Minnesota News Roundup: House passes jobs bill
ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota state House of Representatives passed the omnibus Jobs and Economic Development Finance Bill late last (Wed) night.
It increases the funding fort he Minnesota Housing Finance Agency by $22 million, to $98 million dollars in the next biennium. The money will be used for homelessness prevention, helping low income people with rent, and developing more affordable housing in Minnesota. Chief authors Representative Jason Isaacson and Senator Scott Dibble say the bill was written in response to rising family homelessness and affordable housing shortages. Additional funding for homeless programs, including the Homeless Youth Act, will be decided in the Health and Human Services budget.
Officials at Boise are working to determine exactly which workers will be laid off at the International Falls paper mill this fall. The company announced earlier this month that it's planning to close two of the four paper machines operated there, as a cost saving and productivity measure, and the closures mean nearly 300 jobs, or a third of the workforce, will be eliminated. Eight unions represent the workers who could lose their jobs.
Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (DFL-Plymouth) has introduced a bill that requires new criteria for the selection of those who serve in sexual assault prevention positions in the military. The legislation came about after allegations that a soldier assigned to sexual assault prevention in Fort Hood, Texas had committed a sexual assault. Klobuchar says progress has been made on instituting policies to address sexual assaults in the military, but the Fort Hood investigation, as well as the recent arrest of the chief of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program on sex assault charges, "Are a chilling reminder that we need to do more to address this horrible crime." The bill would take a closer look at the training and experience of those considered for sex assault prevention positions, reassign those without the proper qualifications, and establish a minimum level of training and experience necessary for future appointments.
April unemployment numbers come out later this morning. In March, Minnesota employers shed 52-hundred positions, and state job officials are hoping the April numbers are trending the other way. Analyst Steve Hine says despite slower growth in March, Minnesota remains near its pre-recession peak job numbers and continues to outpace the rest of the country in job growth. Minensota's current unemployment rate in March was 5.4 percent.
Gas prices in Minnesota range from a low of $3.69 in Sherburne to $4.35 a gallon in Golden Valley today (Thu). Gail Weinholzer with AAA Minnesota says the recent spike has a lot to do with two large refineries in the Chicago area shutting down indefinitely for maintenance. She says consumers should not expect price relief of any significance between now and the Fourth of July. Weinholzer says the two Chicago refineries likely won't re-start operations until after Memorial Day.
Only five days remain until the Minnesota Legislature must adjourn, and Democratic-Farm Labor majority still have not agreed on how much they'll increase taxes. Senate Republican Minority Leader David Hann says he's afraid DFL will pass their bills so quickly that the public won't have a chance to see what's in them. Senate Tax Committee Chairman, Clearbrook DFLer Rod Skoe responds tax negotiations have all been in public -- and Skoe says his expectation is that the tax bill will be up for a final vote sometime Saturday. A top bracket income tax increase plus a temporary surcharge on high earners remain in the mix -- as does a cigarette tax increase -- but negotiators have not agreed on amounts. Skoe says there will also be some expansion of sales tax to business activities -- but not to clothing. The House has pushed for an increase in the alcohol tax but Skoe says from his perspective it's not in the mix.