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Senate looks at job creation

Sen. Tom Saxhaug of Grand Rapids tells fellow Minnesota senators Friday that the state should continue funding a state nursery. Don Davis | Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Minnesota senators opted to spend $383 million on economic development opportunities, with an emphasis on creating jobs.

Money would be spent on programs ranging from those designed to create jobs to attracting movie producers to improving worker training.

On Friday, senators voted 38-25 to boost spending to provide “the tools to actually create jobs,” Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said, predicting thousands would find employment and would get better employment. “This is a jobs bill, this is a very significant jobs bill.”

The vote generally fell along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said that he could not support spending all the money Tomassoni wants to when the state has a more than a $600 million deficit and owes schools more than $800 million.

“It is just going to be very hard for me to justify,” Ingebrigtsen said.

The emphasis was on jobs and economic development, but over the next two years, Tomassoni’s bill also would spend $691 million on the environment and natural resources, $80 million on agriculture and $64 million on commerce and energy.

Included in the added spending is some for tourism, which Tomassoni said could create 7,600 jobs across the state. Up to 10,000 jobs could be created with $30 million that would go to the Minnesota Investment fund to help businesses build and expand, he said.

The tourism budget would almost double, to $32 million. Tourism officials said much of the new money would be used to better market the state as a destination.

The Senate-passed measure also sets up the Job Creation Fund to replace the expiring Job Opportunity Building Zones program. JOBZ was set up to help rural Minnesota, but the new program can provide aid for businesses anywhere.

“We are building upon investments that work and expanding into new markets to strengthen Minnesota’s economic growth,” Tomassoni said.

One area with new money would be the state Film Board, which wants the $10 million to attract more television and movie projects.

“I know we have done it” in the past, Tomassoni said, but in some cases movies have only been partially filmed in Minnesota because other states offered better financial incentives.

For instance, he said, the 2005 film “North Country” that was about a woman taconite miner in northern Minnesota was partially filmed in New Mexico.

Sen. David Brown, R-Becker, however, said the money would be better spent to give those who care for the disabled.

The bill also includes sections not directly linked to jobs and economic development.

A provision would have required fire sprinklers to be installed in single-family homes. It was removed on a 47-17 vote.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said it is not fair to require Minnesotans to pay for the sprinklers. He said that when he asked senators a year ago, when the provision last was debated, none reported having them in their homes, so lawmakers should not require others to pay for them.

In the natural resources portion of the bill, $7.5 million is set aside to help fight aquatic invasive species such as Asian carp and zebra mussels.

Republicans questioned provisions establishing a broadband office, an effort to allow more Minnesotans to access the Internet. Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said most Minnesotans already have good Internet connections, so spending $500,000 on a broadband office is a waste.

But Chairman Dan Sparks of the Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee said that money would be well spent.

“Our rural economy also benefits from the bill’s emphasis on increasing high-speed Internet access, adoption and use,” the Austin Democrat said. “This expansion is vital to diversifying Minnesota’s rural economy and keeping our businesses competitive.”

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.