A three billion dollar question? That’s the Pawlenty estimate of the amount MN could get from the federal economic stimulus program, writes Bill Salisbury in the PiPress, and T-Paw thinks a good chunk of that money could go to resolving the state’s deficit. Not so fast, says Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, who says the federal package will be aimed at job creation, not budget relief. The TC Daily Planet reports on the economic stimulus wish lists that Minneapolis and St. Paul have sent to the MN congressional delegation. The focus? Heavy on roads and bridges and parks.
Senator, Governor, the race goes on As the recount trial begins today in St. Paul, former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza filed with the Campaign Finance Board, indicating that he will be running for governor in 2010, reports the Strib.
Another harassment suit for Jonathan Palmer Leah Ellis claimed in a 20-page complaint filed last week that Jonathan Palmer, now director of the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul, sexually harassed her, offering her $20 to strip for him, caressing her and retaliating when she resisted him, write Dave Orrick and Emily Gurnon in the PiPress. Toni Carter, board chair of the center, expressed confidence in Palmer and said he would stay on as director. The lawsuit says Ellis complained to Carter about Palmer’s behavior but was told to handle it with Palmer, and that other female employees also complained about sexual harassment in the work environment. Workplace lawsuits are not new to Palmer.
In August, former Minneapolis city employee Melissa Heus won a $15,000 settlement from the city in an employment-related claim against Palmer, said city spokesman Matt Laible. The claim arose when Palmer was director of the Empowerment Zone program, a federally funded, city-run revitalization program.
MN Job Watch New layoffs announced last week include 100 jobs from Arctic Cat’s Thief River Falls plant, says the Strib, and 110 from Polaris Industries’ Roseau plant, which will no longer make the Polaris Ranger utility vehicle, according to MPR. Andersen Windows announced another 160 layoffs on Friday, reports MPR, on top of permanent reductions of 50 workers and temporary layoffs of 400 announced earlier in January. Andersen said the latest layoffs will last at least through the first quarter of the year.
Hutchinson Technology cut its Sioux Falls work force in half less than two weeks ago, and announced Friday that it will close the plant and lay off the remaining 300 employees over the next three months, reports MPR. Sioux Falls assembly operations (computer disk drives and electronics products) will shift to Eau Claire and Hutchinson plants.
Strib union employees who took a buyout last spring and summer are getting the shaft, writes David Brauer at MinnPost, as the Strib, now in bankruptcy, says “future payments will be capped at $10,950 each — even if workers are due tens of thousands more.”
And in better job news The U.S. Census Bureau is looking to hire about a thousand people and is having trouble getting applicants. The census job site is at http://www.2010Censusjobs.gov.
The Minneapolis City Council voted to go ahead with scheduled pay raises for non-union employees, reports Steve Brandt in the Star Tribune. The group includes the 125 of the city’s highest-paid officials, and another group of 148 ranging “from fire cadets to senior attorneys.”
The Cedar Rapids Gazette reports that about 40 workers displaced by the trouble at the Agriprocssors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa have been recruited to work at the Long Prairie Packing Company in Long Prairie, MN. About half of the workers are from the Pacific island of Palau, with the others coming from a variety of places around the world. Under a “Compact of Free Association” with the U.S., Palauans can travel and work in this country without visas or green cards. Wages of $11.65 in Long Prairie compare favorably with the $9 an hour they were making in Postville.
JOBZ failing at jobs T-Paw’s favorite jobs program has some problems delivering, according to a recent AP article in Finance & Commerce. The article says 315 companies are in full compliance with the pledges they made to get JOBZ tax breaks, five will lose the tax credits for falling short of job creation goals, and 57 have been terminated for failing to meet targets, going out of business, or violating the JOBZ law, with 46 of these “subject to repayment provisions.”
The JOBZ tax breaks from 2004-2006 totaled about $46 million. According to the AP article, state officials expect a quarter of the companies with JOBZ deals will miss job-creation goals as the recession continues. One employer promised, in 2004, to create 25 full-time, $12-an-hour jobs by the end of 2007. Then he got an extension. Then he downgraded the target to 12 jobs. Now he says that, despite saving more than $!50,000 in taxes since 2004, the company will go under in 2010 when the tax breaks end.
Senate Taxes Committee Chairman Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, who sponsored the original JOBZ bill “said a significant number of companies were missing targets even before the downturn, and he wants to see more evidence that JOBZ is working before granting any leeway.”
A 2008 legislative auditor’s report criticized JOBZ, concluding that “it has not been adequately focused or administered.”
Bye-bye, Big Stone? Less than a week after the MN PUC shot down a challenge to the Big Stone II coal plant, the federal Environmental Protection Agency put on the brakes. MPR reports that the EPA says the SoDak-issued air quality permit doesn’t deal adequately with important air quality issues, including monitoring for SO2 and NO emissions that contribute to acid rain. Environmentalists say the Big Stone plant would also add to global warming. Sierra Club says the EPA decision “likely spells the end” for $1.6 billion Big Stone II plant construction, but others are not so sure. At the very least, the decision slows the process and requires additional permitting. Read the decision here and here.
Off to war About 560 Minnesota National Guard soldiers head out to training in Texas in April, before being deployed to Iraq and Kuwait, reports the PiPress. The soldiers are from units in Montevideo, Appleton, Marshall, Madison, Olivia, Morris and Ortonville.