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Senate bill would end JOBZ

ST. PAUL - A Senate tax bill Minnesota senators may consider Friday would stop Gov. Tim Pawlenty's Job Opportunity Building Zone program, his top rural economic priority.

JOBZ would accept no new businesses after May 1 under the bill introduced Wednesday. The program reduces taxes on businesses that move or expand in rural areas.

DFL senators included a provision to gain $244 million by eliminating what they say are business tax loopholes; Republicans call them tax increases.

Previously announced property tax provisions also are included in the tax bill.

The bill also provides $1.5 million to some Red River Valley cities to better compete with North Dakota and South Dakota. It provides $1 million in tax breaks for Fergus Falls to market the nearly abandoned state Regional Treatment Center.

Local governments in Mahnomen County would receive $1.2 million after a controversy led to the White Earth American Indian casino to stop paying property taxes.

Also Wednesday:

-- Senators voted 57-7 to put $629 million more into the state budget reserve. That would mean 5 percent of the state budget would be set aside, as economists suggest.

-- A joint agriculture-veterans program funding bill introduced in the House would require 25 percent of all energy (not only electricity, as now is in law) come from renewable sources. The bill also would increase funds for a variety of veterans' programs.

-- The Senate voted 63-0 to approve a two-year funding bill for the state judiciary system that Judiciary Chairman Leo Foley, DFL-Coon Rapids, said increases spending $73.5 million to try "to maintain the kind of court system that we really need." The bill adds at least seven judges.

-- Senators approved 63-0 a conference committee report that allows Duluth to invest retirement funds in a state program. The House is expected to follow suit. The plan would allow Duluth to earn much higher interest on its investments than state law now allows.

-- On a 42-23 vote, senators decided to set up a statewide health insurance pool for school districts, with the idea it will save money.

State Capitol Bureau reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.