May 2006 Archive

May 31, 2006
And they're off

By the time you read this Gov. Tim Pawlenty has probably already announced he's running for re-election. No big surprise. Everybody knew he was running, but it still marks the real beginning of the campaign season. And it's just in time, given that the GOP state convention starts tomorrow.

In the Pioneer Press Bill Salisbury has a piece suggesting Pawlenty may be the most polarizing governor in the country. It also features the governor admitting he made some mistakes in the last four years:

He said he alienated some groups with his tough budget decisions, and he angered DFLers with his "center-right" philosophy that's a threat to the "old Mondale-Humphrey-McCarthy-Wellstone view of the world that is deeply imbedded in the political psyche here."

But his biggest mistake, he said, was rolling over the Senate DFL majority during the 2003 legislative session, when with the help of the Republican-controlled House, he got almost everything he wanted and gave the senators nearly nothing in return.

For the next two years, he said, DFL senators were so angry that they blocked him from getting most of the things he wanted, even when that meant not getting anything done at all.

And the governor repeats that he will not sign any more pledges like the "no new taxes" one he agreed to the first time around. DFLers contend he broke the pledge, and they say lots of people's taxes and fees went up over the past four years.

All this should make for a very interesting campaign, and maybe for a very dull GOP state convention. But I'll have more on that tomorrow.

On the DFL side Sen. Becky Lourey will announce her running mate. Unconfirmed reports say it's Tim Baylor, a real estate developer who used to play for the Vikings.

In other news attorney Greg Wersal has escalated his anger about a judicial retreat into a formal complaint. MPR's Tom Scheck had that:

Wersal says the Minnesota Judicial Council, and Supreme Court justices Russell Anderson and G. Barry Anderson attended a retreat in February that provided advice on how to win elections. Wersal says he's concerned that they used taxpayer money to discuss how to run a campaign, something other political candidates have to do with their own money.

"This is all about helping the incumbents win elections," he said. "That's what this is about."

Judges in Minnesota are appointed but have to run for re-election. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled recently that judges in Minnesota can seek party endorsement, raise money and speak at partisan events.

An official with the Minnesota Supreme Court says the retreat did not focus on how judges can keep their jobs but on maintaining a fair and impartial judiciary in light of the recent ruling.

The state campain finance and public disclosure board got the complaint.

And it looks like Minneapolis residents may get a chance to bring instant-runoff voting to the mill city. The Star Tribune explains just how simple it is:

With instant-runoff voting there would be no primaries, which traditionally have low voter turnout. Instead, there would be one election day and one ballot. Voters would rank three candidates in order of preference.

If no candidate receives a majority, the candidate with the least number of first-place votes is eliminated. But those ballots are then counted for their second choices, which are added to the vote totals. A candidate wins when he or she receives at least 50 percent of the vote.

Got it?

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:56 AM

May 25, 2006
Isn't that special

Some folks here this morning are all wound up at a news item that the governor may call a special session on the natural resources constitutional amendment. But it's not likely to happen.

Even the lead in the Star Tribune makes it pretty clear that it's not going to happen:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty may be willing to call a special legislative session to reconsider a proposal that would allow voters to amend the state constitution to fund support for the outdoors and the arts, but only under strict guidelines that may prove untenable.

Why would Senate negotiators be willing to move now after they just spent three months standing pat? They still remember 1998 when the constitutional right to hunt and fish was on the ballot and it drew lots of GOP and IP voters. This sounds more like Pawlenty throwing those voters a bone to show he's still willing to work for them.

How would you feel if the state Legislature spent public money on a retreat where they talked about how to win elections? That's exactly what Greg Wersal is accusing judges of doing, according to the Pioneer Press:

Hennepin County Chief District Judge Lucy Wieland, who sits on the council, said the retreat focused on maintaining an impartial judiciary in light of Wersal's 2002 U.S. Supreme Court victory.

"The goal of the session was to educate the Judicial Council about the national and potential local trends in the direction of the politicization of the judiciary and the impact that has on the public's confidence," Wieland said. "It was really educational."

Wersal countered that the retreat on an "impartial judiciary" was really about how to get incumbent judges re-elected. He points to a summary of strategies that lists, "First task — how to help with judges who are up for re-election in 2006."

He points to another section labeled, "Campaign Tips, Ten Do's and Don'ts of Judicial Campaigning."

Wersal is guy who went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to win Minnesota judges the right to campaign.

And speaking of the campaign, it's already started over the one constitutional amendment that will for sure be on the ballot this fall. MPR had news items from both sides. First the supporters:

A group called Minnesotans for Better Roads and Transit launched a campaign Tuesday encouraging voters to support a proposed constitutional amendment that will appear on the ballot in November. If voters approve, the amendment will dedicate all of the revenue from the sales tax on new and used vehicles to roads and public transit. Currently nearly half of the money from the sales tax goes into the state's general fund.

The president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, David Olson, said the amendment is critical to the state's economy.

"It's a very important component of our state's future. If we don't have a great transportation system it makes it much harder for us to retain important businesses and attract new businesses to the state of Minnesota."

And now the opponents:

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland says the way the amendment is written, he worries all the money would be used for transit programs.

"We do in the city of Moorhead get a small amount of transit aid for our city bus system. But that's not going to help the road between Moorhead and Detroit Lakes. All you have to do is drive highway ten and you're going to see a pretty tough road. We are very concerned I think about the fact that across the state we are going to see a shortchange in road construction funds," he said.

You can see how complicated these constitutional amendments get. And that's the one the Legislature could agree on.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:12 AM

May 24, 2006
Apples and Plan B

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is set to sign two bills today.

That's what I'm reduced to writing about now that the session is over. He'll sign the all-important Honeycrisp apple bill at Anderson Elementary School in Bayport. The kids there led the effort to get the apple declared Minnesota's state fruit. Who can disagree? I have a Honeycrisp tree in my back yard.

The governor will also sign the Gopher stadium bill over at the University of Minnesota, where, coincidentally, the Honeycrisp apple was developed.

It's also Bob Dylan's 65th birthday, and he attended the university briefly.

Now if we could just get a picture of Bob eating a Honeycrisp the circle would be closed.

Speaking of the governor, he was in Duluth yesterday disputing the mayor's claim that he sunk the money for the expansion of the DECC. This is from the Duluth News Tribune:

"When I woke up and read the comments of the mayor, my first intention was to come here and kick some can, but I don't believe that is in the best interest of Duluth," Pawlenty said. "I came here to say that Duluth needs friends, and I consider myself a friend of Duluth."

On Monday, Bergson blamed the governor -- who is up for re-election this November -- for the DECC expansion not making it into the nearly $1 billion bonding package that lawmakers passed during the weekend.

However, Pawlenty pointed out on Tuesday that only his administration supported giving the DECC its full $28 million request throughout the session.

Pawlenty says he's 95 percent sure the Duluth money will pass next year. He didn't elaborate on the 5 percent uncertainty.

Another organization that got the short end of the session is the Minnesota Vikings. And that last minute tiff between the team and Anoka county may have some long term impact, according to the Pioneer Press:

The Minnesota Vikings are renewing their vow to build a stadium, though not necessarily in Anoka County.

After the team suffered a stinging setback at the state Capitol to its $790 million stadium proposal, a Vikings spokesman said Tuesday that the plan in Blaine might be too bogged down by politics to be viable.

"We have a great partnership with Anoka County, but we need a Plan B and Plan C. Mr. Wilf is very much a Plan B and Plan C kind of guy," said Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley, referring to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf. "There may not be an opportunity in Anoka County. Things change."

Who would have guessed that Mr. Wilf is a Plan B and Plan C kind of guy? Maybe the state should dust off that plan that would gut the Metrodome and rebuild it as a Vikings-only stadium. That seems like a pretty reasonable Plan B now that the Twins and Gophers are moving out.

By the way, the governor will sign the Twins stadium bill on Friday night at the Metrodome.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:57 AM

May 23, 2006
On second thought....

The session is over. Let the second guessing begin! Not that lawmakers didn't leave themselves some room for it. As they started traveling the state yesterday to take credit for what they did, others began taking issue with it.

Let's start with the Twins stadium. Lots of people seem happy that lawmakers have finally given Hennepin County the green light to build it. But as MPR's Tom Scheck reports, some people aren't:

During Minnesota Public Radio's Midday program on Monday, one long-time DFL voter in Hennepin County said she would vote for Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and even give him a campaign contribution if he vetoed the Twins bill. Another caller who identified himself as John, from Hennepin County, said he and his wife are longtime Republican donors. He says he won't vote for anyone who supported the stadium.

"Because this tax increase was shoved down our throats without a referendum, we will no longer support any politician who voted for that Twins stadium and that includes Gov. Pawlenty," he said.

Pawlenty may not be the only politician who could lose votes for supporting a Twins ballpark. DFL Sen. Steve Kelley's push to fund a Twins stadium could cost him the votes of party delegates in his quest to receive the DFL endorsement for governor. And any state lawmaker who represents Hennepin County could also face a backlash if they voted for the ballpark.

In the Strib Doug Grow sees a stadium gender gap.

Why do men and women see the deal so differently? Is it because as kids, we boys excluded the girls from our sunrise-to-sunset baseball games?

Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, didn't answer the questions directly. But she did say male domination set the legislative agenda -- yet again.

"This whole session was boys and toys," she said. "Kids and health, things that mature adults are concerned about, got shoved aside."

Some couldn't help but noting that amid all the squawking over the lack of a referendum for the stadium in Hennepin County, the one city that did hold a vote on expanding a sports facility didn't get any money. MPR's Bob Kelleher reported on the Duluth experience:

[Duluth Mayor] Herb Bergson places the lack of support at Gov. Pawlenty's feet. "Obviously I'm very disappointed," he says. "We had promises from the governor, and he didn't come through." The support, Bergson says, went instead to big stadium projects.

"I was singing the praises of the governor for pledging to us that this was going to happen, and it didn't," the mayor says. "They were doing cartwheels down there to see the Twins stadium and the Gopher stadium passed. They spent almost $800 million on those two projects, and they couldn't find $28 million for an expansion of the DECC in Duluth, and I'm gravely disappointed."

Pawlenty's spokesman says the governor did support the project, but the DFL-controlled Senate didn't.

And how about that proposed constitutional amendment that would have dedicated sales tax money to natural resources? The Pioneer Press does a post mortem, and it's amazing the patient lived as long as he did:

Several factors contributed to the defeat, observers say.

• The Senate and House had vastly different views of how to pay for it. The Republican-controlled House insisted funding should come from the existing 6.5 percent sales tax; the DFL-controlled Senate preferred a tax increase.

• Conferees couldn't agree whether to ask voters one question or two. Making the wrong choice and losing was considered by some worse than doing nothing.

• Some Senate DFLers thought a big turnout of hunters and anglers for the amendment vote would help Republicans more than Democrats.

• Questions about dedicating tax money for anything undermined support in both parties.

• Without early agreement about how much money to seek and how to divide it, various groups were perceived to be competing against each other instead of cooperating.

Not to mention that the big rally in favor of the bill drew a smaller crowd this year than it did last year.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:07 AM

May 22, 2006
Wake me up. It's over

The legislative session finally ended Sunday night.

Even though legislative leaders had hoped to avoid a Sunday night session they realized about 2 a.m. Sunday that they couldn't finish work on a supplemental spending bill unless they came back. So they nudged right up against today's constitutional deadline. But unlike last year, at least they finished on time. And, while they didn't get everything they wanted, they got a lot done for such a short session, as MPR's Laura McCallum reported:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty says leaders in both parties compromised on major issues, unlike last year's partisan gridlock and partial government shutdown.

"I kept saying, don't let the perfect get in the way of the good, let's find those things that are within the range of the do-able, and do them, and that's largely what happened this year."

Pawlenty has already signed into law several initiatives with broad bipartisan support, including bills restricting funeral protests, reducing mercury emissions and limiting local governments' power to seize private property. Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL- Willmar, considers the session one of the most productive in his 28 years in the Legislature.

"Two stadiums, which translates into over $1 billion worth of jobs and cost of materials, a $1 billion bonding bill for jobs and materials and fixing our infrastructure."

Johnson says the recent label of the "do nothing" Legislature has been erased.

Well, maybe amended, but not quite erased.

The 2006 session will most likely go down as the stadium session, with the Twins finally ending their decade long question and the University of Minnesota ready to bring football back to campus. But there are still some big questions surrounding stadium issues, the biggest being what happens to the Metrodome? And as stadium opponent Rep Phil Krinkie, R-Lino Lakes, noted on Midday Friday, if anyone thinks the economics of Major League Baseball have been fixed why are the Twins paying Kyle Lohse nearly $4 million per year to pitch in the minor leagues?

But today all is good news in Twinsville. The Star Tribune reports even the food will be better in the new ballpark:

When the Minnesota Twins' new ballpark opens, probably for the 2010 season, nouvelle cuisine will be one of the obvious changes for fans.

In the baseball industry, an expanded stadium food menu adds to what's known as "the fan experience." It's a big reason the team has wanted a new baseball-only ballpark for the past decade.

Ask Twins President Dave St. Peter what it will be like for fans in the new park and he said, "In a sentence, the antithesis of the Metrodome."

But wait, didn't the Twins win two World Series in the Metrodome? I don't think he meant the antithesis of that.

Legislative leaders and the governor will take a final victory lap around the state today. When the governor formally announce his run for re-election?

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:54 AM

May 19, 2006
Last days

The legislative session is almost over. Just one long weekend to go.

Late last night Gov. Pawlenty and legislative leaders did something they were unable to do last year. They reached a budget agreement during the regular session. That doesn't mean all the work is done but it sure helps. It's amazing what an election can do. MPR's Tom Scheck has the outline of the deal:

The agreement means about 200 million dollars will go to spending programs. The group suggested some of the money will be directed to housing sex offenders, cleaning up Minnesota's lakes and streams and preparing for a bird flu pandemic. The other $200 million will be directed to unspecified tax relief.

Gov. Pawlenty says the deal puts the wheels in motion for an orderly end to the legislative session. "It's a very good product for the people of Minnesota," he said. "It's a balanced product and it puts us in position now to finish up the session in a timely and productive fashion."

Of course nothing they've done over the past few years should give anyone any confidence they can follow though on that, but facing the voters certainly seems to have provided a good incentive for our leaders to do their work.

The Twins and Gopher stadium issues are still unresolved, although it's pretty clear the Vikings will not get a stadium this year. Some sports columnists are complaining that the Twins deal should have been finished earlier, and that lawmakers turned it into a "political football." Aside from the mixed metaphor, stadium opponents should have a pretty easy comeback. If the teams didn't want politics involved they could have easily avoided it by paying for their own stadiums. When you ask for hundred of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, politics does tend to enter the discussion.

The proposed constitutional amendment dedicating some sales tax money to natural resources and the arts is also still up in the air. The conference committee met Thursday night, but they seem far away from an agreement.

Finally, Minneapolis and St. Paul are making a joint pitch for the national political conventions in 2008. Would the Republicans ever come to cities that Democrats have represented so long? The last time they were here was in 1892. Just in case, the 2008 Democratic Convention is scheduled for August 25 through 28. And the Republican convention is set for September 1 through 4. Make your plans now to get as far away as possible!

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:01 AM
Permalink | Comments (1)

May 18, 2006
Take and give

Is the state taking money from smokers and getting ready to give it to homeowners? Somebody in the newsroom asked that question yesterday and it's a good one.

There's not much doubt that 75 cent per pack health impact fee or tax is regressive. That means low income people pay more of it than high income people. A 1993 study I found on the internet (and don't believe everything you read on the internet) by KPMG Peat Marwick found that families making less than $30,000 per year pay more than half of all taxes paid on cigarettes. By contrast, it said families making more than $60,000 pay only 14 percent.

Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the health impact fee, lawmakers are going ahead with plans for property tax relief. Technically the cigarette fee money goes to a different account that the property tax money, but the House was clear that it would not push ahead with its plan for property tax rebate checks if the fee had been struck down by the high court.

MPR's Laura McCallum reports that the debate over tax relief now is between the House plan for pre-election checks and a Senate plan for more local government aid payments to various cities around Minnesota:

Gov. Pawlenty says the House GOP rebate plan is a good short-term fix.

"I wish they would pass our property tax freeze or limit on property taxes as a permanent fix, because if you do the one-time buydowns or the rebates, it doesn't fix the problem permanently, which I'm more interested in, but one-time relief is at least a plan B that's worth considering," Pawlenty says.

Democrats call the rebate proposal an election-year "gimmick." The checks would be mailed out in October, right before the election. House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, a DFLer from St. Paul, says the rebates will merely mask the effects of past budget cuts.

And as for you smokers? You're on your own. Good luck kicking the habit.

The Anoka County Vikings stadium appears done for the year. Senate conferees agreed to cut the Vikings loose from the stadium bill late Wednesday night. The move is good news for the Twins, but as MPR's Tom Scheck reports there are still a few details to be worked out:

Now that the Vikings are out of the picture, the Twins are ever so close to getting a stadium plan through both bodies and onto the desk of a supportive Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The Twins ballpark plan would rely on a .15 percent sales tax in Hennepin County and a $130 million contribution from the team.

The conference committee is expected to continue negotiating some other sticking points Thursday. Senate conferees say they still want a smaller metro wide sales tax to pay for transportation projects.

The conference committee working on the Gopher football stadium met for the first time yesterday and members seemed optimistic they can get a deal done.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:12 AM
Permalink | Comments (6)

May 17, 2006
Win win

Gov. Tim Pawlenty was all smiles Tuesday afternoon. And why not? Not only had he prevailed in the "health impact fee" case in front of the the Minnesota Supreme Court, but he also had the best jobs number of the year to announce.

The court decision means the nearly $400 million for the biennium raised by the 75 cent per pack fee is available to the Legislature. The House has already passed a bill to send most of that back to homeowners in the form of property tax rebates right before the election. And while the money may create some last minute complications for ending the session, it's clear from the Star Tribune story that lawmakers would rather be flush than broke:

Legislative leaders were unanimous in again singling out property tax reductions, either through a Republican proposal for direct rebates or a DFL bill providing more aid to local governments, as tops on the agenda.

Sviggum said the Republicans' proposal to rebate 9 percent of this year's homeowner property tax bills is superior because it would put money "directly in the hands of taxpayers."

Senate Taxes Committee Chairman Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said the DFL approach is superior because it would benefit every type of property owner, including businesses and renters, and would provide "permanent" relief.

About all that was left for DFLers (and some conservatives) was to complain about taxes, as Rep. Tom Rukavina did to MPR's Laura McCallum:

"I was totally opposed to taxing the poorest people in the state with the most regressive tax. A lot of people complained, not just smokers, a lot of people thought it was unfair, and almost every person to a 't' on the Iron Range knows that this is a tax and not a fee."

Expect to hear the "t" word a lot more between now and Election Day. Here's what the DFL Party Chair Brian Melendez had to say:

The governor’s too-cute-by-half wording left the state’s finances in limbo for nearly a year. Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court bailed him out. The lesson from this debacle is a simple one: take responsibility for your actions. Tim Pawlenty uses every back-channel available to get around his no-new-taxes pledge.

This ruling does not exonerate him from his responsibilities as governor. He has still raised fees and tuition by over a billion dollars and he has still forced property taxes to skyrocket.

But even as the Democrats complain they seem perfectly willing to spend the money. And they seem to have lost another point on which to rip Pawlenty--the jobs issue. Here's what MPR's Jeff Horwich wrote:

The Minnesota economy added nearly 16,000 jobs in April, the biggest gain of any month in the past year.

April marked Minnesota's 10th consecutive month of job gains. The 15,800 jobs added last month bring the total number added in the past three years to almost 100,000.

The sector with the strongest job growth last month was "professional and business services" -- which includes both high-paid jobs in corporate and financial management and the lower-paid temporary labor sector.

As Pawlenty noted at his press conference yesterday one month does not a trend make, but better for an incumbent to have the numbers going up than down.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:52 AM
Permalink | Comments (1)

May 16, 2006
Topless in Anoka

Can anything save the Vikings stadium plan? NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue will appear before the stadium conference committee Tuesday to make a pitch. But unless he's got $115 million in his pocket it's not looking good. On Monday the Vikings made what appeared to be a Hail Mary pass by offering to take the roof off the stadium and save the state that aforementioned $115 million. But as MPR's Tom Scheck reports the Vikings teammates Anoka County weren't in on the game plan:

Anoka County commissioners are uncomfortable with the idea. County Board Chair Margaret Langfeld says the panel agreed to a county-wide sales tax in exchange for a stadium with a retractable roof.

Langfeld says Anoka County wants the venue to be used for other events besides Vikings football. She says an open-air stadium in Blaine would never attract a Super Bowl or college basketball's Final Four, premier events that would bring tourists and their money to Anoka County. Langfeld said the board would rethink its support for a county-wide sales tax if state lawmakers pass a stadium bill that lacks funding for a retractable roof.

"We talk about it and we talk about the amount of our contribution. If it doesn't bring us the revenue to the county that a retractable brings, how could we ever be expected to put in the same amount of money?" Langfeld said.

Meanwhile a conference committee will meet for the first time to talk about a Gopher football stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

As the deadline for adjournment nears the legislature finished work on another of the priority items for the session--a bill that would make it harder for local governments to take private property. The move to reform what's called eminent domain stems from a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that upheld the right of government to acquire private property for redevelopment. Although the final version of the bill passed by wide margins in the House and Senate, MPR's Laura McCallum noted that some local governments say the Legislature overreacted:

In the city of Columbia Heights, the bill will likely put a stop to a project that has already cost the city more than $1 million. Community development director Bob Streetar says the city planned to acquire about five acres of land in the middle of downtown - some of which is contaminated - clean up the land and allow senior housing to be built on it. But one property owner doesn't want to sell, and Streetar says the land the city has acquired so far is now in limbo.

"If you can't assemble property, you can't do a project. The only way you can assemble property is through the use of eminent domain, you can at least bring people to the table to bargain, and this bill prohibits any of that from happening. The rights of the property owner now trump the rights of the community," he said.

And he is predicting the Legislature will have to revisit the issue next year.

Morning Edition talked to Minnesota National Guard Adjutant General Larry Shellito about President Bush's plan to use guard troops to patrol the Mexican border. He says the plan is "doable." he said a short deployment would mesh with regular guard training and would be "routine business." He added that Minnesota, with 2,600 guard troops freshly deployed to Iraq, would probably not be asked to send troops to police the border.

The president made his announcement hours after Vice President Dick Cheney gave a pep talk to Minnesota guard troops at the Twin Cities airport. Cheney also spent some time in the state raising money for the GOP, as MPR's Tim Pugmire reported:

Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey says the event is expected to raise six figures. But he wouldn't say any more about it. "This was presented as a private event, a low-profile event. And we chose not to make it into -- not a lot of details on this," said Carey.

The most likely beneficiaries of a Cheney fundraiser are Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Congressman Mark Kennedy, who's running for U.S. Senate. Pawlenty was with the vice president at the National Guard speech. Kennedy was not.

A low profile event? Featuring the vice president?

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:05 AM

May 15, 2006
One week and counting

There is now officially one week to go in the 2006 legislative session, although legislative leaders say they'd like to finish before May 22. It's certainly possible that they could, even though it's not worth making a bet on it.

Right now it looks like the big obstacles remain stadium legislation and abortion language that's holding up health and human services funding in the Senate. The abortion measures have already been passed by the House and are backed by the MCCL--Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life--the state's largest anti-abortion organization. They say the state should not pay for abortions for low income women on state subsidized health insurance plans, even though the state Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that the state has to. The other measure would require more information to be collected about judges who allow minors to get abortions without parental approval.

It looks like there aren't enough votes in the Senate to keep the amendments off the HHS funding bill. Senators opposed to the abortion language stripped the funding off a larger budget bill to buy more time to work on rounding up votes. Majority Leader Dean Johnson called the funding bill critical. It includes money for things like incarcerating sexual sociopaths and to prepare for a bird flu pandemic.

As for the stadium, it's clear that the Hennepin County Twins plan is a must-have for House Republicans. Just why isn't so clear. The Star Tribune published a poll Sunday that shows most Minnesotans still don't believe the Twins, Vikings or Gophers need a new stadium. The Hennepin County plan polls slighly better than other plans, but 49 percent still oppose it compared to 40 percent who like it.

The stadium conference committee, the bonding bill conference committee and the budget bill conferees are all scheduled to meet Monday. House Speaker Steve Sviggum said Friday once the bonding bill is finished there won't be many legislators who want to stay in St. Paul.

If you missed it, Patty Wetterling won the DFL endorsement Saturday to face Republican Michele Bachmann November. IP candidate John Binkowski will also be on the ballot. MPR's Laura McCallum had a clip in her story of Wetterling at the podium sounding as she's ready for a fight with Bachmann:

"She's bad for this district! She's bad for America! She's bad for families! She's bad for children! She's bad for everything I believe in! I have the ability to pull people together, I've proven that to you for 16 years," Wetterling said.

This should be interesting.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:51 AM

May 12, 2006
Forest and trees

It's too bad the major accomplishment of the legislative session isn't getting nearly as much attention as the stadium bills.

What accomplishment? Well, how about the one that passed both the House and Senate unanimously and was signed by Gov. Pawlenty yesterday. It's the bill that would cut mercury emissions from coal burning power plants by 90 percent over the next nine years, faster than federal law requires. Even MPR gave it just a quick hit yesterday:

The law applies to four Xcel Energy power generation units in Stillwater and Becker and two power generation units at Minnesota Power's Clay Boswell plant in Cohasset.

Paula Maccabee with Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota says the new law is a victory for citizens who have put pressure on elected officials for years to get this legislation passed.

"I think there was an enormous groundswell of support from the community. And when that happens it brings the parties to the table," she said.

Once the law fully takes effect it's expected to cut mercury emissions by nearly 1,200 pounds per year.

Twelve hundred pounds of mercury a year? That's a lot. Citizens got fired up because they thought government and industry were moving too slowly. The press got wind of it and did some tough reporting. Government and industry actually stepped up and got the job done. Haven't we all been complaining the past few years that things don't work in Minnesota anymore? Isn't this the way it's supposed to work? But there was no controversy so the signing itself didn't make a very good news story.

Oh well, I guess we'd rather talk about stadiums. The White Sox are in town tonight. The forecast? Seventy percent chance of rain, 40 degrees and north wind at 10-15 mph. Sounds like a great night for outdoor baseball. Are we sure a new baseball stadium shouldn't have a roof?

Aron Kahn at the Pioneer Press reports the stadium conference committee appears to be loaded with Twins stadium supporters:

The House and Senate picked their starting lineups Thursday for a pivotal stadium conference committee that will favor the Twins' original plan for a Hennepin County sales tax, likely without a referendum.

"We're going to build a Twins ballpark,'' predicted Rep. Brad Finstad, R-New Ulm, sponsor of the House's Twins bill and chief House negotiator on the conference committee.

The odds on a Vikings stadium were less good. None of the House negotiators are sponsors of a Vikings bill, meaning the team won't have a champion on the House side of the table.

"I'm frustrated as all hell,'' said Rep. Andy Westerberg, R-Coon Rapids, after learning that Republican Speaker Steve Sviggum didn't appoint him to the committee. Westerberg is sponsor of a Vikings bill that was passed by one House committee.

Over in the Senate they passed the tax bill Thursday night that includes the sports memorabilia tax to fund the Gopher football stadium. Gov. Pawlenty and House Republicans still don't like it.

I spent last night at the MPR Forum watching MPR's Jeff Horwich and crew put on their show called the Loop. It's kind of a cross between the Tonight Show and Midday. And it was good. Tune in to MPR at 9 tonight to hear it.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:08 AM

May 11, 2006
Looking for progress

Legislative leaders said a while ago they want to end the session by May 17. At least the negotiators on the bonding bill look like they want to hold to that deadline.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, and Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, chair the conference committee working on the bonding bill. They've been waiting for legislative leaders to give them an overall dollar amount or target to work with, but so far the leaders have been doing their best to avoid serious meetings. So yesterday Langseth said he would accept the number in Dorman's bill. Dorman told MPR that's a good sign for finishing the bill:

"We finally, after how many ever days we've been here milling around, apparently have an agreement on the overall size of the bill, so now we can actually get to work and put a bill out. So I think that that is very, very good news," he said.

Dorman says the conference committee must still work out other differences between the two bills. The Senate measure does not include funding for some projects Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been pushing for.

Is there any doubt that lawmakers will leave town in a hurry once the final version of the bonding bill emerges from the conference committee?

Of course one of big issues holding up progress is stadiums. MPR's Tom Scheck had a piece last night looking at whether the Senate wants to kill the stadiums or whether they will survive. His reading? There's still lots of optimism among stadium supporters:

Several stadium supporters, including [Sen. David] Tomassoni, chief author Steve Kelley and Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson say they're willing to consider the House offer if there's little support for their plan. Johnson says he and other stadium supporters in the Senate will get a Twins ballpark and a Gopher stadium done this year.

"We have every intention, every intention, of moving forward in a positive way in a bill that the governor would sign," Johnson says.

One theory heard yesterday: the Senate passed the half cent sales tax transit/stadium bill because it was the only way supporters could get any stadium bill into conference committee. Under this scenario the conference committee will give into the House and accept the Hennepin County Twins plan after a few days of putting up a fight for the metro wide sales tax. But will they hold out for a Hennepin County referendum in exchange?

Well, we're closer to having a state fruit. The Senate passed a bill that would grant that designation to the Honeycrisp apple. A group of kids from Andersen Elementary in Bayport has been pushing the idea. There must be some way to tie that to the stadium debate, but I can't think of it.

Maybe this is it. The Honeycrisp was developed at the University of Minnesota. Why not add some classrooms to the U's stadium proposal? Maybe they could do stem cell research there. Wasn't the research for the Manhattan Project done at a stadium at the University of Chicago? Sounds like a win-win to me.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:50 AM
Permalink | Comments (1)

May 10, 2006
Trouble ahead?

Remember the good old days? Just a year ago the Legislature and the governor were headed for the state's first-ever partial government shutdown. What? You don't remember? Well, you're not alone. It looks like our state leaders have forgotten the lessons of last year. At least that's the way it looks in this post stadium debate episode reported in the Star Tribune:

But with the Legislature scheduled to adjourn in less than two weeks, an initial meeting late Tuesday in Pawlenty's office to try to resolve a long list of differences over the stadiums quickly broke down when Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, the Senate's ranking DFLer, did not attend.

"They said he was busy," said an agitated Steve Sviggum, speaker of the House. "Too busy to come to a meeting that the governor called?"

Johnson seemed to be equally perturbed. He said Pawlenty told him last week that the Senate was "dinking around" on a series of legislative matters, including the stadium proposals. "I received enough lectures when I misbehaved in junior high school. I don't need to hear them now that I'm 58," he said.

Some might say junior high looks like the House of Lords compared to the Minnesota Capitol these days. And it only makes sense that the leadership is in a roid-rage over sports stadiums. With the Senate votes yesterday the House and Senate are now far apart on stadium plans. As MPR's Tom Scheck notes it helps to have an accounting degree to keep them straight:

The different stadium plans work like this: the Senate passed a bill that relies on a half-cent sales tax in the metropolitan area to fund retractable-roof stadiums for the Twins and Vikings, and funds transportation projects. It would require voter approval.

The House passed a Twins plan that relies on a Hennepin County sales tax to pay for a Twins ballpark. It doesn't require voter approval. The House has not passed a plan that would finance a stadium for the Vikings.

The House also takes a different approach on financing an on-campus football stadium for the University of Minnesota. The House approach allows the U of M to collect naming rights money, increase student fees and swap land with the state of Minnesota to pay for its portion of the stadium. In exchange, the House bill would provide up to $9.4 million a year in future general fund revenue to cover the state's portion of the $248 million stadium.

The Senate bill strips away the student fees, the naming rights deal and the land swap. Instead, it would rely on a sports merchandise tax to cover the state's $12.9 million a year cost. It's a 13 percent tax on the wholesale level, which would equate to a 6 percent tax on the retail level.

Can they resolve this in a week and a half? Do they even want to? The Twins, Vikings and Gophers care deeply, but does the rest of Minnesota have stadium fever? You got me. But I'll bet most Minnesotans agree with Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, that the new Gopher Stadium should be called "Veterans Memorial Stadium" just like the old one. Would "TCF Banks Veterans Memorial Stadium" satisfy anybody?

The other story out of the Capitol that's getting some play today is Rep. Paul Kohls, R-Victoria, call for a gas tax holiday. It would save drivers 20 cents per gallon. Kohls would hold road construction harmless by using a tax relief account to make up the difference. The only problem with that is that the House has already passed a bill using that money to give property taxpayers rebate checks.

And on the topic of transportation DFLers appear to smell blood on the financing plan for Highway 62 reconstruction. The Star Tribune reported yesterday that the project is being delayed to give contractors more time to study the financing plan which would have basically loan the state money to keep the project on track. They would be paid back when the federal government kicks in its share of the project.

Now the paper reports three DFLers in the House are calling for a hearing, and Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing said on Midday yesterday he will hold hearings.

And on Midday today you can hear Patty Wetterling and El Tinklenberg make their case for endorsement by 6th District DFLers to face Michele Bachmann. The endorseing convention is Saturday.

Bill Salisbury in the Pioneer Press takes a deeper look at something I was talking about the other day, the ideological gap between Bachman and Rep. Keith Elison, DFL-Minneapolis, who were both endorsed last Saturday for Congress in different districts.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:48 AM

May 9, 2006
Abortion sidestep

DFL leaders of the Minnesota Senate dodged the abortion issue Monday night as they passed a funding bill without health and human services language.

The debate on the only budget bill of the session was delayed much of the day as abortion opponents tried to round up enough votes to keep the language off the bill. At issue is language supported by the state's largest anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life and added to the funding bill in the House. It would challenge a 1995 state Supreme Court decision that says state subsidized health insurance must fund abortions for low income women.

As MPR's Tim Pugmire reported, the bill's author, St. Paul DFLer Dick Cohen, didn't allow the abortion debate to materialize in the Senate:

"The best way to handle this is to do everything on the human service side in one bill," Cohen said. "So, I'm asking this motion to delete the human service sections of this bill."

Cohen's move drew an angry response from several Republicans. Sen. Tom Neuville, R-Northfield, was incensed.

"Now we're here with supposedly a finance bill, and you know there's a pro-life amendment coming, and so you strip out the part that we'd amend it to," Neuville said. "Not only don't you have any leadership, not only don't you have any direction, now you don't have any courage."

DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson says the Senate will vote on the human services funding bill, and presumably the abortion amendments before the session ends. But obviously there's not a whole lot of trust there. That could make for an interesting debate Tuesday on stadiums in the Senate. I've written plenty about that issue already and will have more tomorrow, so I don't think I'll get into it now.

I remember doing some of the first reporting on proposals to create a commuter rail system back in the mid-90's. Now it looks like the Northstar line may actually be getting close to reality. MPR's Dan Olson had that story.

I had some technical problems getting today's Policast together, so I'm behind. If you don't know what Policast is, it's the fastest growing political podcast in Minnesota. In fact, we saw 100 percent growth from March to April. OK, that means 50 people were downloading it in March and 100 did it in April, but to me that's trending in the right direction! It's a great service if you want to catch up on MPR's political reporting but don't necessarily have time to wait for it to come around on the radio. Right now I'm putting the reporter's stories on there (when the technical end works), but in the future I hope to add interviews and other special features. If you are downloading it, drop me a note to let me know what you think and how I can make it better.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:27 AM

May 8, 2006

I'm sure the congressional endorsements over the weekend by the 6th District GOP and the 5th District DFL say something about Minnesota. I'm just not sure quite what.

You've probably heard by now that DFLers in the state's biggest city chose state Rep. Keith Ellison as their choice to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo. He's a lawyer, a powerful speaker and probably would not dispute that he is one of the most liberal members of the Minnesota Legislature. If he is elected in November he would make history by being the first African American and the first Muslim elected to Congress from Minnesota.

Ellison faces some hurdles before November. At least three DFLers say they will challenge him the September primary.

In the 6th, Republicans chose Sen. Michele Bachmann. Here's her capsule bio from MPR's Tim Pugmire:

Bachmann proudly describes herself as the most conservative member of the Minnesota Senate, both socially and fiscally. She's been a leading voice in the effort to ban same-sex marriages. She also fought to replace the academic standards used in public schools.

Bachmann will be on the ballot in November. Her opponents for the endorsement say they won't run in the primary. DFLers endorse their candidate next weekend.

Bachmann is also a lawyer. Beyond that, she's about as different as can be from Keith Ellison. If both of them were elected to Congress it's hard to imagine them cosponsoring a bill. Is Minnesota really that polarized? Are average people in Minneapolis really that different from average people in St. Cloud or Stillwater?

In other endorsement news from the weekend former Sen. Rod Grams won the GOP nod to face DFLer Jim Oberstar in the 8th. If nothing else Grams might help energize Republicans in Northern Minnesota to turn out to for Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Mark Kennedy. Oberstar released a statement to welcome Grams to the race...sort of:

“I’ve known Rod for many years,” said Oberstar, “He means well, but he is continuing to embrace the same failed ideas his party has been pushing for years.”

Oberstar says he looks forward to talking about the issues. “Grams and the Republicans have ran up the largest debt in our nation’s history, $31,000 for every man woman and child in this country. Their trade policies have lead to millions of jobs being shipped overseas. In fact, NAFTA is such a disaster that wages in Mexico have dropped 20 percent since it went into effect, and that has record numbers of desperate people entering our country illegally. A failed foreign policy has lead us to war in the Middle East and gas is hitting $3 a gallon. I think the American people have had enough of this and Rod Grams is only offering the same old, failed policies.”

So in other words, good to see you again, you jerk!

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:42 AM

May 5, 2006
Long Weekend

There are two big endorsing conventions this weekend and both could last a while.

Republicans in the 6th District and DFLers in the 5th are set to meet on Saturday.

In the 6th, Michele Bachmann, Jay Esmay, Jim Knoblach and Phil Krinkie are competing for the endorsement. Incumbent Mark Kennedy is leaving to run for Senate. DFLers have their own endorsing contest to settle next week between Patty Wetterling and El Tinklenberg.

In the 5th at last count there were 11 candidates seeking the DFL nomination. Here's the latest list from the Associated Press:

-Gail Dorfman, Hennepin County commissioner, St. Louis Park.

-Keith Ellison, state representative, Minneapolis

-Mike Erlandson, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo, former
DFL party chairman, Minneapolis.

-Anne Knapp, business executive, former state official,

-Jon Olson, Minneapolis Park Board member.

-Paul Ostrow, Minneapolis City Council member.

-Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, peace activist and college professor,

-Ember Reichgott Junge, former state senator, New Hope.

-Jorge Saavedra, attorney, Minneapolis.

-Gary Schiff, Minneapolis City Council member.

-Erik Thompson, peace activist, Milan.

Rep. Martin Sabo is retiring. He endorsed Erlandson yesterday. Reichgott Junge, Olson and Ostrow say they'll run in the primary in September. Alan Fine is running for the seat as a Republican. Tammy Lee is an Independence Party candidate and Jay Pond is running as a Green.

We'll have reporters at both conventions, and you can hear their wrap ups on Sunday morning.

I'm in a hurry today, so not much time to look at the news.

MPR's Laura McCallum had a good one on the debate over the report from the Minnesota Taxpayers Association on the financial problems facing public pensions. Rick Kupchella at KARE did some reporting on pensions this week that had some of the commission members upset.

And the Star Tribune takes a look at campaign contributions from the Pohlad family.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:31 AM

May 4, 2006
Stadium Fatigue

I'm getting tired of stadiums. I'd much rather be writing about all the movie stars who visited St. Paul yesterday. But like it or not this has become the stadium session. For a while there it looked like it might be the gay marriage session, but no. Stadiums.

And MPR's Tom Scheck, who may or may not be getting stadium fatigue, takes a crack at the latest development. This one involves the Senate Taxes Committee creating a sports memorabilia tax to pay for a Gopher football stadium. And according to Tom's report no one seems too excited by it:

[Sen. Larry] Pogemiller has criticized the House plan. That measure involves a $9.4 million annual state payment. Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, a Republican from Owatonna, says his caucus will provide no support for the DFL Senate plan because it spends even more taxpayer money.

"It's DOA on arrival and I will tell you $12.9 million on the floor. It's a major problem for this," Day said.

Other Republicans criticized the sports merchandise tax. Republican Warren Limmer of Maple Grove says the tax is too large and too broad to be earmarked for one U of M stadium.

"You've got taxes on Vikings products, you've got taxes on baseball products and NBA products, and it all goes for just the narrow focus of paying for a college stadium," Limmer said.

And while the stadium issue is dominating the agenda, the Minnesota Taxpayers Association issued a report about a multi-billion dollar problem facing the state. MPR's Laura McCallum had that:

The Taxpayers Association released a report showing that six of Minnesota's largest public pension funds covering 600,000 people had a total of $9.8 billion in unfunded liabilities as of last June. For five of those plans, current contributions made by employees and taxpayers are not enough to close the funding gap.

The association's executive director, Lynn Reed, says one problem is that Minnesota pensions give bonuses to retirees when investment returns go up dramatically, but doesn't reduce pensions when the stock market plummets.

"It's the only state that unconditionally pays out these bonuses that become a permanent part of the base for the benefit of that retiree," he said.

Rep. Phil Krinkie didn't show up for an MPR Midday program Wednesday featuring the GOP candidates for Congress in the 6th District. All the candidates agree that Sen. Michele Bachmann will lead on the first ballot at Saturday's endorsing convention.

During the program Krinkie held a news conference at the Capitol to release a tax plan as reported by the Pioneer Press:

House Republicans on Wednesday called for about $800 million in state tax cuts, most of which would not go into effect until 2008.

The cuts include a $400 million reduction over two years in state income taxes, accomplished by lowering two of the three income-tax rates that kick in as Minnesotans' incomes rise.

Krinkie and House Speaker Steve Sviggum acknowledged there's probably not time to pass the bill this session, and there's no way to tell what the state budget might look like by 2008. That led Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville to put out this release:

State Sen. John Marty today released details of a proposed tax bill that includes a property tax rebate and which provides for more than $1 quadrillion ($1,000,000,000,000,000 or $10 to the 15th power) in tax reductions over three years.

“We have a plan for real tax reform and relief,” said Sen. Marty. “This is a balanced approach to tax reform which provides tax relief to every working family in Minnesota.”

The proposed tax relief package utilizes a projected $1.1 billion surplus in the 2008-09 fiscal years. Sen. Marty says that he hopes that the tax cuts will spur economic growth to the point that the projection will go up to the quadrillions to pay for the proposal.

The bill will eliminate income tax rates on the bottom and middle tax brackets. “In addition, those people with the highest incomes in the state won’t pay any taxes – we’ll be paying them,” said Sen. Marty.

“I know I’m not running for Congress, so this proposal may not seem as ambitious as some proposals, but it’s a great proposal if you ignore things like having to pay for it and the money not being there,” said Sen. Marty.

“I’d have gone up to the gazillions, but I was told that wasn’t actually a number,” said Sen. Marty. “The Senate is looking to give Minnesotans a quadrillion in tax relief. After this, no one will pay taxes.”

Is the session almost over? Did I mention there's a big stadium debate in the Senate on Monday?

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:03 AM

May 3, 2006
Prayer, politics and the stadium

It's official. You now need a scorecard to keep the stadium plans straight.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson used his power as chair of the Senate Rules Committee to break a logjam in the Senate Taxes Committee and send a stadium bill to the Senate floor. But the bill is much different from the Twins bill passed by the GOP-controlled House.

Specifically, the bill pays for two stadiums with roofs. One is for the Twins; the other is for the Vikings. It raises the sales tax in the seven county metro area by .5 percent, but only if voters approve. And it pays for much more than stadiums. The higher sales tax would raise more than $12 billion over 30 years that would be spent on metro area transit projects.

Early in the day Tuesday Johnson was asked about the plans prospects in the tax committee:

"Once in awhile, chairs need some prompting, some coaching, some counseling, some encouragement. And I would say that the entire tax committee needs all of the above and more, to include prayer," he said.

But Johnson did more than just pray, as MPR's Tom Scheck reports:

In a day of political maneuvering, Senate DFLers took the unusual step of removing the Twins bill from the Senate Taxes Committee and sent it to the Rules Committee. The Rules Committee, which is controlled by senior DFLers, then dramatically overhauled the bill.

Johnson says he expects a full Senate vote on the proposal later this week.

"So we're kind of taking it a vote at a time, a step at a time to hopefully get these initiatives in a conference committee," he said.

Johnson says Senate DFLers removed the bill from the Taxes Committee because that panel has been wrangling over stadium legislation for five straight days.

Twins stadium supporters and many Republicans are howling. This is from the Pioneer Press:

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, predicted the Republican House majority would not accept the two-stadium combination or the metrowide sales tax, which was proposed Tuesday in the DFL-led Senate Rules Committee.

"It's a movement to kill the Twins," Sviggum said. "There's no way that the House will support the metrowide sales tax."

Sviggum, who has repeatedly argued against combining Twins and Vikings stadium bills, accused Senate Democrats of "monkeying around" with the Twins-Hennepin County plan approved by the House last week.

Gov. Pawlenty put out a statement saying voters should challenge Senate DFLers to explain how the bill would actually build a Twins stadium. Of course it's the Senate DFL plan, not the House plan Pawlenty supports, that now actually formally asks voters to weigh in.

All this happened a few hours after legislative leaders said they want the session to end early. They said there's no reason the session can't end May 17, five days before the constitutional deadline. Anybody want to bet they'll make it?

Last week ago supporters of a gay marriage ban were upset at the Associated Press over an article questioning their financial disclosure. Now they've vented their anger by questioning the spending of their opponents. The AP's Martiga Lohn had the story:

Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage - whose own reporting practices have been under scrutiny - contended that OutFront Minnesota isn't revealing enough about its activities to keep the issue of same-sex unions off the ballot in November.

The complaints from Jeff Davis, president of the marriage group,
also said several smaller groups - Faith, Family, Fairness Alliance; Equality Minnesota; PFLAG Northfield; and an unnamed St. Cloud group -should be registered with the state as political committees working to influence a ballot question on the definition of marriage.

The groups cited deny they did anything wrong. Remember when the debate over gay marriage actually involved gay marriage?

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:07 AM

May 2, 2006

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants marched across the country yesterday to complain about the Senate Taxes Committee. No, not really. I just wanted to see if you're still paying attention. But lots of people are complaining about the Senate Taxes Committee. Especially people who work for the Minnesota Twins. Why? Because the committee has brought back that referendum. MPR's Tom Scheck had the story:

On a 12-0 vote, the committee voted to require voter approval of a Hennepin County sales tax that would finance three quarters of the cost of a new ballpark for the Minnesota Twins.

The Twins and Hennepin County leaders say a referendum requirement is a stadium killer. They argue that it would add uncertainty to the process and delays that will increase construction costs.

While the vote is a setback for their efforts, Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat said he didn't think the committee's vote indicated that the tide was turning against their proposal.

"I don't know what tide is turning where here, I think it's more of a whirlpool going on in here. I wouldn't call it a tide," he said.

Is that whirlpool the stadium going down the drain? Who knows? The committee, chired by Minneapolis DFLer Larry Pogemiller meets again today. On the agenda, that plan to raise the metro area sales tax by half a percent to pay for stadiums and transportation.

And while the stadium made the front page again (at least in the Pioneer Press) the Legislature was actually getting some work done. The House unanimously passed that mercury reduction bill. The bill to ban protests at funerals went to the governor's desk. And the House passed its lone budget bill, one that spends more to keep sex offenders locked up, increases funding for veterans programs and sends some money to the U of M's Rochester facility.

Legislative leaders plan to meet today to talk about a target for the bonding bill, which would be the last piece that has to fall into place before the bonding conference committee can do its job. House Speaker Steve Sviggum said again on Midday yesterday that once there's an agreement on the bonding bill there's not much reason for legislators to stick around. Leaders of the Senate are scheduled to appear on Midday today.

It sure feels like the session could end rather quickly if the leaders reach an agreement, but as the past few years have shown that's not necessarily an easy thing.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:09 AM

May 1, 2006
Need a roof?

Can you imagine if the Twins-Tigers series had been scheduled in an outdoor stadium in Minneapolis over the weekend? All three games would have been rained out, which probably would have been a good thing for the Twins who were outscored 33-1. But the score seems beside the point at the Capitol.

Stadium supporters (especially an AM radio personality who also doubles as TV sports reporter--since when do reporters get to use the airwaves to crusade for their personal agendas?) have been saying the plan for a metro area sales tax increase that would pay for a roof, a Vikings stadium and transportation improvements is dead on arrival, and that Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis should drop it. The Vikings on Friday signed on to the plan, saying it's the only way they'll get a stadium this year.

Pogemiller's committee may vote today. And some of the pressure from the press seemed to get to him Sunday as MPR reported:

A two-hour Sunday night session focused on a proposal to use a seven-county metro sales tax increase to pay for the Twins and Vikings projects. During the meeting, Pogemiller reacted to a newspaper sports column that had accused him of playing games.

"It is not game playing to spend your time working on legislative language of a bill and trying to accommodate members of the Senate as to what their hopes and aspirations and ideas are. If you've not taken a civics lesson you may view that as game playing."

Of course anyone who expects the Capitol to work like what they learned in civics class may be disappointed.

If you listen to MPR, you've probably heard that management is concerned about the version of the sales tax dedication bill that passed in the House. Why? Because the bill proposes a constitutional amendment that would dedicate money to a variety of programs, including public broadcasting, but it specifically excludes MPR. Tim Pugmire has a look at what happened:

[MPR President Bill] Kling says he has no idea why House Republicans excluded MPR from the bill. But one possible answer involves one of the best known voices on public radio. Rep. Mike Charron, R-Woodbury, says some of his colleagues were upset that A Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor has helped raise money for several DFL House candidates.

"Certainly MPR can't be held accountable for all its employees. But I think there are some people for right or for wrong you know feel like a personality say like Garrison Keillor who's very much an activist and raises money for the opposition caucus. I know he came out to my district and even raised thousands of dollars for my opponent last time. But that's Garrison Keillor, but unfortunately people don't separate Garrison and his politics for who he works for."

Pugmire notes Keillor hasn't actually worked for MPR for several years. Gov. Tim Pawlenty and others say MPR doesn't have a funding crisis that requires dedicated money in the constitution. The bill has several hurdles to clear before the question would appear on the ballot.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:11 AM