June 7, 2005
Private progress

Is it a coincidence that legislative leaders report some progress in talks now that the meetings are private? Probably not. And it's debatable just how much progress was made. But they are talking. Here's the Pioneer Press story:

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said the group made "some minor progress" toward finding common ground on taxes and spending.

"Today was a turning point toward getting serious," said House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul.

The meeting in the governor's office was the first bargaining session in which Entenza and Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna, participated.

That was an acknowledgement that any budget compromise will require Democratic votes in the Republican-controlled House and GOP votes in the DFL-run Senate, said House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon.

All the leaders said they want to wrap up the budget as soon as possible, but they would not predict when that would be.

The cigarette tax, a racino, and property tax increases are all part of the talks. And as the talks continue there is a deal to report. A deal between the administration and state employees about how to go about shutting down the government if lawmakers don't pass a budget. MPR's Michael Khoo has the story:

As many as 16,000 public employees could be affected if the state goes into a partial government shutdown next month. For the first two weeks of July, employees with accrued vacation or compensation time can draw down those balances to keep the paychecks coming. But after that period expires on July 15th, the layoff notices would start to flow.

Eliot Seide, who heads the state's largest public employees union, says letting workers temporarily rely on vacation and comp time offers some limited relief. But he says workers would much prefer that Gov. Pawlenty and the Legislature bridge their differences and approve a budget. Seide says the average worker he represents makes about $35,000 a year.

"They live paycheck to paycheck. You know, this is about rent; this is about health care; this is about taking care of their children or their parents. There's not a lot of margin of error here."

Seide notes that workers who don't have sufficient vacation or comp time balances could see their paychecks run out immediately. Employee Relations Commissioner Cal Ludeman represented the state in its negotiations with the unions. He says even the two-week grace period represents a sacrifice, since it requires state workers to draw down their vacation benefits to get paid.

"Actually, there is pain being incurred on July 1. I mean, that employees can use some comp or vacation accrual time for a paycheck still means they are losing in this proposition," he said.

Far away from the Capitol in Albert Lea the shoplifting case against the mayor has been resolved. The Associated Press has the story:

Theft charges filed against Mayor Jean Eaton will be dropped if she completes an adult diversion program, Eaton and Olmsted County prosecutors said Monday.

Eaton has been accepted into the program, in which she would pay restitution and possibly complete community service in exchange for the felony theft charges being dropped.

Eaton was accused of stealing hundreds of dollars worth of clothing from Marshall Field's stores in Rochester, Edina and St. Cloud in an alleged clothing swap scam. She claimed that police acted illegally when they executed a search warrant in which evidence used to support the charges was gathered.

"I deeply regret the attention and distraction my personal situation has caused," the mayor said in a prepared statement.

I can't quite tell from that whether or not she's admitting she did anything wrong.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:22 AM