In a Star Tribune commentary ("GOP offers its best ideas for jobs," April 2), Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers called for a focus on jobs and urged everyone to come forward with their "best ideas." Unfortunately, just days later, Republicans spent hours pushing through another divisive constitutional amendment that will not create a single job for Minnesotans.

While such politics of distraction has come to define the GOP-led Legislature, it is not even the greatest indictment against the party's leadership. The speaker's list of "best ideas" to create jobs made clear that Republicans' biggest shortcoming has been misplaced priorities that put rich corporate interests ahead of the vast majority of Minnesotans.

The GOP's central jobs idea has been to "get out of the way" of big corporations and to count on their profits to eventually "trickle down" to jobs for the rest of us. The memories of the Great Recession -- and the culture of deregulated banks, hedge funds and multinationals that caused it -- should be too fresh for us to travel down this same failed path again.

You do not need to be a CEO or have an "Inc." behind your name to help our economy grow. We need a broad economic agenda -- one that recognizes that the strength of our economy hinges on both a vibrant business community and a strong middle class.

One key to future prosperity is matching Minnesotans' job skills with a changing economy. The people of Minnesota who actually do the work are as worthy of legislative attention as are the corporate entities that employ them. DFLers have introduced a number of targeted proposals designed to bolster proven programs focused on retraining workers in high-demand fields.

For example, instead of forcing unemployed Minnesotans to stay at home while collecting unemployment benefits, our "Bridge to Work" program would allow them to earn transition benefits and get on-the-job training in a new career. Since this program would use existing unemployment benefits, it wouldn't cost the state anything, but it would help create jobs today. Republicans said "no."

A quality education and strong economy are intrinsically linked. But our investment in public education at all levels has slipped. Minnesota now ranks 47th in the nation in class size. The Republican shutdown-ending budget borrowed a record $2.7 billion from our schools.

Democrats have introduced a responsible plan to fully pay back this IOU to Minnesota students by closing corporate tax breaks for companies that hide earnings overseas. If we truly mean to put "kids first," we should certainly be able to put them ahead of corporations. Republicans said "no."

Our commitment to middle-class prosperity is also why legislative Democrats strongly opposed Republicans' elimination of the homestead credit in the budget passed last year after the shutdown. The elimination of the credit caused skyrocketing residential property taxes across the state. We've advocated all session for restoring the credit for homeowners, seniors, farmers and small businesses -- the folks who really drive our economy forward.

In contrast, the GOP has proposed a series of tax giveaways for corporations and has called them "jobs bills." Business tax reform is something we should do, but not if it creates huge future deficits and imposes more burdens on middle-class Minnesotans. The Republican proposals fail on both counts. Their corporate tax giveaways eventually create a $1.6 billion hole in the state budget.

Further, 99 percent of the Republicans' recent tax bill is directed at tax cuts for corporations, with next to nothing for Minnesota homeowners. Worse, Republicans pay for their "99 percent for business" tax bill by raising taxes on 300,000 Minnesota renters, seniors and people with disabilities who earn less than $55,000 per year. That is simply wrong.

Let's put the private sector to work by investing in roads and bridges as well as in public buildings on college campuses and in communities across this state. We should pass a balanced and robust bonding package that will put people back to work right now and set the foundation for future economic growth. But again, Republicans keep dragging their feet.

The clock is running out on this session. With few accomplishments to speak of so far, legislators are in the middle of a 10-day break. During the break, I hope we all seek out our constituents' "best ideas."

I suspect we will hear very little about constitutional amendments and the need to give Wal-Mart and BP another tax break. If we truly listen to Minnesotans' priorities, we can avoid another do-nothing session by putting the interests of middle-class Minnesotans ahead of rich corporate interests.


Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, is minority leader in the Minnesota House.