Labor and environmental leaders today warned that gridlock at the state Capitol poses a grave threat to Minnesota’s economic competitiveness, particularly when it comes to the emerging green-energy economy.
Minnesota’s government has been shut down since July 1, after the Republican-controlled Legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton failed to reach an agreement on a biennial budget for 2012-13.
The shutdown means layoffs for nearly 23,000 state workers, but the long-term effect of budget cuts included in the Republican budget bills – vetoed by Dayton – would be much worse for Minnesota, according to local supporters of the “Jobs21!” campaign, a partnership of unions and environmental-advocacy organizations working to grow quality jobs in the green-energy economy.
“More than 20,000 state workers are laid off right now, but the Legislature’s budget would make 5,000 of those layoffs permanent,” Jobs21! Co-Chair Tarryl Clark said. “Instead of offering any kind of a jobs plan, the plan the Legislature crafted and the governor vetoed was a firing plan.”
Clark, a former assistant majority leader in the Minnesota Senate, chided Republican legislators for abandoning their campaign commitment to job creation. She called for a quick resolution to the budget crisis so that the state can turn its attention to “implementing policies that will spur job growth in the long-term.”
Clark singled out policy initiatives that would get workers in Minnesota’s hard-hit construction sector back on the job. She called for a push to retrofit the state’s buildings and schools for energy efficiency, saving taxpayer dollars and reducing unnecessary pollution.
Clark and Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, also called on lawmakers to pass a bonding bill that puts Minnesotans to work building and maintaining the state’s roads, bridges and high-tech education facilities.
Melander said he believes a bonding bill – also known as an infrastructure jobs bill – is still on the table.
“We continue to be optimistic,” Melander said. “I don’t think the governor has given up on it.”
The top priority at the Capitol, however, continues to be budget negotiations. The two sides differ sharply over how to deal with a $5 billion shortfall. Dayton is committed to limiting cuts to public services by raising taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans, while Republican legislators have pushed for an all-cuts approach.
Among the steepest cuts sought by Republicans in the Legislature target public transit – an important cog in the green-energy economy.
The Met Council, which operates Metro Transit bus and train services, is bracing for a $109 million reduction in state funding. The agency this week will unveil preliminary plans to increase fares, cut routes and lay off workers as a result of the state-funding cut.
Bobby Kasper, president of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, called scaling back public transit options a step in the wrong direction. He said transit cuts will hamper the mobility of workers, seniors and the disabled, putting more cars on the metro’s already-congested highways and increasing pollution.
“Around the globe in China, India and Europe, there are countries moving forward on renewable energy, energy efficiency, transportation and other infrastructure,” Kasper said. “Each day they leave America – and Minnesota – further and further behind in the race for jobs.”
Jobs in the green-energy economy, whether it’s manufacturing electric vehicles or harvesting renewable energy, are unlikely to come to Minnesota unless the state makes the investments necessary to cultivate them, Clark said.
“We want to make sure the state is looking forward to the 21st century,” she said. “Minnesota has always been ahead of the curve. We have done that by prioritizing our budgets to move our state in a positive direction.
“But instead of providing a real jobs plan, legislators in St. Paul are proposing to cut the very things that our state needs to secure the jobs and industries of the 21st century.”
Clark’s campaign, Jobs21!, is an initiative of the BlueGreen Alliance, a national, Minnesota-based partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations. For more information, go to www.bluegreenalliance.org/jobs21.