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House passes jobs and energy conference agreement

Charley Shaw//May 16, 2013//

House passes jobs and energy conference agreement

Charley Shaw//May 16, 2013//

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Rep. Tim Mahoney (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

The House passed its jobs and energy budget bill on Wednesday night 73-59. The bill awaits Senate approval before landing on Gov. Mark Dayton’s to become law.

Jobs and energy were separate bills that were negotiated in separate conference committees, but were merged on Tuesday evening. The bill was supported by all House DFLers and Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, who served on the jobs conference committee.

The bill provides $30 million for the Minnesota Investment Fund (MIF) to help companies either locate or expand in the state. The House went into conference committee with $20 million for the MIF and agreed to the Senate’s higher amount. The House also came back from conference committee with $10 million for the Minnesota Film and TV Board, which was an increase to meet the Senate position from an initial $1.9 million amount.

“This is a good bill and it will juice up the economy,” said Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, who was the lead House negotiator on the jobs conference committee.

The bill also provides funding for the state Department of Employment and Economic Development to open three new trade offices in foreign countries. Minnesota’s only current overseas trade office is in China.

Mahoney noted that the bill reduces the rate that employers pay for the unemployment insurance at a savings of $346 million for the 2014-2015 biennium. The rate reduction comes as the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund is less taxed and growing as the economic recession passes.

A notable difference between the House and Senate heading into conference committee was the House’s position of extending unemployment insurance to employees who have been locked out by their employer. There have been notable lockouts recently in Minnesota including the 20-month-long lock out of American Crystal Sugar workers that recently ended. The House extended unemployment benefits for three years while the Senate didn’t have any extended coverage. The compromise between the two chambers was for six months.

The energy policy proposals are the result of a session-long drive by environmental groups to pass a solar energy requirement for Minnesota utilities into law. The bill in the final version will require utilities to generate 1.5 percent of their power from solar energy by 2020. The proposal raised concerns that energy rates will increase from the mandate because solar energy is currently more expensive that most of power sources. But criticism was blunted from the compromise to apply the standard only to investor-owned utilities like Xcel Energy and not electrical co-operatives or municipal utilities. It also received crucial support from the Iron Range delegation by exempting utilities electrical sales to paper and taconite mining companies in northern Minnesota from the solar standard.

Another bone of contention for the solar push this session was incentives for solar generation. The House had initially required utilities to collect up to 1.33 percent of their gross sales and direct the money towards solar energy development. The Senate had a more modest solar incentive to be paid from the Renewable Energy Development Fund that consists of money from Xcel Energy. The Senate’s smaller incentive prevailed in conference committee.

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