Omnibus jobs bill approved amid controversy


In spite of controversy over a $60 million transfer from an Iron Range trust fund, the omnibus jobs and economic development finance bill won committee approval.

Sponsored by Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont),  HF1049 would provide biennial funding for workforce, business development and housing-related programs in the state. Members of the House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Committee voted 10-7 to approve the bill and send it to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill would cut General Fund spending for several agencies, including:

  • 10.8 percent for the Housing Finance Agency;
  • 7 percent for the Department of Labor and Industry; and
  • 5.8 percent for the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The bill also funds a number of smaller boards and agencies that receive minimal funding changes. (View the bill and its supporting spreadsheet online.)

For a second day, DFLers voiced strong opposition to a provision that would transfer $60 million out of a trust fund used for economic development projects on the Iron Range. Officially known as the Douglas J. Johnson Economic Protection Trust Fund, it is funded by a production tax paid by local mining companies in lieu of property taxes.

Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) said taking money out of the fund amounted to stealing local tax dollars, and might be illegal. She unsuccessfully offered an amendment to remove the provision.

“I do not like the geographic warfare going on here,” Melin said. She called the provision “shameful and embarrassing.”

Other DFLers expressed opposition by making unsuccessful motions to lay the bill over and to refer it to the House Taxes Committee.

“We should rename this committee ‘jobs and economic warfare,’ because that’s what we’re doing here today,” said Rep. Bev Scalze (DFL-Little Canada).

Gunther said he regrets the inclusion of the trust fund provision in the bill, but that the bill had to move forward.

“This is the hand I was dealt,” he said.

Sen. Geoff Michel (R-Edina) sponsors the companion, SF887, which awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.