Legislative notebook: Dayton backs new Iron Ore Alliance

By Danielle Killey

Employees and officials at U.S. Steel want to keep their industry strong and hope the new Iron Ore Alliance is one way to do that.

“We need policies that will help the industry grow and improve,” Bob Bratulich, United Steelworkers District 11 director, said Wednesday.

U.S. Steel and United Steelworkers joined to form a group praised by Iron Range lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton.

“The industry has a proud past and we need it to have an even better future,” Dayton said.

Additional regulations and permitting difficulties put a strain on the industry, Bratulich said, and employees and companies still are reeling from the recession.

The group’s aim is to educate lawmakers and Minnesotans about the iron ore industry.

“We want to make sure the perception of our role in Minnesota reflects reality,” Chris Masciantonio, U.S. Steel governmental affairs manager, said. “We want to make sure the decisions made … are based on science, based on fact and not based on emotion.”

“We recognize mining is a challenging industry,” he added. “There still seems to be some controversy about mining.”

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, praised the partnership of employees and business leaders.

“We are all in this together,” he said.

Lawmakers push solar

Ten percent of utilities’ energy would need to come from solar power by 2030 if a bill proposed by some Minnesota lawmakers is approved.

Supporters say the plan would spur Minnesota’s economy.

“It’s about economic development, not just energy policy,” Lynn Hinkle, Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association policy development director, said.

The bill would create an estimated 2,000 permanent jobs in the first year, Rep. Will Morgan, DFL-Burnsville, said. Bill supporters said the jobs in the solar power industry include a spectrum of skills and expertise.

“These are good, family-supporting jobs,” bill author Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, said.

Environment Minnesota Director Ken Bradley said the push would help Minnesota create and utilize its own energy.

“We can stop importing energy and move our state to a better, cleaner renewable energy future,” he said.

Job training credit proposed

Greater Minnesota employers could see reduced costs for training employees under a bill recently introduced by Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter.

The proposal would give employers outside the Twin Cities metro area that meet certain requirements a tax credit to help offset training costs for new jobs.

“One of the most common problems facing our Greater Minnesota businesses is the lack of well-trained workers to fill the jobs available,” Ward said. “We have got plenty of talented, bright people and opportunities for training, but most folks simply can’t pay for it.”

The businesses must be expanding or opening in Minnesota for the first time and creating new jobs to be eligible.

“With a slow economic recovery in greater Minnesota, we can’t miss out on this opportunity,” Ward said.

The bill has Republican support as well, including from co-author Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake.

It will have its first committee hearing Thursday.

Tax changes

About 250,000 Minnesotans will benefit from a law signed by Gov. Mark Dayton that aligns Minnesota tax changes with national ones for the 2012 tax year, his office said Wednesday.

“As Minnesotans file their income taxes over the next several months, this legislation will deliver the simplicity and relief they deserve,” Dayton said. “I want to thank legislators from both parties for working together to quickly pass this important legislation. Hundreds of thousands of teachers, students, senior citizens and middle-class families now stand to benefit as a result.”

The bill authors included state Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook.

The changes include extended educator expense and higher education tuition deductions.

The law also eliminates some paperwork and makes it easier for Minnesotans to claim the benefits, Dayton’s office said, and allows taxpayers to claim the deductions without filing an additional form.

Indian plaque OK’d

A Senate committee on Wednesday approved placing a plaque honoring American Indian veterans near the state Capitol.

It heads to a full Senate vote, and a similar bill is moving in the House.

Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, sponsors the bill.

“We love our country,” White Earth Nation Chairwoman Irma Vizenor told senators, adding that a larger percentage of American Indians have served in the military than whites.

Vizenor came up with the idea a few years ago when touring the military Court of Honor in the Capitol mall.

Blake Johnson, lobbyist for Prairie Island Indian Community, called the plaque “an appropriate way to honor American Indians who have honorably served the American armed forces.”

LGA supported

Many cities are happy with an increase in local government aid proposed by Gov. Mark Dayton in his budget plan.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, joined by a group of Minnesota mayors, urged lawmakers Wednesday to support the plan and push for more local funding in the future.

“It is not a partisan issue. It has never been,” Coleman said.

The mayors said cities are struggling with rising property taxes and having difficulty funding repairs and police and fire services.

Coleman said this proposal would start to put cities back on track.

“I view this as stabilization more than relief,” he said.

The governor’s budget plan includes $80 million in extra funds for cities.

 

Don Davis contributed to this story.

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