Editorial: Jobs, jobs, jobs

Published 9:55 am Friday, February 5, 2010

Our politics is becoming dominated by a four-letter word: jobs. Everyone from President Obama to the candidates for governor of Minnesota, and including the 201 legislators gathering for session on Thursday, will be describing their economic and budget ideas as a “job-creation,” “jobs bills” or, for ideas they don’t like, “job-killers.”

This is a proper focus at a time of high unemployment. We welcome the debate over tax policy, budget changes and capital projects in terms of the impact on employment. Diametrically opposed ideas can legitimately claim to be “job-creation” proposals, at least in the short term. No one calls an idea a “profit-creation” bill, even though private sector profits are a key measure of economic health.

Some proposals will offer tax reductions, either targeted at technology or another sector, or across the board, as a way of stimulating business and job growth. Others will rely more heavily on public-sector spending, this year through the capital projects or “bonding” bill, which is generally the main business of the “even-year” legislative session.

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Capital projects can provide a short-term jobs benefit but it makes no sense to fund unneeded projects. Democratic legislative leaders will want to go higher than the governor, arguing that this will jump-start the construction trades. But that is a limited group of workers, and money for public spending must first be acquired from the private sector. Let’s build and repair as needed, but incurring unnecessary debt to provide temporary jobs is not a long-term solution.

An aside: A proposal to update a 1980s idea of directing subsidies to businesses to help cover the cost of new, additional hires deserves a new look; but it, too, must pass the test of helping the state’s long-term business climate.

There is no simple answer to these questions. The governor and Legislature face a difficult task, especially in an election year and with more cuts on the table. We ask that they recognize, as the tax-reform commission did, that a healthy and vigorous private economy is the key to long-term employment growth.

— The (St. Paul) Pioneer Press, Feb. 2