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DFL candidates for governor look at economy

ST. PAUL -- If they are Democrats, they must be talking about jobs.

Creating jobs traditionally is a key DFL campaign issue, and the 2010 governors' primary race is no exception. The three major candidates -- Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Matt Entenza and Mark Dayton -- all want to fund public works projects and take other steps to increase jobs, but there are differences.

Entenza emphasizes green jobs, those in the environmental areas such as making wind turbines or remodeling buildings to make them more energy-efficient.

"It is not part of my plan to balance the budget, but it will bring in revenue," Entenza said about increasing green jobs.

Since the state spends more than $10 billion a year on energy such as electricity, "if we spend even a fraction of that on ourselves, that will drive up state revenues as well." He would make sure the Commerce Department and Public Utilities Commission push energy-efficient changes in state facilities to use more home-grown energy.

Attracting green jobs would help revitalize rural communities, where Entenza says the biggest export is their youth.

"People aren't leaving our rural communities because they want to," said Entenza, who grew up in Worthington. "They're leaving because they often feel they have no choice."

The key to building the green economy, Entenza said, is a governor who believes in the idea and commits himself to it.

Another way to add jobs, he said, is to make it easier for new businesses to launch. Entenza, a former state House minority leader, suggests the state can use technology better, such as making state forms easier to fill out online in one place, instead of forcing people to visit many state offices.

He also suggested establishing a task force of business owners and government officials to draw up proposals for reforming state taxes to help job creation.

Kelliher may have talked about jobs more than other candidates, making it a cornerstone of her "No Stone Unturned Tour" to get more than 200,000 jobless Minnesotans back to work.

Her $25 million plan is on top of proposals to pass $1 billion public works finance bills each of the first two years she is in office. That is more than twice as much as generally could be expected, but she said it is important because the state-borrowed money would put construction workers back to work quickly.

"We can afford that," she said.

The Kelliher campaign still is studying the economic impact of her jobs plan, but said she is confident she can create jobs.

"By the end of four years, we believe we will have made a very significant dent on those 214,000 Minnesotans who are out of jobs," she said.

Kelliher, House speaker the last four years, suggests expanding small-business loan programs and providing easier ways for businesses to find state programs to help them.

Like the other two, Kelliher's plan includes growing a clean-energy economy by using existing programs and adding others. For instance, she said that she would aggressively implement energy-conservation programs like caulking and sealing, furnace repair and window upgrades.

For state facilities, she would retrofit 1,000 public buildings to reduce energy use.

Kelliher promises to attract at least one major clean energy manufacturer a year by increasing recruitment efforts.

Dayton said that unlike other candidates, he has saved and created jobs during his time as state official, including a stint as economic development commissioner.

Like most Democrats, Dayton's jobs plan starts with a $1 billion public works construction bill and includes plans to increase employment by boosting the green industry.

The former U.S. senator promises to promote tourism, which he said brings a $20 return for every dollar spent.

Entenza and Kelliher fear a tax increase as large as Dayton wants on the richest Minnesotans could affect business, which could cut job gains. But Dayton said he sees no such problem and the income tax increase would fund education, which all DFL candidates say needs more money and is good for jobs.

The argument against the tax increase is that many businesses pay their company taxes through their owners' income tax return, meaning higher taxes could hurt business.

"I am not cutting jobs, I am taxing profits," Dayton countered. "If somebody wants to pay no income taxes there are places to go: South Dakota, Arizona."

Entenza would dump the Job Opportunity Building Zones plan pushed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, which gives tax breaks for new and expanding companies in rural Minnesota, but Dayton thinks there is some value in it.

"I would refine it and target it and use it as one economic development tool," Dayton said.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.