Posted at 4:59 AM on January 25, 2011
by Tom Scheck
Filed under: Daily Digest
President Obama delivers the State of the Union address tonight.
I'm in Washington D.C. early this week with MPR's Morning Edition team to cover the event and gauge Minnesota's Clout in Washington.
Minnesota's Crystal Sugar has an outsize influence in Washington.
Uncertainty over the economy clouds Obama's speech.
Obama won't back raising the retirement age or cutting benefits for Social Security.
Ed secretary Arne Duncan considers opening 'Race to the Top' to school districts only instead of states.
DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar will sit with Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions at the State of the Union.
GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen invited Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek to the event.
DFL Sen. Al Franken has planned a hotdish competition for the Minnesota delegation.
MPR takes a look at the differing styles of GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen and GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann. Paulsen is quietly rising through the political ranks. Bachmann appears regularly on cable TV talk shows.
DFL Rep. Betty McCollum and DFL Rep. Keith Ellison back limits on large ammo clips.
Former Gov. Jesse Ventura is suing the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA over full body scans and pat downs at airports.
A report says members of the Bush Administration broke electioneering laws.
Under the Dome
Gov. Dayton signed an executive order that would speed up permitting in Minnesota. The move took away a key issue for Republicans in the Minnesota House and Senate who were making it their priority.
Dayton and GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann sparred over MA expansion.
The first budget cutting bill is headed to a House floor vote on Thursday.
Groups opposed to legalized abortions don't appear to have the votes to override any vetoes of increased abortion restrictions.
The head of the Izaak Walton League has been tapped to head the State Energy Division.
A bill would undo the smoking ban in Minnesota's bars.
Pawlenty for Prez Watch
During a campaign event in New Hampshire, Pawlenty said it should be considered whether states could declare bankruptcy.
Gov. Pawlenty embraces the underdog mantle in New Hampshire.
Pawlenty also released a movie like trailer to his book.
PoliGraph says Pawlenty's health plan claims are mostly true.
Bachmann for Prez Watch
An African American columnist for the Washington Post raises an eyebrow to some comments Michele Bachmann made in Iowa.
Bachmann attended an antiabortion event at the nation's Capitol.
Bachmann also releases a plan to cut $430 billion from the budget.
DFL Rep. Collin Peterson says he thinks he'll sit with GOP Rep Frank Lucas again at tonight's State of the Union. Lucas took over as chair of the House Agriculture Committee which Peterson held when Democrats controlled the House.
But it has nothing to do with the new bipartisan mood that's captured the Congress:
"All of this foolishness with who's going to sit with who tomorrow night. I mean, geez. Last year, I sat with Frank Lucas kind of by accident.
I came in late and there weren't any seats on our side. So I wandered back over to the Republican side and Frank had a seat next to him and I sat down and we sat next to each other.
"You know what that got me? It got stories that I was going to switch parties. So now this year, all of a sudden, some of the most partisan guys who would never be bipartisan have dreamed up this thing that we're all going to be bipartisan. We're all going to sit next to each other.
It kind or irritates guys like me who do this all of the time. It's like 'The only time we're going to be bipartisan is when somebody pays attention so we'll send out a press release.'
It's part of what's wrong with this town."
Peterson says he plans to sit with Lucas again tonight on the GOP side of the aisle but no one should report that he's thinking about switching parties.
"They didn't stand up as much last year so that was good," Peterson said of the Republicans last year. "I didn't have to jump and down. I could just sit there."
You can listen to Cathy Wurzer's full interview with Peterson here: Listen
Brad Moore, a commissioner for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency under Tim Pawlenty, has been hired to be a lobbyist for PolyMet Mining Corporation.
"I've been working with Brad during his tenure at Barr," PolyMet's vice president of public, governmental and environmental affraise said in a news release. "His existing knowledge of the project and the process mean that he can step in immediately to effectively help the environmental review and permitting process move forward to completion."
Moore was commissioner of the MPCA from 2006-2008 under Tim Pawlenty. He also worked for the Department of Natural Resources before that.
PolyMet has been lobbying heavily to get approval to mine copper and nickel in northeastern Minnesota. The plan has been slowed down as state and federal officials question the environmental standards of the proposal.
Moore's most recent position was with Barr Engineering as Senior Advisor, Public and Governmental Affairs where he advised several companies, including PolyMet, on environmental strategy.
Moore's hire will again draw criticism from some state lawmakers who complain that legislators and commissioners are personally profiting from the so-called revolving door.
Former DFL Congressman Jim Oberstar has suggested in the past that he probably won't run for the seat he lost to GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack in 2010. But there is buzz among DFLers in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District that he could make that run. The reason: An article that recently ran in the The Duluth Labor World has this headline:
"Jim Oberstar: Don't close the door on anything."
The story centered around Oberstar's recent lunch with 40 members of the region's trade meeting but it appears he may have received some cajoling from some long-time supporters.
"When he sat to eat his lunch, Retired Sheet Metal Worker George Sundstrom stood and said, "when you were speaking it was evident, you haven't lost a thing. What would it take to get you to run again?"
With a smile Bill Richards, who has worked with Oberstar since 1981, placed a comforting hand on Jean Oberstar's shoulder as she appeared mortified by the prospect of him running for Congress again. Oberstar had told the press earlier, "I don't think I'll run again."
He knew he couldn't get away that easily with Sundstrom. ":Let's not close the door on anything," Oberstar answered. Former Duluth Central Body Chair Sundstrom led the applause."
Question of the Day: Should Oberstar give it another run?
This is the second in a series of fact checks this week reviewing the book of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty - Courage to Stand - as he tours the nation promoting it and exploring the possibility of a run for president.
Pawlenty frequently touts his record on taxes, so it's no surprise that he wrote about it in his new memoir, Courage to Stand.
On page 182, he writes: "Every Governor for decades had said it was important to get Minnesota at least out of the top 10 highest-taxed states. None of them ever did. I did."
Did he? Sort of. Outside of a new fee on cigarettes, between 2003 and 2010 Pawlenty didn't raise state taxes - but he didn't lower them, either.
There are a lot of ways to slice and dice tax rankings, and in each case Minnesota fares differently when calculating the top 10 highest.
For instance, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue, Minnesota has ranked 11th or above since 2004 in total state and local taxes. When it comes to the individual income tax, the same data show that Minnesota has remained well within the top 10 since 1995.
Meanwhile, the Tax Foundation, a national group that has been churning out tax rankings for years, has ranked Minnesota 11th, 12th and sometimes 17th in state and local taxes since 2000, the middle of former Gov. Jesse Ventura's administration. In some years, Minnesota fares even better according to rankings published by the Minnesota Taxpayers Association.
So, by at least a few measures, Minnesota is no longer one of the highest-taxed states in the nation. On this point, Pawlenty's correct.
The broader question is whether Pawlenty did anything to pull Minnesota out of the top 10, as he said he did.
Not exactly, say tax experts.
Former Republican Rep. Phil Krinkie, who chaired the House Taxes Committee in 2005-06 and now leads the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, pointed out that some tax tweaks occurred under Pawlenty's administration, but the most substantial changes happened during Ventura's tenure. For instance, in 1999 and 2000, the state cut income tax rates. In 2001, the general education fund levy was replaced with state aid.
Others, including Mark Haveman who is Executive Director of the Minnesota Taxpayers Association, say Pawlenty did not raise taxes while other states did to cover deficits. Minnesota, as a result, stayed clear of the top 10.
Saying precisely when Minnesota dropped out of the top 10 highest taxed states in the nation is hard to pin down because each ranking tells a different story. What is clear, however, is that the most significant tax cuts occurred under Ventura. Pawlenty, however, prevented taxes from going up while other states approved new revenue raisers.
Pawlenty's book implies his actions were the sole reason Minnesota dropped out of the top 10, but the Ventura administration played a major role. As a result, Pawlenty's claim is misleading.
State Rankings: State and Local Taxes, made using data from the Minnesota Department of Revenue found here, accessed Jan 19, 2011
State Rankings: State Taxes, made using data from the Minnesota Department of Revenue found here, accessed Jan 19, 2011
The Minnesota Department of Revenue, Frequently Asked Questions About Tax Rankings, accessed Jan. 20, 2011
The Tax Foundation, Minnesota's State and Local Tax Burden, 1977-2008, accessed Jan. 20, 2011
The Tax Foundation, State and Local Tax Burdens Dip as Income Growth Outpaces Tax Growth, by Gerald Prante, Aug. 7, 2008
The Minnesota Budget Project, 1999 Minnesota Tax Cuts: How Much and for Whom?, accessed Jan. 20, 2010
The Minnesota Budget Project, Tax Changes in the 2000 Legislative Session, accessed Jan. 24, 2011
Interview, Alex Conant, spokesman for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Jan. 20, 2011
Interview, Rep. Phil Krinkie, President, Taxpayers League of Minnesota, Jan. 20, 2011
Interview, Mark Haveman, Executive Director, Minnesota Taxpayers Association, Jan. 20, 2011
Interview, Nan Madden, Director, Minnesota Budget Projects, Jan. 20, 2011
Interview, Joel Michael, House Legislative Researcher, Jan. 24, 2011
The Humphrey School
WASHINGTON - GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack appeared skeptical of raising the federal debt limit for fear that he that the federal deficit is growing out of control. During an interview with MPR's Cathy Wurzer, Cravaack said he has big concerns that the federal deficit is growing out of control. He said he has concerns about passing a continuing budget resolution or a plan to immediately raise the debt limit.
"If we don't watch what we're doing, we will go by the way of Iceland," Cravaack said. "Our stock market will crash, our currency will be devalued to zero if we continue on this path."
Cravaack doubted that there will be an economic fallout if the federal government doesn't raise the debt ceiling. He said "that's not true" regarding criticism that the U.S. could default on its loans.
"We'll have revenues coming in," Cravaack said. "There will be a time period that we can play with but this is extremely serious what we're about to do."
People may say that we'll lose our AAA bond rating. That may be true but if we raise the debt limit above our GDP we won't have to worry about our AAA bond rating anyway because we become less of a firm type of risk to investors."
Cravaack said "you have to" look at cuts to Social Security and Medicare to help the deficit. He emphasized that people over the age of 55 won't see any cuts in benefits but he said there are ways that people under that age could see some changes to their benefits.
"We can stair step it down, tier it down. That's one of the things that you can take a look at. I'm not saying that's the model but this is something that we have to take a look at but we have to protect the promises that we made at the same time..."
Cravaack also said today that he's not sure where he plans to sit at today's State of the Union.
"I'm a freshman. I'm lucky to get seated. I might be in the back standing," Cravaack said about attending his first State of the Union.
Seating at the State of the Union is on a first come, first serve basis but says he has a full day of meetings scheduled right up to President Obama's address. He says that will make it difficult to find a prime slot in the House Chamber.
Cravaack didn't invite anyone to the State of the Union but he said he hopes, if possible, that he can sit with some of the members of Minnesota's Congressional delegation tonight.
You can listen to the full interview here: Listen
Posted at 11:35 AM on January 25, 2011
by Tim Pugmire
Filed under: Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton announced today that he'll travel to Jackson on Thursday to talk with local officials about jobs and economic development in southwest Minnesota.
Dayton's office issued an advisory that says the trip will include an AGCO plant expansion announcement. The company manufactures agricultural equipment.
Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Mark Phillips will join Dayton, along with state Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, and state Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake.
WASHINGTON - Democrats have suggested for months that GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack is just renting the eighth congressional district. Cravaack pulled off an upset win of DFL Rep. Jim Oberstar in November and Democrats in Washington D.C. and in Minnesota have both have their eyes on his seat as a possible pickup. Cravaack even admitted that he's "Number two on the DCCC's list."
One major question though is who will challenge him.
A few of the big names that have been floated are walking away from a run. Tony Sertich, the former Majority Leader of the Minnesota House, says there is "zero chance" that he'll run for the seat. Governor Dayton just appointed Sertich to run the Iron Range Resources Board. Sertich is steadfast that he won't run.
Duluth Mayor Don Ness says he isn't running.
"There are many, many reasons," Ness wrote in an e-mail to me. "Family, lifestyle, and the fact that I love being Mayor are at the top of this list."
And DFL state Sen. Tony Lourey says he isn't running for the job.
Two names have surfaced as possible candidates to challenge Cravaack in 2012. Daniel Fanning, the Deputy State Director for DFL Sen. Al Franken, says he's "certainly thinking about a run" but emphasized that he's just considering it at this point.
Fanning, who grew up in Chicago but says he's lived in Duluth for the better part of 12 years, has been active in DFL politics. He ran DFL state Sen. John Marty's campaign for governor before he took the job with Franken's office. He is also Associate Chair of the DFL Veterans Caucus.
Another name if DFL state Sen. Roger Reinert of Duluth.
"I haven't ruled it out, but I'm not actively pursuing it, Reinert told MPR's Tim Nelson. "Right now, I'm completely concerned about the Legislative session."
Reinert said he will take another look at the race in June but emphasized that the district should be represented by someone who lives in Duluth or the Iron Range.
"It's the heart of the district," Reinert said.
For his part, Cravaack isn't focused on his reelection.
"I'm not worried about reelection and the reason I'm not worried is that If I do a good job for the people of Minnesota, I'll be back in office," Cravaack said.
"I hope people look past who has an R behind their name or a D behind their name and just judge a person for the person."
One wildcard is how redistricting plays a part in Minnesota's congressional delegation. The 2010 Census requires the Legislature and Governor Dayton to come up with a new map. That means the 8th District could look dramatically different than it does right now.
Another wildcard is whether Oberstar decides to make another run at Cravaack. We'll find out later today if that's a possibility.
WASHINGTON - Minnesota's U.S. House members had lunch today to discuss ways they can work together to improve the state of Minnesota.
DFL Rep. Keith Ellison said all eight members of Minnesota's House delegation sat down and broke bread today.
"We don't know what we might work on unless we get together and talk about it," Ellison said.
Ellison said the new dean of Minnesota's delegation, DFL Rep. Collin Peterson called the meeting. He said it's the first time the delegation got together to talk about issues. Ellison declined to discuss the full details of the meeting but said one main theme was improving the state's education system.
"There may be some common ground there," Ellison said. "Everyone knows we have to have an educated populace."
There's no guarantee that there will be much gained from these types of meetings. Minnesota's U.S. House delegation is incredibly diverse. Ellison is the chair of the House Progressive Caucus. GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann is chair of the Tea Party Caucus. Those two groups are diametrically opposed on issues of taxes and spending.
But Ellison said he hopes that the group continues to meet on a regular basis and everyone in the room takes risks on issues. He said that can be difficult when every member of the delegation has a base constituency group backing them.
"All of us have our base who rewards and punishes us for what they think we're doing right or wrong," Ellison said. "But if all of the rewards are on saying inflammatory stuff to upset the other side and all of the punishments are associated with trying to work with them then it's going to be difficult to work with them...."
If that occurs, Ellison said it's unlikely that the delegation will agree on many issues. Even if that's the case, he joked that the group may still just do lunch and enjoy each other's company for the next two years.
The group may have to keep an eye on their waistlines. Especially since several of the members will be taking part in a hot dish competition on Wednesday that's hosted by DFL Sen. Al Franken.
WASHINGTON - DFL Rep. Keith Ellison is praising President Obama for committing to spend billions on public works projects like roads, bridges and energy projects.
"This is the thing that is going to help power our economy into the future," Ellison said.
President Obama is expected to announce a plan tonight to "outbuild" other nations. Obama is expected to cast a message that shows that the investment is the best way to keep the nation competitive with the rest of the world.
"We have a big debate as to what's spending and what's investment," Ellison said. "I think when you have over $1 trillion in crumbling infrastructure then that's clearly got to be investment in maintaining it."
Ellison, who has called for higher taxes to help address the federal budget deficit said targeting the funding goes beyond building roads and bridges. He said a project that moves the power created from the windmills in western Minnesota to the population centers on the eastern side of the state is a good example.
But these projects could be met with a skeptical GOP majority in the U.S. House. All four GOP members of Minnesota's congressional delegation have called for spending cuts to curb the federal deficit not increase it.
For example, GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann's office released excerpts from her rebuttal to President Obama's State of the Union. In the remarks, Bachmann criticized President Obama for federal spending on the health care law and the stimulus. She said the GOP would oppose efforts to spend more.
"Last November many of you went to the polls and voted out big-spending politicians and you put in their place men and women who have come to Washington with a commitment to follow the Constitution and cut the size of government. And I believe that we are in the early days of a history-making turn here in the House of Representatives..."
Posted at 5:15 PM on January 25, 2011
by Tim Nelson
Filed under: MN Legislature
Regular Capitol View readers will recall our portrait of Sunny, the State Patrol explosives-sniffing dog that worked over the House chamber the day the Legislature opened.
And, well, the dogs were back in the House today. Republican Rep. Pat Garafalo brought a couple of them in from the Last Hope shelter in Farmington to help make his plea for tax relief -- this time for sales taxes levied on adoption fees at charitable animal shelters.
"It's pretty silly to have a free-will donation subject to sales taxes," Garafalo said, after the committee laid over his bill for inclusion in an eventual omnibus tax bill.
"I think it was very well received," Garafalo said after the hearing, which included included some barking as part of the testimony.
That's 4-month-old Milo joining Garafalo at the witness table.
Posted at 6:30 PM on January 25, 2011
by Tim Nelson
The rush is on for aspirants to the Metropolitan Council. The Secretary of State's office today listed 222 names among applicants to the 17-member council. Habitat for Humanity executive Susan Haigh has already been named as chair. Sixteen others serve in specific districts "at the pleasure of the governor."
We asked for the list this afternoon, and found some familiar names: former legislators Sandy Rummel, Edwina Garcia and Connie Bernardy; former Minneapolis city council president Jackie Cherryhomes, one-time St. Paul mayoral aspirant Jay Benanav, and Roseville mayor John Kysylycsn; St. Paul planning and economic development director Cecil Bedor; one-time DFL chair Mike Erlandson, one-time Republican U.S. Senate contender Bert McKasy, as well as Met Council vets like Kris Sanda, Peggy Leppik, Natalie Steffen, Bob McFarlin, Polly Bowles, Lynette Wittsack, Sherry Broecker, Wendy Wulff and Rick Aguilar.
Here's the full list, with apparent duplicate names removed.
WASHINGTON - With the economy and job creation as the top issue on the minds of voters, DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar is making it known that she's reaching out to business leaders across the state.
Over the past few weeks, Klobuchar held an Innovation Summit, met with business leaders across Minnesota and invited Medtronic CEO Bill Hawkins to President Obama's State of the Union address.
"I got on the Commerce Committee four years ago with the focus of working with businesses both big and small," Klobuchar said when asked about the more public emphasis on business issues. "You look at the fact that I've been working with these business from the beginning. You don't turn over in a few months. I've been doing it the day I got here."
Klobuchar may have been working quietly on economic and business issues over the past four years but it's clear she's touting those efforts now. She was careful to mention during an interview tonight that she's coauthoring a bill with Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown that aims to cut regulations on business. She says she hopes the bipartisan effort will allow business leaders to spend less money on regulations and more money on investments.
"Now is the time to start building," Klobuchar said. "Building our economic edge, adding private sector employees and looking at not just stabilizing but how to compete..."
Klobuchar also said reducing regulations on medical device companies is her top priority - a clear message to Minnesota's Medical Alley that she's trying to help improve their bottom line - especially after those companies had a difficult 2010. Her efforts to reach out to Minnesota's Medical Technology companies are also aimed at circumventing a potential political problem in 2012.
Republicans, including GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen, have criticized a tax on medical device companies. Klobuchar was careful to mention at the time and in the interview that she convinced those negotiating the health care law to lower the tax.
It's no mistake that Klobuchar is making business her public business in 2011. She's up for reelection in 2012 and has high approval ratings. A signal that she's reaching out to business in an economic downturn shows that she intends to keep those approval numbers high.
WASHINGTON - Here's GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen's reaction to President Obama's State of the Union:
"I appreciate President Obama's call for bipartisanship; we need to work together as a country if we're going to tackle this looming debt crisis and put this country back to work" said Paulsen. "However, we must learn from past mistakes and realize that we can't simply spend our way to prosperity. Despite new government programs designed to stimulate our economy, Americans watched as our deficit, debt and unemployment rate skyrocketed over the past two years."
"With Washington spending already at unsustainable levels, it's essential that we get serious about reining in expenses" continued Rep. Paulsen. "Simply freezing spending at current levels, as the President suggests, does not go far enough. We should return to pre-bailout and pre-stimulus spending levels to prove we're committed to getting rid of trillion dollar deficits. In the coming year, I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to finally put this country on the path to fiscal responsibility."
Paulsen, a champion of small business and advocate of free enterprise, entrepreneurship, and innovation currently serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, and is co-chair of the Congressional Korea-U.S. Free Trade Working Group and co-chair of the House Medical Technology Caucus.
WASHINGTON - Here's DFL Rep. Betty McCollum's reaction to President Obama's State of the Union:
"President Obama clearly outlined the challenges and opportunities we face as a country with job creation being our top priority, and I want help him succeed.
"To create jobs we need to continue investing in education, innovation, research, and rebuilding our vital infrastructure that will strengthen our economy. The jobs of the future will require educated Americans who can successfully compete against China and the rest of the world.
"President Obama is also right to focus on reducing the budget deficit. The best way to reduce the deficit is to grow the economy and create jobs. But Congress needs to make smart investments and smart cuts to programs when they don't work or there is waste - that includes cutting the waste out of the $700 billion annual defense budget.
"The Republican budget plan cuts education, infrastructure, and research that will weaken our economy, kill jobs, and cede global leadership in the 21st Century to China, but they don't fix the budget problem. I want America to win the future, not turn global leadership over to China."
WASHINGTON - Here's DFL Sen. Al Franken's reaction to President Obama's State of the Union:
"Creating jobs and improving the economy has to be our top priority and I'm glad we heard that from the President tonight. I've spent the past few weeks traveling around Minnesota talking with workers, small business owners, and educators. And from East Grand Forks and Alexandria to Rochester and Duluth, everyone reinforced that investing in education, job training, and innovation is essential to our economic future and creating long-term prosperity.
"We must address some very serious issues in the year to come, among them the federal budget and reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and bipartisan cooperation is going to be key to getting anything done. I hope that the tone the President set tonight continues throughout the 112th Congress."