision is really about compassion,” Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said.

Some Republicans said the lockout provision is problematic.

“That totally shifts the negotiating balance between business and labor,” Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said it “pays people not to work.”

“I believe it would make labor disputes last even longer,” Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said. “This is taking one side in a dispute, and that’s not right.”

Lawmakers added a change Monday that would exclude professional athletes locked out from sports teams from the provision. Those who made $150,000 or more the year before also would not be eligible for the benefits under a change successfully added by Drazkowski.

The bill includes a tax cut for employers, estimated to save them almost $350 million over the next two years.

Mahoney proposes opening three more trade offices throughout the world, bringing the total to four.

Republicans said the bill will hurt businesses and does little to create private-sector employment.

“This is a jobs bill if you believe the government creates jobs,” Minority Leader Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said.

The bill also includes housing provisions, such as $32 million for housing programs and $3 million for homeless youth services.

Surcharges proposed

Senate Democrats suggest adding surcharges on nursing homes and health maintenance organizations to help make up for a $150 million cut to state health programs ordered by legislative leaders.

A bill unveiled Monday by Sen. Tony Lourey, the Senate health and human services finance chairman, would add an $80 million surcharge on health maintenance organizations and $16 million on nursing homes in the next two years.

The budget also caps how much can be spent on managed care programs, an expected $53 million savings. The health and human services budget – which mostly goes to provide health care for the poor, disabled and elderly – would top $11 billion.

In his bill, Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, suggests transferring more than $400 million out of the Health Care Access Fund for other uses.

“Our committee was given a difficult task this session as the Legislature looks for savings within the budget for health and human services,” Lourey said. “This legislation doesn’t represent what I had hoped for as we started this session, but I believe this bill meets its target and still protects our most vulnerable populations.”