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Dayton focuses on jobs with latest appointment

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DEED Commissioner Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips was named DEED commissioner by Gov. Mark Dayton Wednesday. He is a former Minnesota Power executive and staffer with the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Gov. Mark Dayton used his latest cabinet appointment Wednesday to focus on creating jobs, an agenda he promised to keep at the forefront of his administration.

Dayton named northern Minnesota developer Mark Phillips as his new commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development. 

But while the Democratic governor was introducing his economic team, Republicans who control the House and Senate moved forward with their distinctly different approach to growing jobs.

The governor, who issued written statements to announce the first 16 of his two dozen cabinet appointments, held a full-blown news conference to name Phillips as commissioner of DEED. With more than 200,000 Minnesotans out of work, Dayton said he wanted to underscore his commitment to new jobs. 

"We will make it very clear to businesses throughout Minnesota that we care deeply about them and their success here," Dayton said. "We're enormously grateful to them for their important economic contributions to our state, and the jobs they provide."

He also that while officials will have to make difficult decisions to solve Minnesota's budget crisis, "the solution to these chronic budget deficits is more jobs for Minnesotans." 

Kathy Tunheim
Public relations executive Kathy Tunheim will be Gov. Mark Dayton's senior adviser for job creation. It's a volunteer post with the new administration. New employment and economic development commissioner Mark Phillips joined the governor for the announcement today.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Phillips, who works for Kraus-Anderson Construction, spent time earlier in his career with the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. He said he shares Dayton's strategy to engage the business community and make use of all the available tools in state government.

But with a $6.2 billion state budget deficit looming, Phillips said the job of creating jobs will be challenging.

"We're going to, as a department, probably have to do a little more with a little less," he said. "We're going to have to look closely at all of our functions and make sure we're as efficient as possible."

Neither Phillips nor Dayton mentioned tax breaks as a way to help businesses and grow jobs, which is the approach favored by Republicans.

Shortly after Dayton's news conference, the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee held an initial hearing on a bill that provides regulatory relief and about $200 million in tax cuts for businesses.

State Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, the bill's chief author, downplayed Dayton's likely opposition to the bill. Michel said he thinks there's still a lot of room to work with the governor on jobs.

"If the Dayton administration doesn't want to lower costs for job creators, then there probably will be some conflict, because we do."

"If the Dayton administration doesn't want to lower costs for job creators, then there probably will be some conflict, because we do," Michel said. "We have a high-cost state, whether you look at taxes or other measurements. And again, we need to position this state for economic recovery. Job creators have a lot of choices --  other states and now other countries." 

While Dayton avoided the tax debate, other Democrats were taking aim at the Republican proposal. State Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said he doesn't want to reduce taxes for large corporations based in other states, while small businesses in Minnesota get left out. 

"There's got to be an approach where if there are tax cuts, they relate to jobs being created in this state, and not jobs created in China or Mexico," Rukavina said.

Dayton also announced that public relations executive Kathy Tunheim will serve voluntarily in his administration as senior advisor on job creation.

Tunheim said she will continue running her company, and devote about 25 percent of her time to Dayton.

Mike Dean, executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause Minnesota, questioned the ethics of the hire, noting that Tunheim's company boasts on its website about passing bills through the Legislature.

"She has numerous clients that have public policy issues that she's helping them advocate for at the Capitol," Dean said. "I think it creates a conflict of interest that really needs to be considered before she moves into this position. I think it's very difficult for her to straddle both the public and the private sector in this type of position without it raising serious ethical concerns."

In another move, Dayton announced the re-appointment John Edman as director of the state tourism office Explore Minnesota. Edman has held the post since 2000.