Business in brief: Senate wage bill has tax breaks

The Senate cleared the way for an increase in the minimum wage Tuesday, but only with business tax breaks that House Democrats want removed.

Final Senate passage of the legislation is expected later this week, setting the stage for a round of difficult negotiations between House and Senate Democrats over how to get the legislation to President Bush for his signature.

In a key test, the Senate voted 87-10 to end debate on the bill Tuesday, well clear of the 60 votes needed.

Earlier this month, the House passed the same increase in the wage floor – from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over two years – without any tax provisions. Senate Democrats tried to push through the House version last week, but failed to get the 60 votes to end debate.

The vote Tuesday emphasized how Senate passage of the bill depends on the tax package to attract Republican votes. The White House has also signaled that Bush wants tax breaks in the legislation.

“Raising the minimum wage will cost some jobs,” Al Hubbard, the director of the president’s National Economic Council told reporters aboard Air Force One Tuesday. “We think it’s important to counter that with tax breaks that will replace those jobs.”

The tax breaks in the Senate bill have divided the private sector, pitting small businesses and retailers that would benefit from them against the larger corporations and manufacturers that would have to pay for them. The package costs $8.3 billion in lost tax revenue over 10 years.

Orofino, Idaho

Tri-Pro buying Konkolville mill

Tri-Pro Forest Products is purchasing the Konkolville lumber mill near Orofino, Idaho.

Tri-Pro, which has a plant in Oldtown, Idaho, produces cedar products, including decking, siding, boards and trims. The Konkolville mill focuses on specialty wood products made of cedar, fir, larch and spruce.

The sale is expected to close by March 2. Further details, including the number of workers at the Konkolville plant, were not available Tuesday.

Tri-Pro is owned by the Merritt family, which also own Merritt Bros. Lumber in Athol, Idaho; wholesale lumber trading companies in Portland and Boise; and real estate developments in North Idaho.

Accounting firms form audit group

U.S. accounting firms have formed a new private-sector group to improve audit quality and restore confidence in a profession tarnished by massive corporate accounting scandals.

The nonprofit organization, unveiled Tuesday, is affiliated with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and backed by the Big Four accounting firms – Deloitte & Touche LLP, Ernst & Young LLP, KPMG LLP and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP – plus the five next largest audit firms.

Improving the quality of public company audits and increasing investor confidence will be a top priority for the Washington, D.C.-based group, known as the Center for Audit Quality, according to executive director Cynthia Fornelli.

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