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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Gaming politics

The Star Tribune today has an article about how Pawlenty's casino plans crashed and burned. Basically, the article says that his plans got squeezed from both sides by a well-funded, well-organized campaign. This seems to have taken him by surprise, but not me. While an expansion of gambling may have strong support in the public, the opposition cares more about enforcing the status quo than the majority cares about changing it. It's the old story of special-interest politics.

And what about the special session? Given how little has been done, I'm predicting one that goes down to the wire: June 30th.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Separation of powers

Lori Sturdevant has an editorial today that touches on a subject that I have noticed too: the fact that House Republican leadership and the governor are pretty much interchangeable these days. The priorities of the governor automatically become the priorities of Sviggum. This has happened to an extent that I did not believe was possible. Instead of three branches of government, we have two and a half.

Why is this? Why isn't the House more independent? One theory is that Sviggum was so shocked at the last election that he thinks the safest thing to do is to hitch his majority to the fate of the governor. It's certainly not as if Majority Leader Paulsen has any new ideas or independent thought. However, the needs of the governor are very different from the needs of individuals who represent 1/134th of the whole state. Some Republicans are getting ready to rebel: on Thursday, much time was spent debating an effort by one Republican, Mark Olson, to have the House act independently from the governor when it comes to the budget. It failed, but it's clear that many members are not happy about being shut out of the legislative process.

Will this hold out? Sviggum and Pawlenty have been the only constants in the need for recent special sessions, so it's probably only a matter of time before the public figures it out.


It's been a year since I started this blog. Kewl. I never would have expected over 50,000 visits in that time period. I didn't expect 5,000 probably. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


I don't know how long this site has been around, but MNSpeak.com aggregates about a hundred Minnesota blogs, providing all of them on one page for easy reading (and allowing you to select which categories you wish to see). What a great invention. Check it out.

Metro Transit raises fares

Metro Transit is raising fares by a quarter starting July 1st. The story doesn't say how monthly passes will be affected. Service cuts, however, have been put off for now in the hopes that the legislature will produce more money for transit in the special session.

Let's hope the legislature does so, and that Pawlenty doesn't throw another fit and veto it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Politics and Religion

I read this Rake article earlier this week but forgot to post it. It's a pretty scary look at how our leaders use religion in state politics. Then entire article is worth a read, but there are two points that really stick out for me. The first is praying for more Republicans in the House. The second is that Rep. Larry Howes "looked into de-funding that agency" of a person who wrote in against the gay marriage amendment. Apparently, when you're a Republican, if somebody disagrees with you, you look to destroy their livelihood. Talk about some family values.


The filibuster isn't a Minnesota issue, so I haven't commented on it. Norm Coleman is a Minnesota issue, unfortunately, and his role in this is interesting. He wasn't in the group of Republican moderates that brokered this compromise. Why a Jewish boy from Brooklyn is hanging around with ideologues of theocratic leader James Dobson is beyond me. Those kind of people put this out, which I read to see what the crazies are thinking (in this month's edition, they argue for the enforcement of laws against unmarried people living together, says that Terri Schiavo was murdered, and says that Christians are sooooo persecuted today that it's easier to be a Wiccan). What gives?

Anyway, I think the compromise is not bad, but could be better. The main thing I would change would be to guarantee a vote on any nominees other than Owens, Brown, or Pryor, since they are the worst of the worst, so bad that even right-wingers say one is not following the laws. But anything that makes the freepers go nuts can't be all that bad.

And it looks like Frist may ignore it all anyway. He's such a good role model for losing gracefully.

Special session off to rip-roarin' start

Governor Pawlenty called a special session immediately, and legislators obliged, meeting for about twenty minutes or so and leaving until Thursday. Today, everybody had a round ofpretend negotiating. At least they admit it.

Nothing is going to happen anytime soon. Rural legislators are already going home, despite the Thursday meeting. Since this is a new session, it's a clean slate. All bills must be reintroduced, there is a committee process, and so forth. Some of that can be circumvented, but it still takes time. Good idea calling session immediately.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Immediate special session called

Governor Pawlenty has called a special session immediately. To me, it's a pretty pointless move. Without a deal, the legislature can't do much anyway. This sounds like grandstanding to me.

Speaking of grandstanding, Pawlenty bashed the Senate for their budget deal, saying that they are just "repackaging" their budget plans. Although not mentioned in any stories as far as I can tell, he also said some things about the Senate Democrats pandering to special interest groups, and that's why they can't get a budget done. Gee, which special interest group was Pawlenty kowtowing to when he vetoed the bipartisan transportation bill? Had he not done so, that would have been one more issue taken care of.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Special session

Not a chance they will get done on time now.

Governor loony

Being an honest person myself, I've often wondered how people can blithely lie and actually believe in the reality that they create, instead of the one that the real world lives in. Is it willful ignorance? The inability to even tell? Some kind of brain malfunction? I don't know, but perhaps I can ask Governor Pawlenty, considering that today he let loose with one of the biggest whoppers I've ever heard from somebody older than four.

Pawlenty came out with a tax increase of 75 cents per pack of cigarettes. Only, he's saying it's a "fee" instead of a "tax." Apparently, he said this with a straight face, without crossing his fingers, and without laughing. Of course, nobody is buying it. If a gas tax is a tax and not a fee, then it's hard to see how a cigarette tax is a fee if no smoker actually sees any real benefits.

It is obvious to everybody that some tax needs to be raised. However, not everybody is apparently adult enough to admit it. Some people apparently want to pretend otherwise, in order to appease their masters.

But it's not going to work. Governor Paw-lenty, Taxpayers League lapdog, just piddled all over David Strom's living room rug. But he's hanging his head and whimpering, and looking up at David with his sad eyes, saying, "Please don't punish me." Good luck with that.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Pawlenty vetoes transportation bill, trashes amendment

Governor Pawlenty, apparently itchin' to ignore our transportation needs or run up the credit card, promptly vetoed the transportation bill that passed the legislature, which included a gas tax increase. However, a referendum on a constitutional amendment dedication the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax (MVST) to transit and transportation will end up on the November 2006 ballot, since the governor has no say on constitutional amendments.

This didn't stop him and other Republicans from trashing the amendment, saying that the proposed split of 60% of MVST proceeds for roads, 40% for transit is too much for transit. I'm pretty damn sick of Republicans trashing us transit users. Roads already get 100% of the gas tax and license tab free revenue; 60% of the MVST for roads is enough. This isn't about pork for transit advocates, as Sviggum and Pawlenty like to say, this is about adequately funding a transit system that is needed in a metropolitan area of almost 3 million.

Here's a challenge to Pawlenty and Sviggum: ride the bus for a week. The governor's mansion isn't too far from a bus line, if it isn't already on it, and although I don't know where Sviggum lives while the legislature is in session, it's probably near a bus too. Ride it to and from the Capitol for a week, talk to people, listen to people, and try to figure out that additional funding to avoid fare hikes and service cutbacks isn't pork. It keeps our economy going, it lets the elderly and people with disabilities live normal lives, and it helps keep congestion off of our highways. I seriously doubt either of them would actually have the guts to do this, though.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Will concealed carry ever go away?

Maybe not, but it will now go to the governor for his signature. It passed the House, despite attempts to moderate some of the bill's provisions. Pawlenty will sign it. There's not a whole lot more to say about that.

Transportation bill passes Senate; veto promised

The Senate passed a transportation package including the 10 cent gas tax increase that passed the House. The governor promises a veto, preferring to use the old credit card approach. That's some mighty fine fiscal responsibility there, guv.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Norm pwn3d!!!

Norm Coleman is an empty suit. By definition, that means he does not have a brain. Thus, he should not attempt to tangle with somebody who does. He may be on fairly sure footing when it comes to domestic yokels, but getting into an argument from a foreign country, especially one that cares a bit more about education and free debate than Bush's America, is not a good idea for our senator.

I know very little about George Galloway, but thanks to Spot, I do know that he made Norm call him daddy today. Wow. James Wolcott is on the case too, as are Eschaton guest bloggers and Crooks and Liars.

Way to go, Norm!

Casino gambling dead this year

Facing defeat, Governor Pawlenty pulled his casino gambling plan this afternoon. They simply couldn't get the votes. This puts the negotiations for a budget solution in further disarray. Not even divine intervention could prevent a special session at this point.

Concealed carry craziness

The legislature is addressing the concealed carry issue in the waning days of session, and now it has turned decidedly weird.

First, the murder of a bouncer outside of Nye's Polonaise Room in Minneapolis. Turns out the shooter had a concealed carry permit. Not only that, but he was allegedly waving it around in people's faces in an attempt to intimidate them. Supporters of the bill have often said that no serious crimes have been committed by permit holders. This is no longer true, but it doesn't look like this murder is going to be changing any minds as far as the vote goes.

Even more strange, this morning somebody sent to legislators an e-mail threatening them if they don't pass the bill. It was sent in the name of a pro-concealed carry activist, Joel Rosenberg. He denies sending it, and at this point there is really no reason to doubt him. I've read the e-mail, and it looks to be a low-grade hoax. I'd be willing to bet even money that the e-mail was sent by an anti-concealed carry advocate trying to make the concealed carry supporters look bad. It sounds like the FBI is investigating.

The House will probably take this bill up tomorrow, where, barring any more surprises, it will probably pass.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Minnesota CEO pay up 20%

It's little more than the headline states: CEO pay in this state went up almost 20 percent. Did profits go up that much? Did productivity? Did sales? Did GSP (answer: no). What is the justification for CEO pay to go up that much when worker pay barely budged?

Pawlenty and tax rates: liar, liar, pants on fire

In today's Star Tribune, Pawlenty once again calls the Senate's tax increase a job killer. He says that if we increase taxes so that the upper income earners in this state pay their fair share of state taxes, we will be killing jobs. This is so false on its face that I figured out it wouldn't be hard to prove that he is simply wrong. Turns out, it isn't hard to prove at all.

Do high-tax states kill off jobs? I figure that a good way to measure this is to take a look at a state's increase in Gross State Product, or GSP. After all, if a state is growing its GSP, it has to be creating jobs. So I went here, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and downloaded state GSP data for 1999 to 2003, the most recent year available. I then calculated the average rate of GSP growth year over year for that time period (Minnesota's is 5.03%, for example).

Then, I went here, the census page showing per capita tax rates. In his article, Pawlenty talked about using census data, and this table shows Minnesota in fourth place for all taxes, which his article also cites, so I am assuming that this is the table he's talking about.

I then arranged the GSP data in order according to tax rank, and found the average GSP growth for the top ten tax states, as well as the bottom ten tax rates. To nobody's surprise, the top ten tax states beat out the bottom ten tax states in terms of GSP growth by over half a percentage point, 5.03% per year to 4.47% per year. This isn't a lot, but by Pawlenty's logic, the top ten tax states should be seeing lower growth due to a lack of jobs, so any amount of growth over and above the lower tax states is proof that he is dead wrong.

Pawlenty's not this stupid, so why does he continue to claim that making upper income workers pay their fair share of taxes will hurt job growth? Is he just that beholden to the Taxpayer's League?

My data is available upon request in case somebody wants to check to see if Excel can't calculate averages correctly.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Tax bill passes House

Before the House started working on the Transportation bill, they passed the tax bill. The news on this is more mixed. It includes cuts in taxes for married couples, but it cuts local government aid to Minneapolis and Saint Paul by $28 million, a direct attack on our urban core. It also attacks renters like myself, reducing the renter's credit by $66 million and the proposal to trigger a referendum on property taxes which, to my knowledge, allows landlords and property owners to vote multiple times but prevents tenants from having a say.

The bill also includes a local option sales tax, which would allow cities and other local units of government, alone or working jointly, to enact their own sales taxes for certain projects. Now, cities that want to do this have to go to the legislature to get permission, something that they don't always do even if referenda show that a majority of people in the area want such a tax. It is all politics, and this would remove the need for this trek to the legislature.

This is nowhere close to the Senate's proposal, so there will need to be a conference committee.

Transportation advocates win battle in House

The papers are saying that this is the first significant victory for Democrats in the House this sessions, and they are right: the Transportation bill passed by the House contains a significant increase in funding for road and transit projects.

It all started last night when Rep. Ron Erhardt from Edina, one of the few moderate Republicans left, put forward an amendment to increase funding for transportation and transit in several ways, most notably by increasing the gas tax by 10 cents and dedicating a portion of the sales tax in the metro area to transit. After long debate, the amendment passed by 68 to 66, with several Republicans voting with the vast majority of Democrats to increase funding. This floored the Republican leadership, who saw that they were rapidly losing control of the situation.

The last time this happened was when Republicans revolted and put funding for Northstar commuter rail in the bonding bill a year or two ago. That time, Republican leadership quickly knocked some heads together and removed the funding. This morning, when they took up the transportation bill again, they tried in vain. First, they tried to call a recess in order to put the thumbscrews on the wayward Republicans, but they didn't even have enough votes to recess. Then, Rep. Marty Seifert talked and talked and talked in a vain attempt to forestall the inevitable. In the end, the bill passed by an even larger margin than the Erhardt amendment, 72 to 61. Finally, after years of neglect, our roads and transit systems could get the money they need.

Governor Pawlenty is already saying that he will veto a gas tax increase, but now this is his issue to screw up on. Since the Senate is most likely going to pass a gas tax increase too, it will show that the Legislature is finally working together to address issues, as opposed to last year's do-nothing session. But Pawlenty could screw this all up with a veto, painting him as the obstructionist. Steve Sviggum, who failed to protect his buddy Pawlenty from having to make such a decision, went on his usual screed, calling Democrats "Insane and crazy" and saying that "the transit pigs were at the trough," proving that he was stomped badly on this vote and is floundering. That last comment is particularly insulting to me, a bus rider who has seen countless service cuts in the past few years. I doubt Sviggum has ridden a bus in his life.

Now it's up to the Senate. They could do a number of things, even passing the House bill in its entirety without changing it, thus avoiding a conference committee and sending it directly to Pawlenty. For now, those of us who have been arguing for more funding for highways and transit can be happy at the victory.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Insufficient worship

Apparently the wingnuts are against the International Baccalaureate educational program in Minnetonka. This academically rigorous program, exactly what we need given the fact that this country continues to lag behind the rest of the industrialized world in terms of education, is being attacked by conservatives for its message.

This whole incident shows exactly how far these people have embraced the culture of victimhood. When they say IB is "anti-Christian," what they mean is that the program doesn't teach that Evangelical Christianity is the one true faith. When they say that IB is "anti-American," they mean that they don't teach that the U.S. is the number one country in the world. Apparently, these people are more interested in indoctrination than in education.

Will these people ever get sick of seeing U.N. plots everywhere?

Stadium news

The City Pages has an article today about the stadium deal, and I have to mention the article in Skyway News too as a good source of information. With this information, as well as other things I have heard, I am now 100% against this deal. Whatever surface fairness I thought the deal had at first has been destroyed by the details.

It is ridiculous for the county to pay for most of a stadium when the Twins get all the revenue. Naming rights, club seats, concessions...it will add up to quite a bundle. If the public is going to pay for most of it, then we should own the team and get the revenue too.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Two weeks to go

There are two weeks left in the legislative session, and so far the pace is less than breathtaking. It looks like another special session, which should probably be renamed "common session" since they are anything but special these days.

Poll: raise taxes to protect programs, just not gas taxes

According to a Star Tribune/Minnesota Poll, Minnesotans think that we should balance the budget using a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. However, a majority do not want to increase gas taxes.

The fact that people want a balanced approach to the budget is not surprising. People have consistently supported this approach over the past few years. However, I am a bit surprised at the gas tax findings. I would like to ask a follow up question to these people: "How would you pay for transportation and transit needs?" One person cited in the story says that he would support tolls, which makes no sense to me: no gas tax but yes on tolls? I'm not saying tolls don't have their place, but we aren't going to fix this problem with tolls.

Transportation and transit funding is reaching a critical state. If we don't find money soon, there are going to be serious economic repercussions.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Senate votes to increase top income tax rate

The Senate voted to increase income taxes on the state's wealthiest persons today. The plan would add a fourth tier to our income tax system, and would go away once our budget was in better order. Predictably, Republicans and the governor were all over it, calling it a "job-killer" and "the dumbest idea to come down the pike in years," according to Senator Bob Kierlin.

Is it? Is this a stupid idea, or is it warranted? Should the Carl Pohlads and Brian Sullivans of the world pay more in income taxes? Well, that's a hard question to answer without context, so I'm going to give you some.

In order to figure out if income taxes should be increased, we need to know if these wealthy people are paying their fair share or not. Fortunately, it isn't hard to find out: the state of Minnesota does tax incidence studies every couple of years to find out exactly how much people are paying in state and local taxes as a percentage of their income. If you look at the most recent study, based on 2002 data, it is very revealing. You have to check a few tables to get all the number, but here's the bottom line in graphic form:

Tax rates Posted by Hello

As you can see, our state's tax system looks like a camel: those of us in the middle pay the most as a percentage of income, while those at the bottom and top pay less (the first decile, consisting of teenagers working part time, college students, and similar people, is an outlier). Now, I have no problem with the poor paying less, since I believe in progressive taxation, but it certainly isn't fair that those at the top pay less. And as the numbers show, the higher your income, the less you pay.

So despite all the blathering from the governor and Republicans about this tax adjustment, all the Senate is doing is ensuring that the wealthy pay just as much as you or I. Is that wrong? Is that unfair? I don't think so.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Junket Coleman

So Norm is right up near the top of the Senate when it comes to privately funded travel. Clever Peasantry has the details. It begs the question, can Coleman become even more slimey? He's always had "slick operator" written all over him, and this makes it even worse. Trashing Kofi Annan while ignoring the incompetence of the Bush administration, traveling to Las Vegas, Boca Raton, and Punta Mita, Mexico and getting thousands of dollars for airfare and lodging...wow, he sure fell right in with Frist and DeLay, didn't he? Ah, yes, the benefits of being in the majority party with a "for sale" sign on your soul.

Health budget passes Senate

The Senate passed their Health care budget today, which would add some people to MnCare instead of kicking people off, as well as allowing small businesses to buy into the plan for their employees. Unlike the House budget, this actually addresses the health care crisis by giving more people insurance, not less. Now the House and Senate are going to have to work out a compromise, which may be difficult given the wide gulf between their approaches.

In my opinion, any health care plan that does not include universal coverage isn't good enough, but clearly, the Senate is better than the House here.

Meanwhile, the House is taking up the K-12 education finance bill today. They will probably be working on this one all night.

Senate passes minimum wage hike

The Senate passed the same minimum wage hike the House passed, meaning it is now on its way to the governor, who is expected to sign it. While not as good as the original idea, a dollar an hour more is better than nothing.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Cuts to renters' credit

I'm a renter, and I have been a renter for quite some time. I've lived in a lot of places, some good, some literally drug houses (which is all too often the state of student housing around the University of Minnesota). There are a lot of people who like me choose to rent due to school, job choices, or just the freedom that it affords.

I'm sick of betting treated like second-class citizens simply because I'm a renter. For years, renters had to pay more in property taxes since apartment buildings were in a higher-taxed class. While some improvements have been made on this front, the governor and House Republicans are once again looking to screw renters by reducing the renters' credit, as well as exempting tenants from reverse property tax referenda. While the latter idea isn't going anywhere, the former might.

The renter's credit is the analog to homeowners' property tax refund. However, while homeowners can make up to $85,000 and still qualify for a partial refund of property taxes paid, the cutoff for renters is only $46,000. Why this credit is tilted against renters is beyond me. Homeowners already get preferential tax treatment that renters don't get, like the ability to deduct mortgage interest from their income taxes; this is just gravy. And House Republicans want to make it even more unfair.

Renters pay their taxes and vote like everybody else. There is no stigma in renting. It's time to stop treating renters like forgotten citizens.

House votes for minimum wage increase

The House passed just a couple hours ago an increase in the minimum wage. It was remarkable in that this was the first day that it was clear the Republicans weren't calling the shots. Many Republicans opposed to increasing the minimum wage put forward several amendments to try to kill the bill or dilute its impact, but they failed for the most part. The income threshold for what will be considered a small business (and thus subject to a lower minimum wage) was slightly increased from $500,000 to $625,000, which sounds reasonable.

Our state's minimum wage has not been increased in a long time. It's about time to give working people relief.