April 2006 Archive

April 28, 2006
Purple pride, purple pants

I really didn't want to write about stadiums again today, but when both Twin Cities newspapers treat the Vikings new uniforms as front page news, I feel compelled to.

The stadium news happened in the Senate Taxes Committee which is chaired by Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis. MPR's Tom Scheck covered it:

One day after the House approved a plan that would help pay for a downtown Minneapolis ballpark, the Senate author of the bill stopped the Twins momentum with a different funding plan. Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, says he's moving away from a deal between Hennepin County and the Twins that would rely on a countywide sales tax. Instead, he's proposing a half cent sales tax for the seven county metro area to fund ballparks for the Twins, a Blaine stadium for the Vikings and provide $12 billion for transit funding over the next 30 years.

"I think this is a better solution for Minnesota and for taxpayers than the other solutions where you are issuing lots of debt and have all of the interest costs related to that."

The committee also rejected a funding plan for a new Gopher football stadium that would have used a sales tax on sports memorabilia instead of student fees, naming rights and direct general fund payments.

The big question is whether all this maneuvering will result in a new funding plan for stadiums or whether it will kill all the stadiums.

The committee is scheduled to go back to work today. By the way, Perry Finelli and Tim Pugmire think the Vikings new jerseys look like the old L.A. Rams uniforms.

While the Senate committee was talking stadiums the House was taking aim at the state Supreme Court on abortion. The Star Tribune had that story:

If it were to become law, the measure would strike at the heart of the state's equivalent of the landmark Roe vs. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1973 legalizing abortion. Like the all-out abortion ban recently passed in South Dakota, the Minnesota measure, if enacted, would almost certainly trigger court action to test anew the constitutionality of abortion rights.

"This strategy in the face of clear law is saying that the state is going to wage battle in the courts," said House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul. "That's not the best way to reduce abortion."

The House sponsor, Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague, said it is unfair that Minnesotans who might oppose abortions are required to fund them. Taxpayer-funded abortions now account for 29 percent of the abortions performed in Minnesota, at an estimated cost of $1 million a year. Brod's legislation would prohibit all taxpayer-funded abortions unless the mother's life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest.

The new owner of the St. Paul Pioneer Press visited his new acquisition Thursday and the early reviews are charming and disarming. MPR's Annie Baxter had that story:

Many workers, like Donna Lucas, who works in classifieds, emerged from that meeting amped by [MediaNews Group CEO Dean]Singleton's optimism.

"It was a very positive message. Very positive. I think we'll have a good outlook for the Pioneer Press under his tutelage, and I think it'll all turn out for the best for us. I see it being only a good thing that's happening to the Pioneer Press"

Reporter David Hanners had expressed a wary optimism about Singleton just a day earlier. But after hearing him speak, Hanners said he was warming to the new boss, too.

"It was encouraging he used the word fun, and fun is one of the reasons many of us got into the newspaper business."

Fun? The newspaper business must be different from the radio business.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:10 AM

April 27, 2006
On to the Senate

The vote on the ballpark in the House was 76-55, but it might as well have been 86-1. Eighty-six counties, that is, against Hennepin. Once the Hennepin County board voted 4-3 to increase the sales tax for county residents it let every other county off the hook. As Rep. Alice Hausman said near the end of the House debate, "everyone loves the Twins but no one wants to pay for them."

Here's some of what MPR's Tom Scheck reported:

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum predicted the Twins bill would pass without allowing voters to have a say on the tax. He was right, with the House narrowly defeating attempts to require a referendum.

Republican Rep. Mary Liz Holberg of Lakeville in Dakota County urged her colleagues to support the referendum. She cited a state law that requires other cities and counties to hold a referendum when they want to increase their sales taxes.

"I think if this goes through, this body owes the taxpayers of Hennepin County an apology. What are we doing here? It's wrong. Sure it's an easy vote for all of you who don't live in Hennepin County, it's not your taxpayers," she said.

Now the bill moves on to the Senate where tax committee chair Larry Pogemiller is saying he'll give it a much tougher time. If his committee follows the lead of the Senate Finance Committee in its treatment of the Gopher football stadium bill, the legislation could look much different by the time the work is done. The Star Tribune had this on the football stadium:

The Senate Finance Committee approved a bill eliminating provisions for naming rights, removing the proposed land swap and scuttling plans to increase student fees to help pay for the new stadium. The provisions are at odds with a House version, which overwhelmingly passed earlier this month.

The Taxes Committee could begin discussing stadium proposals for the Twins, Vikings and Gophers as early as today.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty will face an intra-party challenge at the GOP state convention from Sue Jeffers. MPR's Laura McCallum has that story:

"I think Tim Pawlenty is ripe for the picking," Jeffers says. "And I think once you throw in this stadium bill, if he signs for the Twins stadium, I think the voters are so irritated that they will throw him out of office."

Jeffers has never run for office before, but has often been in the news as a leader in the fight against the Hennepin County smoking ban. Jeffers says Pawlenty signed a no-new-taxes pledge, but he hasn't kept his promise.

"Tim Pawlenty is a very nice man. He is not a fiscal conservative," Jeffers claims. "A fiscal conservative doesn't raise $559 million in fees last year, doesn't put up almost a billion-dollar bonding bill this year, and I think the voters know better than that."

Pawlenty says he's not worried. But on another issue he is concerned about President Bush's speech earlier this week on energy. The president said one factor in high gas prices is the different blends of gasoline required in different states. Pawlenty says doing too much to stop what the president called "boutique blends" could hurt Minnesota's ethanol industry. He wants clarification from the White House.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:20 AM

April 26, 2006
More stadium

It's ballpark day in the Minnesota House. The Hennepin County sales tax bill is expected to come up today. Speaker Steve Sviggum says it has the votes to pass. Even though the chair of the House Taxes Committee couldn't stop the bill, the chair of the Senate committee is on deck to start taking some swings at it. (How many baseball metaphors should I try to work in here?)

Yes, Phil Krinkie is a big slugger and long-time stadium opponent. But Larry Pogemiller has one advantage. He's from Hennepin County. MPR's Tom Scheck has this story:

DFL Senate Tax Committee Chair Larry Pogemiller says he doesn't think his committee will support the proposal, at least not on its own. Pogemiller met with other members of the Senate DFL caucus to discuss how they will address stadium bills for the Twins, the Vikings and University of Minnesota football. Pogemiller, who rarely passes up a chance to take a swipe at Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, says he intends to hold a hearing on the Twins bill soon.

"I just think the Pawlenty/Hennepin County tax for the Twins stadium is not going to fly. I just don't think Gov. Pawlenty's tax in Hennepin County is going to fly. I think we need to do something a little bit more statesmanlike."

Hennepin County residents, did you hear that? He said "Pawlenty's tax." A spokesman for Pawlenty notes that the Hennepin County board approved the proposed sales tax.

And while all the stadium talk has been going on MPR's Laura McCallum notes that the House GOP leadership has been killing off budget bills. Why? Because they've been attracting amendments that the leaders don't want the House to vote on:

[Rep. Dan]Dorman, R-Albert Lea, has been wooed by Democrats to switch parties. He said Republicans should try to find some middle ground with the other side of the aisle.

"Moving to the right of the governor is not going to gain you votes," Dorman said. "The state is not that conservative, our caucus isn't that conservative, the House isn't that conservative."

The other Republican who voted with Dorman and Democrats on the corporate tax amendment, Larry Howes of Walker, said he won't apologize for working with DFLers on certain issues.

"I'm a Republican, but I'm not a lock-step Republican. There are good ideas on both sides of the aisle," said Howes. "Pick the good ones and move forward."

That's just crazy talk, isn't it?

The House and Senate are headed for a conference committee battle over the proposed constitutional amendment that would dedicate some sales tax money to natural resources and the arts. The House passed its version yesterday. Unlike the Senate version it dedicates existing sales tax money. The Senate version would raise the sales tax. The Senate plan at $270 million per year generates about twice the money as the House plan. You can read all about it in Tim Pugmire's MPR story.

One of the groups that supports a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and its legal equivalents is hopping mad at the Associated Press. I referenced the AP piece yesterday. Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage put out a statement saying it wants a retraction.

[President Jeff] Davis said that in contrast to the false impression suggested by the AP article, MCDM does not engage any paid lobbyists. I am a volunteer who has never accepted one penny in compensation from MCDM for lobbying or any other activities, said Davis. Because he is a volunteer, Davis is not required to register as a lobbyist.

Davis goes on to say that his group has disclosed everything the law requires and then some.

The AP says it sees no reason to issue a retraction.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:03 AM

April 25, 2006
Quick rundown of the news

When is a lobbying group not a lobbying group? Apparently when they lobby for a constitutional amendment. Patrick Condon of the Associated Press has the story and you can find it on the MPR site:

The two groups pushing hardest for a constitutional ban on gay marriage in Minnesota have not filed lobbyist disclosure reports, despite their work at the forefront of a debate that's dominated the Capitol much of the last three years. Instead, Minnesota for Marriage and Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage have designated themselves as political committees working on a ballot question. The distinction means they face less stringent reporting requirements for salaries, advertising and PR campaigns, among other things, than do registered lobbyists.

Condon's story notes that groups on the other side of the gay marriage issue have filed as lobbyists.

Speaking of the gay marriage debate, Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, says he received a death threat on an ad put out by supporters of the constitutional ban. Here's the Star Tribune story. Groups opposed to gay marriage said they have nothing to do with any threat.

The Twins stadium bill is headed to the House floor. The Ways and Means Committee approved it Monday night by a vote of 18-16. House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he believes the House will pass it. Opponents were once again unsuccessful in requiring a referendum on the Hennepin County sales tax that would pay for the bulk of the stadium.

Is Gov. Tim Pawlenty's alternative pay plan for teachers a success? He tells MPR's Tim Pugmire it is:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently visited Eden Prairie to announce state approval for that school district's alternative compensation plan. Pawlenty is a big booster of the program, which he calls Q Comp. He offered a kid-friendly explanation of performance pay to students at Oak Point Intermediate School.

"What we're talking about here today is trying to find ways to recognize and reward teachers for some things other than just how long they've been teaching," Pawlenty said.

It looks like the Bush administration has finally realized high gas prices could be a political problem. Here's the AP:

During the last few days, Bush asked his Energy and Justice departments to open inquiries into whether the price of gasoline has been illegally manipulated, said White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Bush planned to announce the action Tuesday during a speech in Washington.

It's unclear what impact, if any, Bush's investigation would have on prices that are near $3 a gallon. Asked if Bush had any reason to suspect market manipulation, McClellan responded, "Well, gas prices are high right now, and that's why you want to make sure there's not."

Want to see what's causing higher prices? Take a look in the mirror...and at this AP item:

The Power Information Network says that in January, February and March, nearly a quarter of all new vehicles purchased by consumers were equipped with eight-cylinder engines -- pretty much the same as in last July, August and September.

According to Power, sales rates of six- and four-cylinder engine vehicles have also been constant, with six-cylinder engines ccounting for about 41 percent of all new-vehicle retail sales during the past nine months. Products with four-cylinder engines have made up about 31 percent of overall sales.

Tuesday the House is expected to debate the proposed constitutional amendment that would dedicate sales tax money to natural resources programs. That should be a long one.

Sorry to be brief today, but I'm wrestling with some technical problems on the radio side that I have to pay attention to.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:31 AM

April 24, 2006
The case for two newspapers

Let's hope the St. Paul Pioneer Press survives its current ownership crisis. The paper has had some excellent stories the past few days. On Sunday it took a look at ethanol subsidies. Remember the heat Gov. Tim Pawlenty took when he tried to cut them in his first budget plan? The corn growers hit him so hard he not only restored the subsidies, but also has become the biggest ethanol promoter in America. Now the Pioneer Press has a great piece on what those subsidies cost:

Today ethanol is booming as oil prices soar, yet Minnesota taxpayers still are priming the pump. Taxpayers continue to be billed $26 million a year to subsidize 11 privately owned ethanol plants that are now profitable beyond anyone's dreams.

Purdue University economist Wally Tyner calculates that at today's fuel prices, even an ethanol plant costing $100 million can be fully paid off in less than a year. "They're hugely profitable, that's why so many of them are being built," Tyner said.

Yet Minnesotans are funding ethanol subsidies even beyond that. Four times a year, the state sends checks to the farmers who own the 11 plants. The next payday arrives in May, when another $4.3 million will be paid, plus another $2.3 million in IOUs the state promises to pay later.

A few years ago even House Speaker Steve Sviggum was getting those checks. The Pioneer Press piece notes that no bill has been offered to end the subsidy.

What happened to the hunting and fishing rally? About 3,500 people showed up at the Capitol on Saturday, which is not a bad turnout as rallies go. But last year the crowd was at least 5,000. It seems a little odd that the number would drop, given that the bill to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would dedicate a portion of the sales tax to natural resources seems closer to passing this year. The bill is supposed to come up on the House floor Monday in what will likely be a marathon session with dozens of proposed amendments offered.

MPR's Annie Baxter has a report on a 5th District DFL debate Sunday:

The DFL candidates trying to replace Martin Sabo share a lot of similarities in their views. For the most part, they favor increased education spending, they want fewer tax breaks for the wealthy, and they oppose a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

The endorsing convention is May 6.

The Twins stadium bill is in the House Ways and Means committee Monday night. Assuming it clears the committee, it should come up for a vote on the House floor Wednesday or Thursday.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:09 AM

April 21, 2006
Dr. No strikes out

The Twins stadium bill appears to be on track to clear the House Taxes Committee. The bill survived a key vote Thursday night when opponents were unable to attach an amendment that would have required a referendum on the proposed 0.15 percent Hennepin County sales tax that would pay for most of the stadium. MPR's Tom Scheck sent along some post-game quotes.

"To be able to move forward from this committee with the bill in the shape, at least so far, in shape the way it was when we came here, goes a long way to getting a ballpark built," said Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports Inc.

Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Lino Lakes, who chairs the taxes committee, had a different take.

"What we've seen here tonight is the fact that the Twins have been very persistent in pushing a proposal forward. They are on the brink of getting success. It's amazing what you can do when you keep spending millions of dollars in order to access the public treasury."

Krinkie, who is known by some at the Capitol as "Dr. No," has been a staunch stadium opponent for a decade. The vote on the referendum amendment was 15-13. The committee is expected to take a final vote on the bill sometime Friday, but based on the referendum vote it should pass. The Twins and Hennepin County officials had called the referendum a "deal killer." Stadium opponents called it "democracy."

Once Krinkie's committee finishes work on the stadium they can get back to work on a House tax bill. The Senate passed its version Thursday. MPR's Tim Pugmire had that:

One day after the full Senate rejected a tax bill, DFL leaders were back to put a retooled proposal up for a vote. They removed a provision to increase the amount the state collects from a statewide business property tax as business property values rise. But they left in a plan to collect more taxes from some Minnesota companies that do business overseas. DFL Senator Larry Pogemiller of Minneapolis, chairman of the Senate Tax Committee, says the bill includes $244 million in permanent property tax relief and $154 million in one-time relief.

At noon today Gary Eichten will be talking with Newt Gingrich and Vin Weber about the future of the conservative movement. That should be interesting.

I'm all for freedom of the press, but how does the White House allow somebody with a press pass to disrupt the Chinese president's speech on the South Lawn? Is this an example of pre-911 thinking when it comes to security? Just one more example of incompetence? Or do you subscribe to a more conspiratorial view that the Bush administration wanted to embarrass the Chinese on human rights issues? Maybe it's all Scott McClellan's fault.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:00 AM
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April 20, 2006
Stadium debate again

After 10 years is the House poised to pass a Twins stadium bill?

It sure looks like it. Of course it has to get by the tax committee first. And even opponents there say they probably don't have the votes to stop it. MPR's Tom Scheck has the story:

Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, says lawmakers from Hennepin County are far outnumbered by legislators from other areas, which makes her pessimistic about blocking the stadium proposal.

"It makes 86 counties' legislators not accountable for this vote. They get to have a stadium, and they get to tax someone that they don't represent to build it. So their constituents get a stadium and don't have to contribute to it," said Lenczewski.

Another factor that is playing into the debate is stadium fatigue. In other words, people are just plain tired of hearing about it. The Star Tribune has this:

"I fear this will pass," said Dann Dobson, a prominent stadium opponent who heads the No Stadium Tax Coalition.

"People have gotten burned out," Dobson said as he watched Wednesday's four-hour hearing. "People have been beaten into submission after nine years."

Seven or eight years ago stadium opponents were telling Capitol reporters that the day would come when pro-staium forces would succeed because people would become tired of hearing about it.Of course the Twins say the reason opposition seems to be fading is because this is the best proposal they've offered.

Is there some Pogemiller fatigue in the Senate? The Senate defeated DFL Sen. Larry Pogemiller's tax plan Wednesday. MPR's Laura McCallum says it was the bill's content, not the author, that torpedoed the plan:

Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, says she voted against the bill because she didn't like Pogemiller's two revenue raisers.

"It seemed to me that with the amount of surplus that we had, that this was a year of giving tax relief and not of increasing taxes, and that occurred in two places in the bill," said Rest. Five other Democrats joined Rest and all Senate Republicans in voting against the bill.

Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna, argued against the bill, saying Minnesota taxes are high enough. He says state revenues are going up and businesses are expanding.

"Things are really going good. Why do we want to talk about anything that is increasing taxes in Minnesota?" Day asked.

Especially in an election year, someone might have said.

Gas prices are up again. When I drove in this morning I saw a sign for $2.85 per gallon. I filled up yesterday for 2.76 per. No sooner had I asked yesterday whether anyone had correlated the price of gas with the president's approval rating than David Kirchner answered. It's in the comment yesterday, but here's the link. And if you think that's cool, check out Kirchner's blog for more advanced number crunching.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:11 AM
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April 19, 2006
Gas and ballparks

Has anyone correlated President Bush's approval rating with the price of gasoline? It was $2.80 per gallon on my drive in this morning, one day after the future cost of a barrel of oil hit a record $71.35. Meanwhile a new Harris Poll shows the president with a 35 percent approval rating compared with 63 percent who give him a negative rating.

ABC News quotes the president:

"I'm concerned about higher gasoline prices. I'm concerned about what it means to the working families and small businesses," Bush said.

But there doesn't seem to be much he can do about it.

And as Minnesotans pay the higher cost for gas they may soon also be paying for a new Twins stadium. The House tax committee begins hearings Wednesday on the plan after the Hennepin County board approved a new higher priced stadium plan on Tuesday. Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Lino Lakes, chairs the committee and is a long-time stadium opponent. He tells MPR it's a mistake to think that .15 percent sales tax the county would impose to pay for its share of the ballpark would be paid only by county residents:

"Hennepin County collects 34 percent of the total sales taxes in the state of Minnesota, so obviously a third of the sales taxes are collected in Hennepin County. So anyone who thinks they are not going to be paying a Hennepin County sales tax for this stadium, I think is mistaken."

Krinkie will certainly try to require a public vote on the stadium tax if he can't kill the bill outright. He plans to hear from supporters of the stadium today at the Capitol and opponents tomorrow night in Bloomington.

As the House ponders ballparks the Senate may take a vote on converting the 75 cent per pack so-called health impact fee to a plain old cigarette tax. The Supreme Court is still deliberating whether to uphold a Ramsey County judge's decision that threw out the fee. Gov. Pawlenty says he's willing to let the $375 million raised by the fee go by the wayside if the court says the fee is illegal.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:48 AM
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April 18, 2006
E-mail hell

I took one day off work and had 94 e-mails waiting for me when I got back. Now in the interest of truth I have to admit that about a half dozen of them were spams intended for the comments section of this page. I have spared you from reading ads for discount prescription drugs, quick and easy college degrees and some kind of online porn.

The rest of these e-mails regard various issues here at MPR, a couple of dozen press releases, some odd chains of correspondence I have unwillingly become party to (please be careful when hitting 'reply to all')and a couple from my spouse.

I should just delete them all and hope that the authors will get back to me if any of them are really important. But I guess I'll have to cut this column short today and spend some time going through them. Wasn't e-mail supposed to make life more efficient?

Not that there's much to talk about today anyway. The Legislature is due back in town after the long weekend. The highlight of the week is likely to be the House Tax Committee's hearings on the proposed new Twin's ballpark. The committee is chaired by longtime stadium opponent and not-so-long-time 6th District Congressional candidate Phil Krinkie, R-Lino Lakes.

The Star Tribune has a story about the price of the Northstar Commuter Rail line going up by $42 million:

"Absolutely it's something we should have known," said Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, who voted for the Northstar funding. "But I don't support it blindly." He is concerned that the project doesn't yet have a green light from the freight railroad whose tracks Northstar's trains will use.

And the Pioneer Press is highlighting the qeuestion of security at the St. Peter facility that houses sex offenders:

The weekend escape of a convicted rapist highlights the difficult balance of handling sexual offenders who have completed their prison confinements and yet are being held indefinitely, it seems for treatment as patients.

Add that to the list of things for the Legislature to debate before the session ends.

I was going to add something here about gas prices spiking, but I just got three more e-mails I have to take care of.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:19 AM

April 13, 2006
Major progress?

I almost hate to say it because it could spoil everything, but could the Legislature actually finish its session early? Not that the lawmakers really had all that much to do this year. After all, the budget appears to be balanced, so they didn't have to make any changes there. The main order of business was passing the bonding bill, and now both the House and Senate have done it. And they're not that far apart. MPR's Laura McCallum reports that when lawmakers return from their Easter break, they don't have too big of a job in front of them:

When lawmakers return from their five-day break, negotiators from the House and Senate could begin meeting soon to resolve differences between the two bonding bills. They are about $40 million apart; much closer than in recent years.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson of Willmar was optimistic about the chances for a relatively speedy agreement.

"It has very positive signs of being productive and being completed," he said.

Once the Legislature agrees on a bonding package, House leaders say they may adjourn for the year, even if other issues are unresolved.

There's that election coming up in November too, which is a big motivation to get moving. But I guess you should never underestimate the Legislature's ability to confound the conventional wisdom, so we'll see what happens.

Tune in to Midday today. I'll have MPR's political reporters on and we'll kick around some of the big issues of the session. It should be good listening.

Because I'm doing Midday this week, I'm having to breeze through writing this. And because lawmakers are on their break for the next few days there may not be much to talk about.

One story that did get my attention was the decision by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman to deny the Metropolitan Airports Commission permission to build a flood prevention project around the downtown St. Paul airport. A lot of people had seen this as Coleman's first big decision as mayor. At least he was decisive.

"I cannot support this proposal in its current form. We cannot allow the MAC to put lipstick on a sheet-metal pig and call it a compromise," he said.

Come on, mayor, what do you really think? Companies like 3M depend on access to the airport, and they can't be pleased by the mayor's decision. But a lot of people who live near the river will support him. For the MAC it's back to the drawing board.

Sen. John McCain came to Minnesota Wednesday and campaigned for Gov. Pawlenty and Rep. Gil Gutknecht. Some DFLers tried to make an issue out of McCain NOT campaigning for Mark Kennedy. Is it odd for Democrats to be telling Republicans which Republicans should be campaigning for other Republicans? National Public Radio's Mara Liasson had a good piece this morning about McCain's tightrope walk to get GOP support for a 2008 presidential run.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:29 AM

April 12, 2006
Best laid plans

Not much time today, so I have to be quick. I'm on Midday again, and we're still not quite sure what we're going to talk about today. This happens more often than you might think. It's one of the things that makes doing Midday fun. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

Maybe your heard our show yesterday. We talked about the proposal to dedicate a fraction of the sales tax to natural resources. That was a program we had completely lined up the day before. The Senate sponsor of the bill, DFL'er Dallas Sams had agreed to come on as had the House sponsor, Republican Tom Hackbarth.

At 8:15 yesterday morning Sen. Sam's office called to say he had the flu and couldn't do the program. Producer Sara Meyer and I debated whether to scrap the program and do another topic or whether we should find another guest. We settled on asking Sen. Dick Cohen to do it, because he had pushed for arts funding as part of the bill, which is a key difference with what House supporters want to do. We called him and he agreed to do it. So far so good. Crisis averted.

Then at 10:15, 45 minutes before airtime, Rep. Hackbarth's office called to say he couldn't do it. The very bill we were talking about was up before the House Ways and Means Committee, and Hackbarth had to be there. His office suggested we talk instead to Rep. Joe Hoppe, who is a member of the Environment and Natural Resources committee and a supporter of the bill. At that point we had no choice, so we went ahead.

I thought it turned out to be a very good program. You can listen for yourself if you missed it. A big thanks to Cohen and Hoppe for coming on at the last minute and representing their positions so well.

Now you know why Gary Eichten should not be allowed to take time off. I've got to get back to work coming up with a program for today.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:25 AM

April 11, 2006
More rallies

Hundreds of thousands of people rallied again Monday in 65 cities around the country calling for more rights for immigrants. The numbers are impressive. Organizers of rallies in New York and Washington said they drew 150,000 and 180,000 respectively. About 50,000 turned out in Atlanta. In an interview called "analysis" Juan Williams said on NPR today that this could mark a turning point much like the response to an anti-immigration initiative (proposition 187) supported by GOP Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994 turned California from a red and blue state to a blue state.

Much depends on how many of the marchers can vote. Williams suggests the news out of Washington could activate immigrants who are citizens to register and vote as Democrats.

Some interesting poll numbers are coming in. An ABC News /Washington Post poll shows 63 percent favor allowing undocumented immigrants who are already working in the U.S. to apply for legal status and eventually for citizenship if they pay a fine and back taxes. About 20 percent said illegal immigrants should be declared felons, as legislation passed by the House would do.

The poll also shows President Bush's approval rating at 38 percent and the Republican-led congress at 35 percent.

Here in Minnesota Republicans in the House are calling for property tax rebates, with checks due to arrive a couple of weeks bfore election day. As MPR's Laura McCallum reports the Senate tax committee chair is not impressed:

"It's simple, it's easy to understand, it is direct, it doesn't take a lot of computing," House Tax Committee Chair Phil Krinkie said.

And checks would arrive in homeowners' mailboxes this fall before they have to make their October 15 payment. That also happens to be just weeks before the November election, when all 201 legislative seats are on the ballot.

"This is an election year cry for forgiveness," said Senate Tax Committee Chairman Larry Pogemiller, a DFLer from Minneapolis. He says Republican policies led to double-digit property tax hikes, and their plan doesn't fix the problem.

And with the Twins home opener at the Metrodome tonight, the push for a new ballpark is in high gear. The Star Tribune reports Hennepin County has agreed to kick in another $20 million from taxpayers to keep the plan on track:

At a rally for the ballpark held at the stadium site near downtown Minneapolis, Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat said team and county negotiators finalized a plan over the weekend to cover an estimated $30 million in increased costs since the project was unveiled nearly a year ago. Under the proposed agreement, the Twins' contribution would increase by $10 million -- including $5 million "before the first pitch" is thrown at the new stadium -- for a total investment of $135 million.

Gov. Pawlenty talked to Cathy Wurzer on Morning Edition and said unless the state comes up with a plan Minnesota will lose the Twins in 24 months or less. But he says the chances for a new ballpark are 50-50 or less.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:22 AM

April 10, 2006

Does the size of a rally really indicate how the public feels about an issue?

Of course the reason I ask is because of the huge rally Sunday in St. Paul. About 30,000 people marched from the St. Paul Cathedral to the Capitol. The principal reason for the march was to oppose the bill passed by the U.S. House which would make it a felony to be in the country illegally and would impose penalties against churches and other charitable groups for helping illegal immigrants.

On Saturday a few dozen people rallied on the other side of the issue, supporting, among other things, building a fence along the Mexican border.

MPR's Annie Baxter let both sides have their say in her story:

Marlene Nelson, of Owatonna, attended an anti-immigration rally at the Capitol on Saturday, which was organized on short notice and drew fewer than 100 people. Nelson's with a group called the Steele County Coalition or Immigration Reduction and she says immigrants, namely Mexican immigrants, can't all expect a helping hand.

"There's 4.5 billion people in the world more impoverished than the average Mexican. Are you suggesting we open the doors and take all these billions of people here? We can't keep everybody floating. It's not possible. They need to learn to blossom where they are. They need to make their country work for them," she said.

But one of the messages at the pro-immigration rally Sunday was that the workers keep the American economy afloat. James Graves, CEO of Graves Hospitality, said that's true at the hotels he runs.

"Our country, and more specifically my businesses, need dedicated and outstanding immigrant employees. Without them, our businesses and our country would find itself in a shortage of quality and necessary workforce," Graves said.

So because one side turns out 30,000 people and the other side turns out 50, does it mean that there is overwhelming support for one side and almost none for the other. Well, no. It could mean that the one side is better organized, or that it put all its efforts into the rally, or that the stakes just seem higher for that group.

The real question is how much heat these rallies and other organizing out on the politicians. And we'll see how that plays out in the next few weeks.

For the past month or so I've been putting together a podcast of our political stories every weekday. I did it again today, but there's a technical problem with actually getting it out. So if you're one of the few and proud who listen to that thing you'll have to wait until some of our technical people get in before you can get your daily fix.

Update 8:10 a.m. The podcast is there.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:24 AM
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April 7, 2006
No grass?

Nine million dollars a year and no grass?

It came up near the end of the House debate on Thursday night over the new University of Minnesota football stadium. As the House was preparing to vote on the $248 million stadium plan DFL Rep. Mary Murphy asked why the open-air stadium would have artifical turf instead of real grass. The bill's author, GOP Rep. Ron Abrams, said the stadium will get so much use that real grass couldn't take the pounding. He said in addition to the football team, intramural squads and others will use the facility.

That was probably one of the more minor points brought up in a long debate over the new stadium, but when state taxpayers are being asked to pay $9.4 million per year for 25 years you can understand why people are concerned. Still, the bill passed easily on a 103-30 vote. MPR's Tom Scheck (or the AP's Brian Bakst depending on when you read this)has more about some of the other issues involved.

Just about everyone at the Capitol said this would be the easy stadium to pass, and it sure looks that way given the vote. Now that the House has dipped its toe into public funding for stadiums, will it go all the way with a Twins ballpark? In some ways the Hennepin County sales tax plan seems like an easier vote for most lawmakers than the gopher plan. It seems like a stretch that lawmakers would also pass a Vikings stadium this year, but who knows?

Could Minnesota end up requiring every state resident to have health insurance ala Massachusetts? MPR's Laura McCallum reports that Gov. Tim Pawlenty is thinking about it:

Massachusett's Republican governor, Mitt Romney, has pushed the plan, which was approved this week by a Democratic-led Legislature. It would allow uninsured low-income people to get subsidized policies and would require everyone in Massachusetts to be insured by mid-2007. Pawlenty says he likes the idea of mandating health coverage for people who don't have insurance.

"In some cases you just have young primarily men who are working who probably could afford it who choose not to get insured, they're kind of flippant about health insurance, and when they get sick, it shifts the costs to the rest of us, because we pay the bill, and that's not fair," he said.

Pawlenty says his administration is working on a plan similar to Massachusetts'. He says there are bare-bones health plans available for as little as $200 a month, and insurers should do a better job of marketing them.

He said that in his State of the State speech as I recall, and we should do a little more checking up on that.

Something interesting is going on here at MPR today. The mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul are here along with a bunch of city staffers to talk about way the cities can work together. The whole thing will be capped off with an hour of Midday at noon. This is the first time I can remember something like this happening here, and I'm betting it will be worth a listen.

Speaking of Midday, I have to do the program next week because Gary Eichten is taking the week off. (I hope you'll listen anyway) In any case, that means my writing this page could be spotty, but I'll try to get to it.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:31 AM
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April 6, 2006
More blame game

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Mayor R.T. Rybak will meet Friday to talk about ways the state can help fight crime in Minneapolis.

The governor was more conciliatory Wednesday than he was Tuesday when MPR asked him about the crime problem in the state's biggest city. Many Minneapolis DFL politicians were not, as reported by MPR's Laura McCallum:

"I think the governor forgot his own actions," responds Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL-Minneapolis.

Ranum says Pawlenty should stop blaming the city.

"He's the one that went after local government aid. He's the one that fought against the increase that we got last year," said Ranum. "No one can underestimate what has happened to public safety in the community of Minneapolis, or for that matter, in other communities."

It was back in 1996 when Gov. Arne Carlson called in the state patrol to help Minneapolis (then called "Murder-apolis" by some) fight crime. It would be hard to believe Pawlenty would do the same thing, but we'll be watching.

Gov. Carlson also pushed hard for a new Twins stadium, but couldn't get it done. Now eight years after he left office the stadium issue is as vigorous as ever. The only difference is that lawmakers are talking about three stadiums now: one for the Twins, one for the Vikings and one for the Gopher football team. As MPR's Tom Scheck reports some in the Senate are getting restless:

Several senators and Senate staffers say it's possible that all three stadium bills could be combined into one bill with a pricetag of $1.5 billion.

DFL Sen. Jim Vickerman of Tracy said it's time to end the debate and pass all three this session.

"I would hope that we can do all three of them, get it over with and get on to other things that we need to do. I'm in support of all three of them," he said.

What's $1.5 billion among friends anyway? I guess before you start buying season tickets we should see what the House does with the U of M football stadium today.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:34 AM
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April 5, 2006
Blame game

After two terrible crimes in Minneapolis in two weeks, you knew it wouldn't be long before the politicians started blaming each other.

First Michael Zebuhr was shot and killed by a robber in Uptown then Alan Reitter was killed in a random shooting downtown Friday night. Now Gov. Tim Pawlenty has weighed in, as reported by MPR's Art Hughes:

The senselessness of the crimes has rattled elected leaders who want to combat the image of Minneapolis as an increasingly violent city. But tough talk from police and elected officials at the press conference couldn't stop Gov. Tim Pawlenty from making a swipe at spending priorities in the state's largest city.

"From my vantage point, when you've got people shooting each other in the streets and you've got all that money sitting in Neighborhood Revitalization Program and some of the other things they do that aren't as high a priority, those resources should be re-deployed in my view, in the near and intermediate term, on cracking down on this violence in Minneapolis," Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty says he's considering further state intervention to quell the violence.

Mayor R.T. Rybak says he welcomes the governor's input, especially if it comes in the form of restoring some $37 million in local aid cuts over two years that resulted in a trimmer police and fire department.

Get ready to hear a lot more of this as the election approaches.

Speaking of the election, at least for now there will not be a constituional amendment defining marriage on the ballot. The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected the amendment Tuesday as MPR's Tom Scheck reports:

The committee disregarded the concerns of those who support the amendment and defeated the proposal. Before doing so, the committee voted to change the original amendment to only allow the Legislature, not the courts, to change the definition of marriage.

The biggest election issue of course will be the war in Iraq. And as MPR's Mark Zdechlik found, members of Minnesota's Congressional delegation from one party want to talk about it much more than memebers from the other party:

Republicans generally bristled at the inquiry. They conceded the administration has made mistakes, but they insisted progress is being made.

Democrats blamed the GOP: their war, their fault.

Voters in 32 Wisconsin cities actually weighed in directly on the war Tuesday. The Associated Press had the results:

Voters in Madison, the northern city of Ladysmith and the Milwaukee suburbs of Shorewood and Whitefish Bay are among those who passed referendums calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Early returns show voters in 12 other spots also approved similar referendums. They were voted down in six spots - Forestville, Sister Bay, Egg Harbor, Newport, Watertown and Hayward.

The results are non-binding.

And finally, if you were worried about Katie Couric you can breathe easier. The AP says her new job will pay between $13 million and $15 million a year:

On her 15th anniversary on "Today," Katie Couric told viewers Wednesday she's leaving to join CBS and become the first woman to solely anchor a network evening newscast.

"I wanted to tell all of you out there ... that after listening to my heart and my gut ... I've decided I'll be leaving 'Today' at the end of May," she said. "I really feel as if we've become friends through the years."

The 49-year-old Couric, the longest-serving anchor in "Today" show history, is expected to replace Bob Schieffer on the third-rated CBS broadcast in September.

My heart and gut have been telling me that I too need a job that pays $15 million a year. I just wish somebody else's heart or gut would agree.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:17 AM

April 4, 2006
Washington shocker

I guess it shouldn't be a great surprise, but I was still stunned when I heard that Tom Delay will end his career in Congress.

Here's the story as of Tuesday morning from the Associated Press:

Succumbing to scandal, former Majority Leader Tom Delay intends to resign from Congress within weeks, closing out a career that blended unflinching conservatism with a bare-knuckled political style.

Republican officials said Monday night they expect the Texan to
quit his seat later this spring. He was first elected in 1984, and
conceded he faced a difficult race for re-election.

This would have been hard to imagine a year or two ago. Delay has led the GOP agenda for the past decade, fighting to cut taxes, put limits on abortions, maybe most of all, cut government regulations on businesses.

But as the AP reports, scandal caught up with him. He's been indicted for campaign finance violations in Texas and linked tightly to Jack Abramoff. Democrats will no doubt mention him at every campaign appearance this year, while Republicans will probably soon be asking Tom who? Listen to MPR for lots more on this today.

Closer to home as I mentioned yesterday, things are really starting to pick up at the Capitol. Monday night a Senate committee approved a Twins stadium bill. MPR's Tom Scheck has that story:

The Twins have been pushing for a new ballpark since the mid-1990s. Lawmakers have been reluctant to provide any state money for a new stadium for fear that they'd face voter wrath at the ballot box. But the bill's chief author, DFL Sen. Steve Kelley of Hopkins, says his constituents also don't want to see the Twins or any other Minnesota sports team leave the state.

"Sixty percent of my constituents wanted me to make sure I didn't let any of the teams leave town," Kelley told the committee. "And 60 percent of my constituents didn't want to pay anything in order to prevent that from happening. So I've been trying to figure out how we blend those views of the public in as responsible a way as possible."

The Senate passed a bill that would let voters decide if the sales tax should be increased to fund a variety of programs. MPR's Tim Pugmire covered that one:

Many outdoor enthusiasts were on hand for the Senate debate. John Schroers, president of the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance, wasn't talking about betrayal. He described the vote as truly historic.

"The goal is to get it to conference committee. All of the add-ons obviously were not there when we started this effort eight years ago. And we're only here to defend the original intent. It's up to the wisdom of the Legislature to decide all the other issues," he said.

There sure has been a lot of attention paid to the gay marriage issue, and there will be even more today as the Senate Judiciary Committee takes up the proposed constitutional amendment. But the Star Tribune has an item inside the metro section today about lawmakers quietly taking a step back from some of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposals on immigration:

Although two key measures have overwhelmingly passed the House -- a bill ensuring police can ask about immigration status and the immigration status checks on driver's licenses -- the main immigration bill has had a bumpier road.

Facing opposition from Minnesota police and sheriff's groups, among others, the House "omnibus immigration bill" looked more like a mini-bus by the end of the week.

Finally, I was complaining yesterday about this whole "spring ahead" scam. I thought I was alone until I heard Phil Picardi read this AP item from South Dakota on MPR last night:

A specialist says some people who have trouble adjusting to daylight-saving time could take a while to recover.

David Thomas of the Sioux Valley Care Center's sleep clinic in Sioux Falls says many people have a hard time adjusting. He says the hour time change takes away our normal cues to awaken and get going.

Thomas says the rule of thumb for recovery from the change to daylight-saving time is one week for each half-hour of adjustment. But he says some people who won't feel fully rested for about three

Three months? Three months? You've got to be kidding!

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:29 AM

April 3, 2006
Pace picks up

It looks like the legislative session could get interesting this week.

Monday night the Senate gov ops committee takes a look at a Twins stadium bill, just in time for the beginning of baseball season.

The bill is authored by Sen. Steve Kelley, who is seeking the DFL endorsement for governor.

On Tuesday the Senate Judiciary Committee holds that long-awaited hearing on the proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage and civil unions.

House committees take up eminent domain, taxes and even the bird flu this week.

It'll be nice if the session picks up this week because frankly there's not a whole lot of political news this morning.

The St. Paul smoking ban took effect late last week and the city is still standing today. The yearly threat of flooding continues along the Red River of the north.

The Star Tribune has taken notice of the MCCL backed bill that would deny state funding for abortions.

And MPR weighs in on the dispute over that proposed dog kennel in Morrison County.

I, for one, wish the Legislture would take a good hard look at daylight-saving time. This "spring ahead" thing is killing me today.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:19 AM