Despite welcome signs that our state's economy is beginning to stabilize after a long and painful recession, Minnesota still faces a serious jobs deficit.

Our most recent economic report shows that more than 175,000 Minnesotans are out of work and looking for jobs. Other Minnesotans are either underemployed or have simply given up looking for work in this difficult economy.

This legislative session, jobs should be our top priority. We need to think strategically and work together to get Minnesotans back to work. And we should do it right away.

That is why we joined Gov. Mark Dayton to introduce a jobs plan to get Minnesota working again.

It will help businesses grow and will retain good jobs in Minnesota by focusing on the things that have proven to work: providing small businesses with new incentives to create jobs, giving workers the training they need to get jobs in high-demand industries, and making smart, targeted investments in the state's infrastructure.

Included in our jobs plan are several initiatives we hope will receive swift, bipartisan support in the Legislature.

To help businesses grow and create jobs, we're proposing the creation of a New Jobs Tax Credit that would provide a business with a $3,000 tax credit for each unemployed Minnesotan, veteran or recent graduate hired in 2012 and a $1,500 credit for each new hire through June 2013.

Given the budget challenges facing our state, we believe it's critical that any incentives given to businesses right now be directly tied to job creation. Several Republicans have said they would like to pass across-the-board corporate tax cuts this session, despite the fact that Minnesota faces a long-term budget deficit approaching $4 billion.

We can't afford corporate tax breaks that will just drop to the bottom line of huge corporations headquartered in other states or overseas. That's why our proposed New Jobs Tax Credit is targeted at businesses that are putting Minnesotans back to work in good-paying jobs.

Our plan also focuses on attracting new businesses to our state and helping existing Minnesota companies grow and expand. We propose putting an additional $10 million into the Minnesota Investment Fund (MIF), which has a long and successful track record.

Last year, the MIF helped Agco expand in Jackson, which added 100 jobs in farm equipment manufacturing. Minnesota won the relocation of operations from France and beat out a competing facility in Georgia to do so. We need more success stories like this one.

While lending a helping hand to our employers is important, we also believe Minnesota cannot remain competitive without a world-class, highly trained workforce. That's why our jobs plan would provide $2,000 opportunity grants to thousands of Minnesotans, providing a foundation for new, long-term careers in high-demand fields. In other states that offer similar grants, those who complete retraining have a significantly higher chance at getting rehired and also earn a higher wage.

Finally, our plan calls for passage of strategic infrastructure investments like roads, bridges, wastewater treatment facilities and schools throughout the state. These investments provide the foundation for broad, long-term economic prosperity.

In addition, they allow private-sector employers to put tens of thousands of Minnesotans back to work. Better yet, if we act quickly, we can get shovels in the ground and paychecks in the mailbox as soon as this summer.

Our jobs plan includes good ideas to create jobs -- but they aren't the only good ones. We welcome other ideas and a productive dialogue on job creation. The important thing is that we get something done.

What we shouldn't do is say jobs are the priority but then focus on something else. We already tried that last year. The Republican majorities proclaimed a "laser focus" on jobs, but instead focused on divisive constitutional amendments. For the sake of what most Minnesotans want and expect of their legislators, we hope the same won't play out again this session.

Jobs should be our priority -- not constitutional amendments. Let's work together, bring our good ideas to the table, and act quickly to pass a meaningful jobs bill that will get Minnesota working again.


Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, is minority leader of the Minnesota Senate. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, is minority leader of the Minnesota House.