Jobs bill headed to House floor

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He tried, but Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia) failed to convince his fellow committee members not to transfer $60 million out of an Iron Range trust fund.

Members of the House Taxes Committee approved HF1049/ SF887*, the omnibus jobs and economic development finance bill. Sponsored by Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont), the bill now goes to the House floor.

The bill would cut funding for jobs and housing-related programs by a little less than 6.2 percent. But as in previous hearings, most of the debate revolved around a proposed $60 million transfer out of the Douglas J. Johnson Economic Protection Trust Fund, which pays for economic development projects on the Iron Range. It is funded through a production tax on mining.

Gunther said the transfer is needed to help prevent deeper cuts to agencies like the Department of Employment and Economic Development. But Rukavina and other DFLers say it unfairly singles out one particular area of the state to bear the brunt of the cuts.

“You want to take $60 million away from the hard-working people on the Iron Range,” Rukavina said. He passed out charts showing that Iron Range trust funds pay for education programs statewide, and said Republicans are targeting only those tax dollars that go to the Iron Range.

“I want to hear why we have to give and nobody else has to give in this state,” he said.

Committee members voted 15-12 against an amendment he offered to strip the provision from the bill. Rukavina said he hoped to work with Gunther on crafting an amendment to address the issue on the House floor.

Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina) blamed much of the controversy on the “byzantine” complexities of how mining taxes are collected and distributed.

“I have no idea how we unwind this and determine what’s fair,” Downey said.

The Senate approved their version of the bill 36-28 on March 28. The House Ways and Means Committee amended the House’s language onto the bill later that day. Sen. Geoff Michel (R-Edina) is the Senate sponsor.