Is the 'jobs session' living up to its billing?by Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Republicans in the Legislature said their priority for the legislative session was job creation, but with about month left until adjournment it's hard to measure their success.
When it comes to job creation, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch avoids numbers.
Koch, R-Buffalo, has been suspicious of past jobs claims from legislators, especially those linked to bonding bills. She said the best thing lawmakers can do to help businesses hire more people is to simply pass a balanced budget without raising taxes.
"A responsible state budget will be very helpful in securing the confidence of businesses across the state," Koch said. "They in turn will begin to create jobs, begin investing and expanding and starting new businesses."
GOP leaders claim their budget bills primed the pump for jobs, with tax breaks and regulatory relief for businesses.
Legislators also are trying other strategies aimed at helping businesses which they say will result in more jobs. Earlier this session, House and Senate Republicans passed a bill to streamline environmental permitting, and Gov. Mark Dayton signed the measure into law.
Recent GOP-backed budget bills included a reduction in the statewide commercial property tax, but a Senate plan to cut the corporate income tax rate was set aside.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said he shares Koch's skepticism about the job impact of any legislation. Passing a bill doesn't necessarily create new jobs, he said.
Although Reublicans are avoiding job numbers, Democrats are not. DFL House leaders claim that as many as 30,000 jobs, including 20,000 in the health care industry, could be lost if the GOP budget became law.
Republicans are proposing a 15 percent reduction in the state workforce over four years. Dayton's budget includes a 6 percent reduction.
State Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, said the Republican budget would be like a major corporation packing up and leaving the state.
"They just keep looking for more ways to get rid of public employees and shrink the employment base in the state," Mahoney said. "I haven't figured out how they're living up to their campaign promises at all."
State Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Lake Elmo, said he's living up to his campaign promises. Lillie said those promises included growing jobs, holding down taxes and making government live within its means. Lillie said the fiscal belt-tightening requires some job reductions.
"If in doing this, in getting these reform measures and getting these things in place means that a few jobs are lost, that may be the case," said Lillie, who is in his first term. "But these are jobs that are state jobs. We're not looking at reducing jobs in the private sector."
Lillie and other Republicans appear to have no interest in Dayton's proposal for putting people to work through a big bonding bill.
Dayton wants to boost the struggling construction sector with about $1 billion in public projects throughout the state. He estimates it would result in 28,000 jobs. The governor has proposed half of the projects and he wants legislators to complete the list.
State Sen. Ken Kelash, DFL-Minneapolis, said a bonding bill could boost the economy quickly.
"We need the jobs now, as soon as possible, to get the economy [going]," Kelash said. "Those paychecks and the money circulate back into the community and into the grocery stores and paying rent. ... That is part of what stimulates an economy."
Kelash said he still thinks there will be a bonding bill this session, but he predicts it will be used as a bargaining chip in end-of-session budget negotiations. He said that delay could prevent many projects from getting underway during this year's construction season.
- Morning Edition, 04/18/2011, 6:55 a.m.