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After 21 tweaks, omnibus jobs and energy bill heads to tax committee

There was a packed hearing room during public testimony on the omnibus job growth and energy affordability bill April 9. Photo by Andrew VonBank

The House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee put the finishing touches on its omnibus finance bill late Friday.

Committee Chair Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) offered HF843, the omnibus job growth and energy affordability finance bill, in the form of a delete-everything amendment that the panel approved by voice vote.

Members later approved 20 amendments from Republicans and one from Rep. Jason Isaacson (DFL-Little Canada).

By an 11-7 party-line roll-call vote, the committee sent the bill, as amended, to the House Taxes Committee.

Garofalo said he took pride in the bill’s “unprecedented commitment to Greater Minnesota workforce housing” and an end to “false trade-offs” in energy policy now that advancements in technology allow for “reduced pollution and reduced prices.”

Two amendments drew extended discussion:

  • only workforce housing projects without income limits on residents could receive Challenge grants under an amendment by Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau) that the committee approved 11-6 on a party-line, roll-call vote; and
  • an amendment by Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar) that would add propane-powered vehicles to a rebate program for vehicles running on natural gas. It was approved on a divided voice vote.

The committee rejected, on another divided voice vote, an amendment offered by Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) that would have deleted sections of the bill on which the committee had not taken testimony during the session.

Testimony taken

Nearly 75 members of the public — including representatives from businesses, nonprofit organizations, local units of government and state agencies — testified on the bill at hearings held over three days last week. The largest number of testifiers spoke against changes to policy on renewable energy in the bill, especially standards on solar power.

Loren Laugtug, a lobbyist for Otter Tail Power Co., spoke in favor of changes to the state’s renewable energy policy in place of “boutique niches created over the years for specific technologies or ownership models without an eye for affordability for ratepayers.”

Garofalo challenged opponents of his solar-power reforms by asking what they had against cheaper forms of energy that polluted less. The most frequent reply was that the state’s solar power industry deserved the same government support that helped the wind power industry grow and flourish. Testifiers also objected to allowing Canadian hydropower to count toward the state’s renewable energy standard.

Provisions on employment and housing programs attracted significant comment from testifiers, many expressing dismay at reductions in the committee’s budget for the Department of Employment and Economic Development and the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.

Mahoney warned Garofalo the bill faced a tough road to enactment after seven state departments and agencies raised scores of objections. “You’re in a hard spot with the governor,” Mahoney said. “The governor has to back his commissioners.”

The companion, SF804, sponsored by Sen. James Metzen (DFL-South St. Paul), awaits action by the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.


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