April 29, 2005Getting tough
The Minnesota House took a bill that got tough on sex offenders and made it even tougher Thursday. As MPR's Laura McCallum reports the toughest provisions were proposed by a legislative newcomer:
Before the House voted 123-10 for the bill, much of the seven hour debate focused on two proposals by first-term Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano.
But again, are they really going to prey on the vulnerable before they change their license plates? And if a sex offender buys one of those DNR plates...oh, never mind. It'll be interesting to see if either of those provisions survives a conference committee.
While the House was talking about sex crimes the Senate Tax Committee has been talking about...taxes. Specifically they need to raise $1.4 billion to cover the new spending the Senate is proposing. This if from the Star Tribune:
Whether the income tax rate would be at the heart of that bill is still unknown, said Senate Taxes Chairman Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, but he said that only an income tax or sales tax increase could generate the kind of revenue needed.
Of course Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he will veto a tax increase, so get ready for gridlock.
In a brief look at other news, the deal to quickly re-pass the concealed carry bill is off. Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson says his caucus wants to take a closer look at the bill, although he's still saying he will bring it to the floor this session. Supporters of the bill are outraged and say Johnson is flip-flopping on an earlier promise to put the bill on the fast track. MPR's Tom Scheck has a story about that.
DFLers in St. Paul meet Saturday to choose either Chris Coleman or Rafael Ortega as the candidate to run against Mayor Randy Kelly in the DFL primary in September. Coleman and Ortega were on Midday earlier this week. Kelly, who endorsed President Bush for re-election last year, isn't seeking the DFL endorsement.
April 28, 2005Gun law redux
Just weeks after the state court of appeals agreed the first version was unconstitutional, both the House and the Senate appear poised to pass a new version of the conceal and carry handgun law. The courts were upset with the way the original law passed, as an amendment to an unrelated bill. Now a new version of the bill appears to be on the fast track. MPR's Tom Scheck has the story:
[Rep Larry ]Howes says the only change in the new bill would allow business owners to either post a "no guns" sign or personally notify a permit holder that guns are not allowed in their establishment. The old law required business owners to do both. Howes says the rest of the law is appropriate, and he is confident lawmakers will pass it. "The bill we passed in 2003, with all the discussion, all the debate, all the meetings is a good bill. We're re-enacting that law with one change from 'and' to 'or.' That's what we're going to stick with... I'm not going to accept any amendments in any committee or on the floor," he said.
How good are the chances that the new bill will become law? Pretty darn good according to the Star Tribune:
Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson confirmed that a Senate floor vote will be held before the May 23 adjournment, but only after an ad hoc working group and a standing committee consider further changes.
Why will the new law pass so easily? MPR's Scheck suggests that with more than 25,000 permits granted after the first version passed, lawmakers are convinced that the doomsday scenarios proposed by both sides in the debate never came to pass. In other words, the change in the permitting process proved to be no big deal. Still, expect quite a debate before another law passes.
Along with guns, Minnesota lawmakers clearly like alcohol-- alcohol made from corn, that is, and pumped into automobile fuel tanks. The House followed the lead of the Senate Wednesday and passed a bill that would make Minnesota an island of ethanol pumpers. The bill requires gasoline sold in the state to be mixed with 20 percent ethanol by 2013, assuming the feds give their blessing. The Star Tribune gives a flavor of the debate:
During a lengthy floor debate, some suburban fiscal conservatives argued that the proposal amounted to an improper interference in the marketplace. And some urban liberals contended that environmental claims were off-base and that the bill could produce more pollution of surface water and groundwater.
And the governor wants more say over how schools spend their money. This item is from MPR's Michael Khoo:
Gov. Tim Pawlenty is calling on school districts to ensure that roughly two thirds of their spending makes it into classrooms.
School districts point out that the non-classroom spending includes things like buses, janitors, libraries and computers.Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:31 AM
April 27, 2005Gambling and taxes
Is the money someone would lose in a state-run casino tax money? Phil Krinkie apparently thinks so. Krinkie is a Republican state representative from Shoreview. More importantly, Krinkie is the chair of the House Taxes Committee. And Tuesday Krinkie's committee got the power to decide the fate of the gambling issue in the House. The Star Tribune reports how it happened:
But Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, who opposed earlier plans for a casino at the Mall of America, surprised casino supporters Tuesday. She moved on the House floor to have the governor's bill heard in the Taxes Committee and called for a vote. Krinkie supported the motion.
Sviggum is clearly upset by the move. He had tried to send the bill to the Ways and Means Committee, which was expected to send it to the House floor. Here's what he told MPR's Michael Khoo:
Sviggum said gambling opponents may have the strength to erect obstacles, but they don't have the cohesion to offer budget alternatives.
And if there's one thing Phil Krinkie hates more than gambling it's raising taxes.
Speaking of painful decisions, the House and Senate appear headed for a major showdown over the health care issue. Unlike the House bill, which cuts nearly 30,000 people off state subsidized health insurance programs, the Senate bill bolsters MinnesotaCare. MPR's Tom Scheck has details:
The DFL plan actually increases coverage for adults without children. Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, said it's possible to make those changes and reach agreement with Pawlenty and House Republicans.
The Senate still isn't saying how it would pay for the increased spending. One idea floating around is an increase in the cigarette tax.
And just to show how hard it can be to be governor, even a plan to clean up roadways draws a lawsuit. Here's an item from MPR's Michael Khoo:
The state's largest public employee union has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration, arguing that a highway clean-up program improperly uses prison labor to replace state workers.Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:35 AM
April 26, 2005Shrinking coalition
Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed a state-tribal partnership on casino gambling because he said he wanted to bring fairness to the gambling issue. Now that another tribe says it wants no part of the latest casino plan, the question is fairness to whom? First the Leech Lake Band opted out. Now it's Red Lake. This is from the Pioneer Press story:
On Monday, the tribal council of the Red Lake Chippewa voted unanimously against joining the Minnesota Lottery and the owners of Canterbury Park racetrack in Pawlenty's latest gambling plan, which calls for two casinos to be built at the track in Shakopee.
McClung and others in the administration say combining the casino plans at Canterbury builds support for the deal at the Capitol. But at some point won't people ask why the racetrack owners are more deserving of a casino windfall than two of the poorest Indian tribes in the state? Red Lake officials certainly are, according to the Star Tribune:
Red Lake Tribal Treasurer Darrell Seki Sr. said the Red Lake Tribal Council voted 9 to 0 in part because some members balked at the idea of participating in a slot machine deal in which the tribe would join a non-Indian business in competing against Mystic Lake Casino in nearby Prior Lake. In addition to council members, the meeting included about a half dozen hereditary chiefs and a couple of dozen tribal members, he said.
Pawlenty's spokesman McClung says the White Earth band represents about 45 percent of the state's Indians, and that the three tribes together represent 85 percent. Gambling supporters say the negotiating isn't over yet, and that it's unfair to judge the result until a final agreement is reached.
Speaking of agreements, the goveror is endorsing the Twins-Hennepin County stadium plan...sort of. MPR's Michael Khoo has that story:
Before Hennepin County can levy the proposed stadium tax, lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty will have to give permission. And a key part of the debate will turn on whether county voters are able to voice their preferences in a referendum -- or whether the county board can impose the tax at its own discretion.
Of course no one, including Marty, has proposed a 0.15 percent Hennepin County sales tax to fund MinnesotaCare, but that hardly matters now. There's a stadium debate going on!
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:26 AM
April 25, 2005It's Alive!
Just like that, the Twins and Hennepin County have a stadium plan. The official announcement is Monday afternoon, but both Twin Cities newspapers had the whole story on Sunday. Here are the basics: A 42,000 seat, open air stadium would be built in the warehouse district of Minneapolis. The $478 million stadium would be financed by a 0.15 percent sales tax on purchases in Hennepin County which adds up to 3 cents on a $20 purchase. Twins owner Carl Pohlad would pay $125 million.
The twist is that even though no state money would be required (unless everyone decides the stadium needs a roof), state lawmakers still have to give their permission for the county to raise its sales tax. That's the angle the Star Tribune focuses on:
The 2005 plan comes at a time of extraordinarily tight budgets and stretched public services.
And Ranum represents Minneapolis. What will lawmakers like Rep. Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, and Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, think of making their constituents pay higher taxes to build a stadium a long way from their districts? And of course any proposal to allow the county to raise taxes will have to go through the House taxes committee, which is chaired by long-time stadium opponent Rep. Phil Krinke, R-Shoreview.
Speaking of proposals that are showing new life, how about this plan for two casinos at Canterbury Park? It sprang to life Friday night, with lawmakers in the House going out of their way to avoid the aforementioned Rep. Krinke. The speed with which the plan was patched together left some saying it smelled less than fully baked. MPR's Michael Khoo had this:
"We think this will work, but I can't say that we have worked with our investment bankers because this is something that's just been coming together in the last week," [Canterbury Park president Randy] Sampson said.
And while spring is the time to celebrate new life, it's also time to say goodbye to former U.S. Sen. Rod Gram's attempted comeback. This is how the Associated Press wrote it:
Citing the potential for a divisive campaign ahead, former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams said Sunday he is ending his bid to run for Senate in 2006.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:21 AM
April 22, 2005Methbusters
How tough is the Minnesota House on meth? Pretty darn tough. The House voted Thursday night not just to restict sales of over the counter medications like Sudafed and Actifed, but to ban them outright. Led by Attorney General candidate Rep. Jeff Johnson, R-Plymouth, the House went on a meth-busting frenzy. MPR's Michael Khoo has the story:
It started as an attempt to place certain cold remedies behind pharmacy counters, thus making it more difficult for meth manufacturers to obtain the pseudoephedrine crucial to making their drugs. It ended with a sweeping ban on many everyday medications. It passed on a 127-4 vote. Jeff Johnson is the chief House sponsor of the meth bill. The Plymouth Republican says he was surprised by how the bill evolved over two hours of debate.
Yes, once they started they just couldn't stop...restricting access to so-called meth precursors, that is. The people who know these lawmakers best say they hardly recognize them any more, at least according to the Star Tribune:
Lobbyists for retailers and representatives of the pharmaceutical industry were clearly stunned by the vote and privately pledged to work against the ban, which they said could affect hundreds of products in the average drugstore.
But as House members got caught up in the uncontrollable urge to fight meth, some said they were ignoring everything else, including their job to be fiscally responsible. The Pioneer Press story has this:
The bill also increases sentences for meth makers and those who endanger children and vulnerable adults by making meth. That part of the bill sparked debate on the House floor as some members pushed to remove the enhanced sentences from the measure.
Ahhh...that feels better. At least for now.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty Thursday ordered a security review of state Web sites. Could he have known the Star Tribune would have a front page story today about another problem with a state Web site?
A state website that takes license plate and credit card information from motorists seeking passes to drive in freeway fast lanes offered applications through an online link that was not secured against hackers.
There's still no hard evidence either way that anyone's personal information was actually stolen, but you can imiagine the political fallout if it turns out there were any crimes committed.
Finally, a lot of budget bills are being debated at the Capitol, and Senate DFLers say they'll come up with a tax plan in the next few weeks to pay for the new spending they're proposed. But one DFL Senator has announced her own plan. MPR's Tom Scheck has this item:
The chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee is proposing a one cent per drink increase in the state's liquor tax. The money would pay for supervision of offenders, drug treatment programs and victim's services.
So drink up in the smoke free establishment of your choice this weekend, but stay away from the Sudafed!Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:34 AM
April 21, 2005Half a plan
Let me see if I understand this. Republicans at the Capitol have two budget plans, and DFLers have half a plan. On Wednesday the DFLers in the Senate released their plan for about $1 billion more in spending than the governor has proposed, but no tax plan explaining how they would raise that money. And in doing so they handed their Republican opponents a club which the GOP immediately used to bash the Democrats. MPR's Laura McCallum has the story:
"I believe this budget will come down to a battle for the heart and soul of Minnesota's future," Johnson says. Johnson says the budgets proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and House Republicans would lead to higher property taxes and higher fees, and would rely on gambling money. He says the Senate DFL budget will not include any of those revenue sources, but he wouldn't say what taxes would rise to pay for the new spending.
Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, who chairs the Senate Tax Committee, says he'll begin working on a plan today. But Pogemiller has never been one to worry too much about legislative deadlines. Meanwhile the House is proceeding with its two-track budget process, with one plan counting money from gambling and the other not. MPR's Tom Scheck has a look at debate over the House health and human services budget:
"I can't kid anybody, I don't have a magic money tree. For those who say don't do this, don't do that, give me an alternative. I don't have that," Bradley said.
There's more fallout from the security problems with the state's license tab Web site. The Legislative Audit Commission held a hearing on the issue Wednesday. The Star Tribune has that story:
Sen. Thomas Neuville, R-Northfield, asked Legislative Auditor James Nobles if he could offer assurances that the problems with the Department of Public Safety's motor vehicle website are unique among state agencies.
Finally Howard Dean was in the Twin Cities Wednesday to speak to an ACLU gathering. One of the things he talked about was the fallout from the Terry Schiavo case. Here's the item from MPR:
The chairman of the Democratic National Committee says he believes the Terry Schiavo case will provoke a backlash against Republicans.
Listen for Dean's whole speech on Wednesday's Midday.Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:32 AM
April 20, 2005Wrong again!
Well, the Vatican pundits got it wrong. They fell for the old "Ratzinger is too obvious a choice" feint, and of course it turned out to be Ratzinger. I also heard quite a few times that the new pope would pick "John Paul III" as a name to honor the former pope. They were wrong about that one too. This is just to say it's probably a good idea not to believe everything you hear about the new pope in the next few days.
Moving from Rome to St. Paul, the budget bills are flying at the Capitol. Hidden in the inside pages of the newspapers is the health and human services funding bill proposed by the House GOP majority. A key feature of the bill is deeper cuts to the MinnesotaCare program than even those proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Sticking with our papal theme, Star Tribune reporter Patricia Lopez includes a little Catholic reaction:
Admittedly, we've made some tough choices here," [Rep. Fran]Bradley said. But even without the racino money, he said, health care spending would increase 15 percent over two years. "We really do a good job for the needy in this bill," he said, noting that Minnesota would still be spending more on health care for working adults than any other state in the region.
Does that include approving a racino? The House budget plans go along two tracks. One is slightly more generous than the other because it includes revenue from state-run casino gambling. But the gambling plan is in trouble. Listen to Gov. Pawlenty's slightly less than enthusiastic prognosis in MPR's Michael Khoo's story:
Pawlenty says he's disappointed that Leech Lake has vetoed any cooperation with Canterbury. But Pawlenty says he's not ready to scrap his push for new gambling revenues.
Now listen to the House authors of the gambling bills:
Rep. Andy Westerberg, R-Blaine, is the chief House sponsor of the state-tribal partnership. He says the gambling debate cuts across so many interests that it's difficult to find consensus.
The DFL majority in the Senate is expected to announce its big-picture budget plan today. It's a sure bet it won't include gambling.
April 19, 2005News roundup
A state Web site is down, gambling takes another hit, budget bills start moving and the child support system appears headed for a change. That's the news in a nutshell. Let's take a closer look. First that Web site. The Pioneer Press reports the site where you order new license tabs may not be secure:
State auditors discovered security flaws in the state's popular online license tab renewal site, and officials shut it down two weeks ago.
Hmmm, maybe you should have made sure of that before 360,000 people used it. Oh well, I guess it beats standing in line at Sears.
In another sign the governor's push for state-sponsored casino gambling is in trouble one of his tribal partners says merging the governor's plan with a racino is a no-go. This is from the Star Tribune:
"We just didn't see a benefit to us as a tribe," Leech Lake Tribal Chairman George Goggleye said of such a partnership. "We saw the possibility the revenues would be cut in half. We looked at some numbers."
Of course if Leech Lake is out of a merged plan and the other two bands are still in, that's more money for them, right?. That assumes any plan can get through the House Taxes Committee. And that's a big assumption.
As for the budget sans gambling revenue, the bills are starting to emerge. MPR's Michael Khoo had this item:
The first budget bill of the year has arrived at the state Capitol.The $530 million package funds the Legislature, state agencies, and state executive offices.
And the question isn't so much whether the Senate plan will include a tax increase, but more likely what tax and how much of an increase?
And while the budget debate is just getting underway, MPR's Laura McCallum has a look at changes to the child support system that look likely to become law:
Sen. Tom Neuville, R-Northfield, says basing child support on the income of both parents is more fair, and would lead to fewer custody battles in the courts. "A divorce starts out and right away the father starts to contest custody, when all he really wants, is he wants a little more time, and he wants to pay a little less money," according to Neuville.
It's no small debate. Officials say about 300,000 children in Minnesota would be affected.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:28 AM
April 18, 2005Klobuchar's in
After raising nearly $600,000 over the past two months to fund her campaign for U.S. Senate Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar announced Sunday she actually wants the job. MPR's Mark Zdechlik has some details of where Klobuchar stands at the start of her campaign:
Klobuchar, 44, is in her seventh year as Hennepin County attorney. She touted her record as a prosecutor. She pledged to bring "Minnesota common sense" to Washington.
In the Pioneer Press, Bill Salisbury notes a key reason why Klobuchar made her announcement at her mother's house in Plymouth:
In a state where being a big-city liberal can be a political liability, the site of her announcement emphasized her roots in the suburbs, where voters often decide statewide elections. She also stressed her outstate ties: Her grandfather was an iron ore miner in Ely, and her husband, John Bessler, is from Mankato.
So far Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy is the only other candidate to delare officially that he's running for Senate in '06.
The budget debate at the Capitol is expected to pick up this week as Senate Democrats release their plan. In the Star Tribune Dane Smith has a profile of GOP Rep. Dan Dorman, who may become a key swing vote:
State Rep. Dan Dorman has bucked his Republican governor and House caucus on cuts in state aid to local governments and schools, made common cause with DFLers in a demand for a bigger state budget and broken with conservatives by supporting a minimum-wage increase. Lately he has hinted that he might not support Gov. Tim Pawlenty's plans to expand gambling unless there is compromise on other matters.
It certainly didn't happen last week when the House GOP majority passed its budget resolution on a party-line vote.
The biggest political story of the week in happening in Rome, and it's all behind closed doors. The politicing around the election of a new pope is absolutely fascinating. Here are some basics from the Associated Press:
Although the conclave could last for days, a pope could be chosen as early as Monday afternoon if the red-capped prelates opt to begin casting ballots after their solemn procession from the Vatican's Apostolic Palace to the chapel.
An election without TV ads, rallies or conventions. Wow.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:50 AM
April 15, 2005Koering fallout
I still don't think the Paul Koering story is a very big deal. But, I'm writing about it again today. Koering is the Republican state Senator from the Brainerd area who announced the other day that he is gay. Both Twin Cities newspapers travelled to Brainerd to see what Koering's constituents think of the revelation. Bill Salisbury's story in the Pioneer Press seems to confirm my feeling about the story:
If any of Sen. Paul Koering's constituents were shocked or outraged by his public revelation that he is gay, they were hard to find Thursday in this, the largest city in his north-central Minnesota district.
Writing in the Star Tribune, Chuck Haga found some people more upset:
Tammy McMillion, a secretary at the First Presbyterian Church in Brainerd, said that she has known Koering "for quite a while" and suspected that he was gay. "But when I heard about this, I thought, 'What an idiot! He doesn't want to get reelected,' " she said.
MPR's Michael Khoo reports that no matter what the voters think of Koering's announcement, the political professionals are giving it a thumbs down:
"The vote will absolutely hurt him," says Brian Lehman, the chair of the Crow Wing County Republican Party. He says Koering should have been more upfront about his sexual orientation before he began his political career.
On to other issues. MPR's Laura McCallum takes a look at those "grow and spend" ads and whether higher taxes really mean slower growth:
The head of the Minnesota Business Partnership, Charlie Weaver, says creating jobs will boost the state's revenues without a tax increase.
Of course we know whose side the governor is on.
Two Ventura administration officials made political announcements Thursday. Jack Uldrich is preparing an IP run for U.S. Senate. And former MnDOT Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg says he's running for Congress in the 6th District. Tinklenberg is the first Democrat to officially announce a bid.
Today is the last day on the job for Washington County Sheriff Jim Frank. Frank has been in law enforcement for 35 years, starting as a police officer in St. Paul.
Good luck to Sheriff Frank.
April 14, 2005New twist in marriage debate
Until now much of the coverage of the debate over gay marriage in the Minnesota Senate has focused on Sen. Michele Bachmann. But now one of Bachmann's GOP colleagues has announced he's gay. The Brainerd Dispatch has the story:
An emotional Sen. Paul Koering, prompted in part by last week's procedural vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, announced Wednesday he was gay.
The Star Tribune has more details about how Koering's personal life might affect his vote on the proposed constitutional amendment:
Exactly where he stands now, and how he will vote in the future, is not clear. He supports letting voters decide, but said that any gay marriage ban should not interfere with "legal contracts that we have between people. I do support what's in statute [state law], and statute says marriage is between a man and a woman," Koering said. "I don't know that I have a right to deny people the right to vote on something, but I'm certainly going to be watching closely that the bill that comes forward is a bill that's fair to everybody."
The subtext to all this is a roiling behind the scenes debate on the gay marriage issue. A lot of it is happening in blogs. If you want to see what all the fuss is about start here.
While the marriage debate is going on the Legislature is still working on the budget. On Wednesday the House passed a unique two pronged budget resolution on a party line vote. MPR's Laura McCallum has details:
DFL leaders say [Republican House Speaker Steve] Sviggum is offering a false choice. Rep. Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, compared the options to a bad episode of the game show "Let's Make a Deal"
And the Star Tribune reports that supporters of MinnesotaCare are organizing to opposes Gov. Pawlenty's proposal to cut coverage for 27,000 people:
Minnesotans for Affordable Health Care has blown the dust off its old incorporation papers, reconvened a decade-old executive committee and resumed fundraising, organizers said.
So, let's review. The budget is coming up $200 million short. Thousands of people face the loss of health insurance. Schools across Minnesota say they need more money. And the big story of the day is...gay marriage.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:38 AM
April 13, 2005Shot down
The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling that the 2003 gun permit law is unconstitutional. Supporters of the law seem to be running out of options. MPR's Tom Scheck has the lead:
In the opinion, Judge R.A. Randall writes that the Court of Appeals was not ruling on the gun law's merits, but rather on whether the process by which it became law is constitutional. The state constitution says lawmakers cannot combine unrelated subjects into one bill.
The question people have been asking me since the original court decision on this law is, won't this put a whole bunch of laws in jeopardy because the Legislature does this all the time? The answer apparently is no. This is only the fifth time courts have thrown out laws on this basis since statehood. The fact is the Legislature doesn't do this all the time. Even the huge omnibus budget bills generally contain related subjects. But still, lawmakers say they're being more careful. And as Scheck notes, there are still a few steps to go before there's a final word on this law:
Gov. Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung says the governor will lobby the Legislature to pass the bill again. He says there have been few problems with permit holders.
[CEO Doug] Steenland was never flustered by any question pitched his way. He was not pressed hard on hot-button topics such as the outsourcing of aircraft maintenance work. Actually, going into the hearing, the committee agreed that he wouldn't have to answer any labor questions.
And finally, the budget debate is beginning. The House Ways and Means Committee agreed on two sets of budget targets Tuesday night...one that counts on gambling revenue and one that doesn't. And if that wasn't problematic enough for the GOP majority, it looks like the DFL is actually going to put up a fight this year. This is from MPR's Michael Khoo's story:
Committee Democrats blasted the two-pronged approach as unwieldy and irresponsible. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virgina, joked that if House leaders want to leave all options open, they should consider a third option that puts Democrats in charge of the process.
Hang on tight. Things are going to get interesting from here on out.Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:32 AM
April 12, 2005Gas price blues
It's a good news, bad news situation. Minnesota's tax collections are up, but rising oil prices could hold down future growth. The information comes from a new budget update. Minnesota Public Radio's Michael Khoo has this item:
Revenues for February and March were up 3.5 percent over projections, driven in large part by higher-than-expected payments from the sales tax and the corporate income tax.
It just goes to show how hard it is to project the budget two years out. And it's another reminder that Minnesota is unlikely to grow out of its budget problems.
As gas prices rise the Star Tribune has an item about two lawmakers who want to repeal a measure that sets a minimum price for gas sold in Minnesota:
Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-North St. Paul, and Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, would repeal the law, saying consumers are ill-served by artificially inflated prices at the pump.
The group representing gas station owners says the price floor protects small stations, and if it were lifted it would help big chains that undercut mom and pop operations.
The governor chose to highlight a form of mass transit as he signed the bonding bill Monday. This is from the Pioneer Press:
"Northstar commuter rail … is going to provide relief to commuters who are tired of sitting in their cars and wanted other options to be able to get to work or to their other commitments in life more quickly and more safely," [Gov. Tim] Pawlenty said during a bonding-bill-signing ceremony at the site of a future Northstar station in Coon Rapids.
So if you thought it took a long time to get that $37.5 million you ain't seen nothing yet. The feds have to kick in $132 million and the supporters will ask the state for another $50 million next year. And you thought gas prices were high!
Where can you get free money these days? Well, only at the Capitol today. And only if you're a school kid. This is from Perry Finelli's 7 a.m. newscast on MPR:
Gov. Tim Pawlenty releases Minnesota's new state quarter this afternoon at the State Capitol. School children will be able to get free quarters and everyone else can buy $10 rolls.
Elizabeth Isham Cory, a spokeswoman for the FAA, said Flight 97 left Saturday from Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport bound for Honolulu. The flight crew didn't notice that the cone-shaped engine part - called a thrust reverser nozzle - was missing until the DC-10 had landed, she said.
"Extra mechanism?" I don't know about you, but when I'm on the plane there's no such thing as an "extra mechanism" on the engine. Please keep all of the mechanisms on the plane!
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:58 AM
April 11, 2005Catching up
What a weekend! Nice weather, Hillary Clinton, Karl Rove and Tiger Woods. Let's catch up on some news. The Red Lake High School reopens this week. MPR's Tom Robertson has an interview with one of the teachers who was in the building during the shootings:
Chris Johnson was in his welding shop in the old section of the school. All but one of the shootings took place in a newer section, which opened just last fall. Johnson's classroom was empty, just himself and a custodian named Tom. Johnson recalls it was maybe five minutes before 3 p.m.
MPR's Laura McCallum has an item about that visit from Sen, Hillary Rodham Clinton:
The New York Democrat spoke at the DFL's annual Hubert H. Humphrey dinner. Clinton says the Bush administration is trying to undo the progress made during the presidency of her husband, Bill Clinton. She criticized the Bush administration for the growing federal deficit and the president's plan to overhaul Social Security.
One thing Clinton didn't mention in her speech Saturday night was her plan for 2008. I'd like to put a quote in here from Karl Rove during his visit Friday night to raise money for Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Unfortunately Rove's speech wasn't open to the press. If you were there and heard him, let me know what he said.
The Associated Press has a profile of one of Pawlenty's top DFL critics in the Legislature, Sen. Larry Pogemiller:
"I don't like his style of governance," said Pogemiller, a senator from Minneapolis. "He basically has a press conference style of governance. It's all public relations. I think it's more important to work on major issues that fundamentally affect education, fiscal policy, health care. I personally don't believe Gov. Pawlenty has done a good job on that yet."
The governor is set to sign the bonding bill Monday. With a little more than a month to go, expect to hear much more about the budget. Pogemiller and his counterpart in the House Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview, couldn't be more different. We'll probably hear a lot from them in the next few weeks.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:39 AM
April 8, 2005Amendment arguments
It's here. It's near. Get used to it--the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, that is. As thousands of people gathered to rally in support of gay rights outside the Capitol Thursday, the Minnesota Senate held a procedural debate about the amendment. For now, the Senate rejected an attempt by Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, to force a vote on the issue. MPR's Michael Khoo had some post-game analysis after the debate:
"It's not a political issue; it's a moral issue, it's a cultural issue, and it's also an issue of governance," Bachmann says. "Essentially it comes down to this: Will the people of Minnesota be able to decide the rules that they live under? Or will activist courts now decide the rules that we live under?"
Actually the Senate does have rules that allow a bill to circumvent the committee process. The Senate followed the rules Thursday and Bachmann lost the vote to bring the bill up for immediate debate.
The Pioneer Press has details of a meeting between rally participants and Bachmann:
OutFront Minnesota officials said almost all of the Legislature's 201 members heard from constituents who are gay or lesbian or their allies Thursday.
I guess I'll just leave that without a comment.
Big political doings in Minensota this weekend. Karl Rove is coming to Minneapolis Friday night to raise money for Gov. Tim Pawlenty. And Sen. Hillary Clinton is speaking to DFLers (and raising money for the party and herself) on Saturday. MPR's Mark Zdechlik looks Pawlenty's national prospects:
[Grover] Norquist said Karl Rove's fundraising visit clearly signals the Bush White House has confidence in Pawlenty and considers Minnesota important to national Republican politics. Long-time national Republican activist and strategist Paul Weyrick agreed but offered some context.
The Star Tribune takes a look at Clinton's Minnesota popularity:
While Clinton has remained mum on her presidential plans, [Sen. Mark] Dayton, who will introduce her at the dinner and attend a $1,000-per-person fundraising reception for her at the home of DFLer Vance Opperman, said her visit "shows a breadth of possible interest beyond 2006."
Clinton vs. Pawlenty in 2008? You never know.Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:44 AM
April 7, 2005Bonding breakthrough
The House and Senate finally managed to do it Wednesday night. For the first time in a year they agreed on a major piece of legislation. It was the bonding bill, a package that will fund nearly $1 billion worth of construction back in their districts. MPR's Michael Khoo has the story:
Lawmakers came to St. Paul in January pledging to take quick action the public works bill that ground to a halt in last year's legislative gridlock. Republican House Majority Leader Erik Paulsen of Eden Prairie says the 115-16 vote in favor of the bill is testament to a spirit of bipartisanship that was noticeably lacking in 2004.
Mr. Khoo has another interesting story today about how to raise $200 million without a new state casino. One proposal that raises much more than $200 million is to partially roll back the income tax cuts the Ventura-era income tax cuts:
[DFl Sen. John]Hottinger says his bill would roughly double the governor's increase in K-12 education funding, as well as provide new money for early childhood programs and state colleges and universities. And the income tax is only one way to recoup the lost casino money. Hottinger says discussions are ongoing about boosting the cigarette tax -- another 80 cents per pack could replace the casino revenue -- or expanding the sales tax. Auto repair services alone would do the trick.
The Star Tribune has a front page story about Congressional pensions. Sen. Mark Dayton says he won't take his (estimated at $16,000 annually after six years in the Senate). The National Taxpayers Union estimates Rep. James Oberstar is due at least about $120,000 when he retires and Martin Sabo is already due more than $100,000 per year at retirement:
The exact amount of members' pensions is a secret because Congress exempted its pension records from the federal Freedom of Information Act. At the Star Tribune's request, the taxpayers' union estimated pensions for the Minnesota delegation. Only half of the 10 Minnesota members are currently eligible for pensions because they've served in Congress for at least five years, the minimum required.
Some estimates say 4 million people have flocked to Rome for the pope's funeral. The Associated Press says you can make it 4-million-and-one:
Minnesota Congressman Gil Gutknecht will be part of a congressional delegation to Pope John Paul's funeral in Rome.Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:34 AM
April 6, 2005Dead or alive
The first deadline has come and gone at the Capitol. Stadiums for the Twins and Vikings didn't make it, medical marijuana did and what's alive, and what's dead is anyone's guess. On the stadium story, MPR's Laura McCallum says they're alive...unless they're dead:
[House Speaker Steve] Sviggum says he's not opposed to either stadium, as long as it doesn't use any general fund money. The Twins bill, introduced by Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, last week, doesn't specify a funding source or a location. Kelley says he wanted to introduce the placeholder bill to make sure stadiums remained on the Legislature's radar.
As for the medical marijuana bill the Pioneer Press reports it's alive...for the moment:
The Senate panel voted to bar such arrests and passed a bill to sanction marijuana's use for those with debilitating illnesses — the first committee vote on the measure in Minnesota after years of debate.
Conrad deFiebre has a fascinating story in the Star Tribune about a benefit former lawmakers receive. Most people probably don't know about it, and it's an interesting counterpoint to the debate over state health care programs like MinnesotaCare:
State Employee Relations Commissioner Cal Ludeman says as many as a dozen former legislators have moved in and out of the health plan in the past six years, about five of them "with regularity."
Some lawmakers say the program should stay exactly as it is, no matter what the cost. And because all current lawmakers will someday be former lawmakers, don't look for any changes soon.Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:40 AM
April 5, 2005Gambling goes down
Everybody knew the governor's casino plan and the racino proposal faced a big hurdle in the Senate Agriculture, Veterans and Gambling Committee, but when both were defeated by bipartisan votes it was still a key moment in the 2005 session. Specifically, the vote was 10-4 against both bills. MPR's Michael Khoo has one of the better quotes of the year:
Pawlenty chief of staff Dan McElroy said the legislation can still be revived.
No doubt. But does it have enough yeast? In the Pioneer Press, Patrick Sweeney suggests the bakers are hard at work, and that they may settle for half a loaf:
But a decision by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Republican House leaders to postpone casino votes today in the House Tax Committee was a more important sign that the move to expand gambling in Minnesota is facing significant opposition from lawmakers.
McElroy and Pawlenty are now saying a vote against the casino plan is tantamount to a vote to increase taxes. But Sweeney notes that argument cuts two ways.
"Our governor," Sen. Becky Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said, "feels that he can break his promises to the tribes, but he cannot break his no-new-taxes pledge, and that's where the problem lies."
Indeed, lobbyists for the Twins and Vikings were in the committee room, taking note of the bill's success. Asked after the vote if those teams might encourage another legislator to try to amend the bill to include funding of professional stadiums, [Rep. Ron]Abrams said "shame on them'' if they do.
I found quite a contrast between two other items in the news today. The first, a rant from former Gov. Jesse Ventura as reported by Dane Smith in the Star Tribune:
Ventura always was a provocateur as governor, but his act since he left the governor's office has gotten ever more outrageous. At one point he told the students that it was hypocritical for people of his free-love generation to urge sexual abstinence. "Make all the love you want, just use a condom. ... If it feels good, do it; I did." His language has become considerably saltier.
Outrageous, dude! Now the other story. It's from the Associated Press on the funeral in Rochester yesterday:
Friends and family who gathered to remember fallen Spc. Travis Bruce said he was a man who wanted to prove he could do anything - and what he wanted to do was serve his country.
I don't know how you feel about it, but the entire Ventura era just seems so long ago, so pre-9/11, that it's just hard for me to pay much attention to our former governor.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:43 AM
April 4, 2005Keep your eye on the ball
Events at the Capitol are being overshadowed by other news. First it was the Red Lake shootings, now it's the death of Pope John Paul II. Of course it's worth paying attention to the Legislature because they often do surprising things when no one is looking. The first committee deadline is this week, which means things are about to shift full-time to budget issues. Today a key Senate committee is going to vote on Gov. Pawlenty's casino plan. DFL Majority Leader Dean Johnson says most committee members oppose the bill, but even if the committee rejects it, he doubts the proposal is dead for the session. MPR's Mark Zdechlik has a look at the upside and downside of video slot machines:
The Minnesota Lottery estimates in a metro area casino each slot machine would clear just under $300 a day. That's about $430 million per year from the governor's casino proposal. The Canterbury park option envisions annual slot revenue of more than half that. Factoring in the costs of operations and profit sharing, the state general fund would end up with about $100 million a year from the Canterbery proposal. It would get about $120 million annually from a state-tribal metro-area casino.
The Star Tribune also has a look at the downside of gambling, but points out there aren't recent numbers for lawmakers to consider:
Minnesota hasn't conducted a comprehensive study on the prevalence of problem gambling since 1994, and it hasn't evaluated state-funded programs to treat gambling addicts since 1997. The Department of Human Services is preparing to do a new analysis on the effectiveness of treatment.
And just when you thought the University of Minnesota's proposed new football stadium was the only game in town, this opening day of baseball season marks the beginning of a new push for a Twins stadium. Maybe you missed the first pitch on the editorial page of Sunday's Pioneer Press:
A ballpark-financing proposal that is taking shape in the halls of commerce and politics in St. Paul presents a workable and fair plan for building a 40,000-seat outdoor Twins stadium in downtown St. Paul. The plan would ask the Twins and owner Carl Pohlad to pay more than they have been willing to commit in the past and calls for the city and the state — which would both benefit greatly from the new ballpark — to put up substantial shares.
The PiPress plan calls for a $450 million roofless stadium. The state would kick in $100 million (over 30 years), the city and the team would each pay $175 million. The city's share would come mostly from a 2 percent bar and restaurant tax. Do you think bar owners will get on board now that many of their establishments remain havens for smokers? And how long before Minneapolis gets its bid in?Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:45 AM
April 1, 2005Tough votes and happy hour
It was the issue that led to gridlock last year, but the House has pressed ahead. By a vote of 77-56 the House approved a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. The vote was to put the proposed amendment on the statewide ballot in November of 2006. MPR's Michael Khoo noted there was just as vigorous a debate outside the House chamber as inside:
Outside the House chamber, several demonstrators on both sides of the issue gathered to watch the debate unfold. Cathy Max of Minneapolis says she supports the amendment. She says societies have the right to curb behavior that they find objectionable.
The big question now is will the Senate vote on the amendment this year? Last year DFL avoidance of a vote helped lead to the end-of-session meltdown. The Star Tribune notes that DFL leaders would just as soon not deal with the issue again this year:
Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, warned Republicans that if they push for a Senate vote this session they will have to vote as well on politically charged constitutional amendment proposals for universal health insurance, environmental protections and a ban on state-run casinos.
Sponsors of a statewide bar and restaurant smoking ban bill said they will keep pushing, even though the measure looks dead for the session. It's unclear whether the differing bans in Ramsey and Hennepin counties will add to or detract from their efforts. As MPR's Art Hughes reports feelings are mixed:
The Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association has launched a $5000,000 promotion to encourage residents choked out by smoke to explore different places they may not have considered previously.
Talk about a divisive issue. The Pioneer Press has a good story today:
Kevin Maguire, who was sipping a Harp lager and reading a book, said he quit smoking a month ago. When he drinks at pubs in his native Belfast, Northern Ireland, he's forced to leave the pubs — where nearly everyone smokes — for breaks of fresh air.
It kind of gives the term happy hour a whole new meaning. I guess he'd drive a mile or two for a Camel. Or maybe he could take LRT to O'Gara's. The bonding bill agreement gives a boost to transit options in the East Metro according to MPR's Dan Olson:
The bonding bill contains $5.25 million for the 11-mile-long Central Corridor project. Planners propose either a $240 million rapid bus service between St. Paul and Minneapolis on University avenue, or an $840 million light rail line.
Finally in the "what were they thinking?" category, the Duluth News Tribune has issued an apology for an editorial cartoon after about 80 people protested outside the newpaper offices Thursday:
"The media are perpetuating stereotypes of American Indians," Duluth American Indian Commission member Evie Tanner said in a letter to the editor. At the demonstration, Tanner said she was repulsed by the cartoon.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:37 AM