Gov. Pawlenty says he sees lot of potential for green jobs. He says new employment opportunities related to wind power, solar power and other renewable sources of energy could be as significant as the information technology boom of the 1990s.
Minnesota already set a standard that 25 percent of energy come from renewable sources by 2025. Pawlenty says that standard can now be a springboard for jobs.
"Minnesota has been setting the pace for the country in terms of advancements in renewable and clean energy development. But we want to make sure that we continue to be the nation leader with respect to those initiatives," said Pawlenty. "And we want to make sure that we are encouraging and incentivizing companies to invest in Minnesota who are interested in renewable and clean energy investment and job growth."
Pawlenty's "Green Jobs Investment Initiative" includes an initial investment of $3.7 million to expand the tax breaks currently offered through the state's JOBZ program.
Additional tax credits and incentives phased in over the next five years would bring the total pricetag to nearly $90 million.
State lawmakers are expected to face a large budget deficit next year, but Pawlenty says his plan would have only a modest impact.
"If the economy continues in its awful state, and it looks like it's going to for the foreseeable future, it will be more important than ever to do things that will try to encourage investment and job growth in Minnesota. And for a very small amount of money, these proposals will do that," said Pawlenty.
Minnesota officials will have to compete with other states for some of the green jobs they covet. But Deborah Swackhamer, a professor of environmental health science at the University of Minnesota, says the state's diverse economy makes it well positioned for that competition.
Swackhamer, who represents the university on a new state task force on green jobs, says existing businesses are also ready to create green jobs, if they get some incentives.
"It's difficult for industry to change on its own without some initial assistance," said Swackhamer. "Sometimes they need a lot. Sometimes they need a little. But it's pretty hard to make that transition in the absence of some assistance."
DFL legislators offered tepid reviews to the Republican governor's proposal.
Sen. Ellen Anderson of St. Paul, chair of the Senate Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Budget Division, says Pawlenty is joining the green jobs discussion late, but she welcomes his participation.
Anderson says most of the governor's plan is not new, and doesn't address the state's immediate employment needs.
"His proposal will only fund job creation three or four years from now, and that's way too late," said Anderson. "We need a comprehensive action plan now. And we need it to happen by the end of the next legislative session. And so that's what we intend to do, and we hope the governor will work with us on that."
Last month, state officials reported an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent in September and a loss of 2,300 jobs for the month. The report showed job losses for the the past year at nearly 19,000.