Although the main work facing state lawmakers as they convene the 2011 session today is erasing a $6.2 billion budget deficit, they've also pledged to help create jobs.
Republicans and Democrats say putting people to work will boost the state economy and help erase the deficit through increased tax revenues. But the two sides have clearly different approaches on how to increase employment.
With the state's unemployment rate lingering at 7.1 percent, Minnesota's new governor says job creation is his top priority for the 2011 session. Mark Dayton is the first Democrat to hold the office since Rudy Perpich 20 years ago, and he frequently repeats the Perpich mantra of "jobs, jobs, jobs."
Dayton also has said he wants to work with the new Republican majorities in the House and Senate to "get as many people in Minnesota back to work as soon as possible."
Dayton wants to work closely with Minnesota businesses and organized labor. Details of his jobs agenda remain sketchy, but Dayton said one way to help businesses is by streamlining regulations and speeding up the response of state agencies.
"We believe there are opportunities there. I certainly heard in my 114 community meetings from people who were dissatisfied with a lack of timely agency responses," Dayton said. "I could cite numerous examples of those who just felt there just wasn't a timely response, even within the existing frameworks."
Republican leaders say they're pleased with Dayton's jobs focus, and they share his goal to eliminate government red tape. House Speaker Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove said he wants to study Minnesota businesses that have moved some of their operations to other states, and then make some comparisons.
"Is it inspections? Is it extra regulatory burden? When you want to break ground does it take you six months there and it takes you 14 months here?" Zellers asked. "Some of those little things that when you add them all together it's two or three days out of the month that you're dealing with government instead of coming out and talking to customers, selling your product or your service."
State government can help businesses best by simply calming the waters and getting out of the way, Zellers said. The Republican Majority leader in the Minnesota Senate, Amy Koch of Buffalo, agrees. Koch said government cannot create new private sector jobs.
"It's the entrepreneurs, it's the capitalists that create the jobs in the private sector. They take the risk. They hire the people," Koch said. "So, a lot of it is 'stay off our backs, stay out of our wallets and let us work.' That's what you hear over and over from businesses large and small."
Koch said the state can also help businesses by improving the tax climate, but she didn't offer specifics.
Democrats say they too want to help grow new jobs, but they're not particularly interested in providing additional tax breaks. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook said when it comes to business climate, the state must be doing some things right. He said Minnesota already has more Fortune 500 companies per capita than any other state.
"So when people come to me and say, 'oh if we could just do something about taxes Minnesota would grow,' I say, 'well then why does Minnesota have 21 fortune 500 companies?' We've always had high taxes. And South Dakota, who doesn't even have a corporate income tax, they don't event have an individual income tax. They have zero."
DFL leaders generally support Dayton's plan to introduce a large public works bonding bill during the 2011 session aimed at generating construction jobs throughout the state. But Republicans say they're reluctant to add to the state's credit card debt, even in the name of jobs.