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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Parks remain open

The legislature passed the Agriculture, Jobs, and Environment Finance bill today, the House doing so just minutes before the 4 P.M. deadline for kicking campers out of state parks if there was no bill. There were a lot of people who were very disappointed in this bill for various reasons: some Democrats saying that it doesn't do enough to protect the environment (when has protecting the environment been a Pawlenty administration priority?) and it steals money from K-12 education; some Republicans were upset about how this bill came to a vote when there is still no agreement on how to pay for it. However, enough legislators believed it would be prudent to avoid angry constituent calls about parks being closed over the holiday weekend.

It sounds like things are slowly coming together, enough so that they may pass a continuing funding resolution to keep things open until the details are worked out. The Senate right now (6 P.M.) is working on that resolution right now; the House is in recess until something happens in the Senate.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

What they're fighting for

As usual, City Pages has the goods on what Pawlenty is trying to do to health care, and why the Senate is fighting him tooth and nail. Check it out.

Colleen Rowley running for Congress

Colleen Rowley is running for Congress in the 2nd district against John Kline. I don't know what to think about this. She's got a high name ID, which is good. This is her first foray into politics, though, and it's in some ways too bad that DFLers don't have more depth in their bench. But at the same time, where did John Kline and Mark Kennedy come from? All in all, it's too early to know what will happen.

Throw in the towel

Because they ain't getting anything accomplished now. As expected, the Senate did give up it's tax proposal (who called it?), and in return they want the racino taken off the table. But things have stalled there, and there they will remain.

The Star Tribune reports that a deal may be reached to keep state parks open this weekend, but until it's signed by the governor, it doesn't make a difference what people say they will do. For those of us who were planning on going north this weekend, that would be nice. If they don't figure it out, there will be a lot of pissed-off July 4th travelers calling legislators' offices.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Too late

Even though there is apparently some movement in budget talks, it's too late now. There will be at least a short-term partial government shutdown unless the legislature passes as "lights on" funding bill. No matter what happens, it takes time to write the bills, proofread them, copy them, distribute them, vote on them, and move them around.

Whose fault is this? Although everybody deserves some blame, the only constants in all the recent special sessions is Tim Pawlenty and Steve Sviggum. They've been involved in all of them. Whether voters will see this as proof they can't govern remains to be seen.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Now they are just being stupid

All along I've believed that there won't be a government shutdown. I thought all the insane posturing was just temporary, and that once we got down to the wire, they would sit down and get the job done. Now, with the arguments over going to Camp Ripley to work out a deal, I am losing hope.

This plan to go up north "without lobbyists, staff, or special interests" is completely idiotic, and representatives who should know better should admit it. First of all, without fiscal staff, any negotiations would be completely pointless. It's not realistic to expect five people (the governor, and majority and minority leaders from both bodies of the legislature) to know the numbers in a budget that runs into the tens of billions of dollars. Pawlenty may offer his own "experts", but negotiations usually don't work well under those circumstances. Then, there's the fact that Camp Ripley is more than two hours away from the Capitol, where everything actually happens, and where the bills would have to be written.

I can only conclude that this is a publicity stunt, and this is troubling. There are two days left, realistically. Offering to pick up the entire show and move it elsewhere when they need to be buckling down makes no sense at all. I'm afraid that maybe everybody thinks that a partial shutdown wouldn't be a big deal.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Light rail: looking good

The Hiawatha light rail line has been open for a year, and it's mainly looking good. I'm one of its users, and I have used it for many of the reasons other people use it: for Twins games, to the Mall of America, and to downtown. It's great, and I hope we see an expansion of light rail transit in the area.

Increasing hope

After weeks of standing in their respective corners and making a lot of noise, legislative leaders and the governor may be getting closer to a deal. It would not throw anybody off of MinnesotaCare, a major Senate negotiating point, but it would include a cigarette tax increase and a casino at Canterbury Park, the latter having not so much support in the legislature.

I still think there won't be a shutdown, and it looks like the process is finally starting to work.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Still nothing doing

Well, today's floor session came and went, and nothing of note happened. No histrionics, no stunts. Just more debate over Rep. Mark Olson's daily attempt to set budget targets. I guess the big news today was that a bipartisan group is voting for it. Not terribly impressive. I was expecting something a little more interesting, like legislators chaining themselves to their desks until a deal is reached.

Nothing appears to be happening at all in terms of negotiations, and time is running out. Here's how I see it. The House and the governor (for all practical purposes the same thing) are going to have to admit that taxes need to go up. The Senate wants two things: ensuring that nobody is kicked off state medical care, and an income tax increase. They need to give up one of these things and concentrate on the other, and I think they should concentrate on keeping health care. If both sides can find a way to balance the budget while kicking nobody off of health care, then that should be the deal. It shouldn't be too hard. That leaves a lot of other issues left unfinished, especially transportation, but it's the foundation at least.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Charter school nonsense

I saw this article in the City Pages today about the Minnesota Business Academy, a charter school in St. Paul, and it ticked me off. I am a pragmatic person. I support trying new things, and that's why I have no problems with charter schools. Experimenting is the only path to progress, so trying new things in education is not a bad thing.

However, when you try new things, the odds are that you are going to fail more often than not. It sounds like this school definitely deserves to fail. Shuttering the school does not mean that nothing was gained; hopefully, people have learned something from this, and learning from failures can be as important as learning from successes. But no, for some reason the city is going to keep this school going, forgiving a city loan to do so.

How many times has this happened in government? How many times has something started, outlived its usefulness, and kept on going merely because politicians want to buy influence? Pork is bad no matter what party is dealing it out, and this sounds like pork to me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Rep. Ron Erhardt sez get to work

I like Representative Ron Erhardt. Although he's a Republican, he's a moderate one. He has long recognized that we need more transportation funding, for example, and he also knows that even suburbs like Edina, which he represents, needs a good transit system (the people who clean the office buildings and work at the strip malls in outer ring suburbs usually can't afford to live there if they aren't teens living at home). Today, he has an editorial basically telling Pawlenty, Sviggum, and Dean Johnson to sit down and get to work. To them I would add minority leaders Dick Day and Matt Entenza, along with people like Larry Pogemiller and Phil Krinkie (as reader J.R. suggests). The margins are too close in both the House and the Senate to ignore the minority parties.

One point Rep. Erhardt makes is about how Sviggum is totally beholden to Pawlenty. There is absolutely no independence at all. Since when did the Governor pass budgets? I am pretty sure that the constitution says that the legislature passes appropriation legislation. The governor doesn't even need to be involved if the legislation passes with veto-proof majorities. It's time to cut the cord between Pawlenty and Sviggum.

More budget woes

It looks like the state's budget problems have grown by $300 million due to the Minnesota Supreme Court decision on taxes from offshore subsidiaries. This is going to throw yet another monkey wrench into the negotiations, and we're really getting down to the wire. We've got about a week before time runs out.

The article also talks about how some House Republicans are sitting outside Senator Dean Johnson's office to, uh, make sure he doesn't morph into Batman or something, I guess. I think the shenanigans are finally starting, and the word is that it is going to get worse later this week. Whether these publicity stunts will help negotiations is questionable.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The latest

So several things were notable this weekend (I was out biking and at the beach. What's your excuse for sitting in front of the computer?). Today, we find out that health care spending and special ed are driving up school costs. Not administrative costs, or salaries, or any other nonsense people have blamed costs on. This really isn't news.

There is still agitation over a shutdown, but it's not a common occurrence. I still don't think it will happen.

And the stadium. Not to Star Tribune: Sid Hartman is a sports columnist, not an economist. Please keep him from talking about topics he doesn't know anything about. It's called editing.

Finally, what's up with blogger? I can't log in using Firefox, so this post brought to you by the evil empire of M$ Internet Explorer. Shudder.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Senate Republicans wave magic wand

Senate Republicans today unveiled a plan that would solve the budget deficit by increasing spending and not raising taxes. Sound too good to be true? Yes, it is. First, they rely on gambling revenue, which isn't going to happen this year. Second, and more ridiculous, is that they request a new forecast which they say would magically erase the budget deficit.

Isn't that an idea? Try to pick and choose economic data to fulfill the mere letter of the law. They think that the forecast would show such huge revenue increases that there would no longer be a deficit. Of course, there is no reason to believe that. Then there's the problem that this forecast would be completely unexpected and not part of the normal schedule. I don't know how long it takes to do all the research to determine the forecast, but we have exactly two weeks to go in this fiscal year, and I don't think they could pull it off.

In short, this is not a real plan. And even if the next scheduled forecast shows a surplus, that money could simply be used to repeal the increase in income taxes that Senate Democrats are planning. Or, better yet, that money could be used imaginatively in such a way to ensure that all Minnesotans paid a fair amount of tax.

There still isn't much going on in terms of coming to an agreement, but below the surface frustration is rising. There may be some interesting stunts pulled in the near future by some angry legislators. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Preparing for a shutdown

So the government is preparing for a government shutdown. This is prudent, but I still hope that a shutdown will be avoided. Nothing new to report on negotiations, however.

It is pretty funny to hear Pawlenty rant about the "DFL special interests" of teachers, Native American tribes, and "social service activists", whoever they are. Most of the Democrats I know of aren't a member of any of these groups. Besides, is it so awful to support education and not throwing tens of thousands of working people off of health care? I think he's grasping at straws here.

Tax rates

City Pages has an article on the fact that the wealthiest Minnesotans pay less in taxes than the middle class. The more this gets around, the better.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Sviggum losing it

Even though nothing is getting done, the legislature continues to meet to fulfill its obligations under the state constitution. Usually, they meet for a few minutes, staying just long enough to adjourn until the next meeting three days hence. Lately, crazy cooter Mark Olson has tried repeatedly to take up budget issues, but he is rebuffed.

Today wasn't supposed to be any different. After the usual Olson game, though, a DFLer, Rep. Mike Jaros from Duluth, made a motion to just go home, arguing that meeting without doing anything is a waste of time any money. Speaker Sviggum was not playing speaker at the time, meaning that he was available for comments, and one representative asked him about the delay in any action. He started off well enough, but then exploded into a rage, saying that Democrats are blocking everything because they are hell-bent on raising all taxes. This didn't go over too well.

It seems that the pressure is finally getting to him. He obviously doesn't know how to handle this situation.

If you want to see it, go here and take a look at today's session. Sviggum's speech starts at about 23:40, and things get interesting a minute or two later.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Republicans sack Eibensteiner

The state Republican party made party chairman Ron Eibensteiner redundant Saturday, as they say, and elevated the secretary-treasurer, Ron Carey, to the top post. Unlike the Democrats, where Mike Erlandson was stepping down, Eibensteiner's retirement was not pre-planned.

Some Republicans are saying this doesn't mean much, but it seems to clearly be a case of putting the smackdown on Governor Pawlenty for his abandonment of some core Minnesota Republican beliefs, such as expanding gambling and raising taxes (under the pseudonym of "fees").

Was it fair? Eibensteiner said that it is not the party leader's job to enforce party beliefs on office holders. He may have a point. People have spent countless hours debating the whole purpose of party organizations in our country's non-parliamentary, weak party election system. The fact is, anybody can call themselves a Republican and get elected, and the party leadership can't do a thing about it. Both Eva Young and Michelle Bachmann are Republicans, after all. But it is also clear that the party grunts want to at least believe they have control over elected leaders, and taking down Eibensteiner as a proxy for Pawlenty made a lot of sense to them.

What does this mean? I don't see a whole lot of change for the Republican party; in fact, it may have slightly weakened itself. Eibensteiner's record spoke for itself, and it was a pretty good one, tarnished only by the 2004 elections. I know nothing about Ron Carey, except to say he's not the Ron Carey I know, another person entirely. The Republicans have a lot to do in 2006: take away a Democratic senate seat, elect a Republican to Mark Kennedy's seat, try to take over the Senate and add seats to an uncomfortably close cushion in the House, and, above all, defend Pawlenty. That's a lot to ask for, especially in an off-year election where the party in power, now the Republican party, doesn't do well. Is Carey up to the job?

Convention delegates are always more extreme than the public at large. Those Republican delegates who gave Eibensteiner the boot are much more conservative than most Republicans (and, of course, DFL delegates are much more liberal than most DFLers, something I'm reminded of every time I go to a convention). They got their pound of flesh and sent Pawlenty a warning. As Dean Johnson pointed out, this means Pawlenty probably isn't going to be in a compromising mood when it comes to the state budget. If the media story coming out of this is that Pawlenty is refusing to compromise to appease his ultra-conservative party regulars, it's not going to aid his re-election campaign. There's a price for demanding orthodoxy from elected officials from party regulars (another fact that DFLers often fail to remember). By forcing Pawlenty to kowtow to the extreme elements of the Republican party, they may be causing his unplanned retirement in a little over a year as well.

Other blogs on this story:
Dump Bachmann

Friday, June 10, 2005

Republicans don't like Senate budget offer

Republicans are whining about the Senate's latest budget offer, in which the Senate accepts part of Pawlenty's cigarette tax increase and puts forward their income tax increase. Pawlenty and Sviggum say it's a non-starter, job-killer, David Strom told us to do it, blah blah blah. They also says it's not a fair offer, which I don't get: the Senate accepted part of Pawlenty's tax (hopefully) in exchange for their tax being part of the mix. That sounds like compromise.

The key sentence in the Star Tribune story is this: "DFLers are opposed to Republican proposals for cuts in health-care programs for some 30,000 to 40,000 low-income workers, and DFLers favor a K-12 education plan with more in state spending and less reliance on property taxes than Republicans want." That about sums it up: Democrats are opposed to taking health care away from workers, and want the richest citizens of the state to pay their fair share in taxes instead of piling more taxes on the middle class. Republicans want what? To hose the working poor and make the tax system even more unfair? That's their plan?

I'm still waiting for somebody with gonads to ask Pawlenty whether he thinks the current tax system, where the wealthiest pay less than the middle class, is fair.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Looks like somebody thinks the Star Tribune should stop covering up for Pawlenty, as I do.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Incremental progress

After finally meeting behind closed doors for a while, there is at least a little progress on the budget. It's not a deal yet, but it's a start. It would be nice if Pawlenty actually admitted his cigarette tax was a tax, though.

If they don't work things out, there is a plan for a partial government shutdown. It's a pretty crappy deal for state workers, though, who would have to cash in vacation time if they wanted to get paid after June 30th. I hope it doesn't come to this.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

No budget deadline worries?

Here's today's opinion column on the budget impasse. To me, it just comes off wrong for some reason. Is the impasse hyper-partisanship on the part of Senate DFLers, or is it just believing in core values? If Pawlenty is allowed to keep to his "no new taxes" pledge without being hyper partisan, why can't other groups?

Here's what I would like the senate to do to prove their core-value bona fides: point out to the governor that the richest Minnesotans pay less in taxes than the middle class. Ask Pawlenty if he thinks that is fair. No pontificating, just yes or no. If yes, then, well, that's it. If no, then ask him what he plans on doing about it.

It's pretty common knowledge that the richest people have it easier than the middle class. I don't understand why nobody has yet asked Pawlenty point-blank if he thinks this is fair.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Weekly roundup

City Pages has a lot of good stuff this week: a story about how Governor Pawlenty is pandering to ultra-conservatives, a Pawlenty-for-President FAQ, and an interview with Senator Paul Koering, the gay Republican who recently came out of the closet.


Katherine Kersten, the Strib's new conservative, talks about marriage in her latest column but doesn't tell us how many time Rush Limbaugh has to get divorced before it's a danger to our social fabric.

By the way, is it that hard to find a logical, intelligent conservative columnist?

Pawlenty bloviates; media whores

So Pawlenty is trying to kick up some dust by saying that Mike Hatch can't represent the state in court to determine which state employees are essential. That's some good thinking, there, governor. Not everybody is trying to turn constitutional offices into blatantly partisan ones.

The same story has a bit of media stupidity too. The Star Tribune, a firm believer in the "he said/she said" philosophy of reporting, had this line: "Pawlenty came forward two weeks ago with a proposal for a 75-cent-per-pack charge on cigarettes, which he says is a fee but others are calling a tax." If Pawlenty called it a chocolate cake, would they put that in too? If the gas tax is a tax, then the cigarette tax is a tax. Would it kill them to admit it?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Krinkie-Marty stadium plan

I can't find any news stories on it yet, but today Republican Representative Phil Krinkie and DFL Senator John Marty put forward what they consider to be a fairer stadium funding plan. Neither wants any public money to go towards a stadium, for different reasons, but given that the billionaire owners just won't put their hands back in their pockets, they put forward a bill that they hope will serve as a guideline for stadium negotiations. I understand that the main point is revenue recapture based on how much state or local governments kick in for funding: if, for example, Hennepin County pays for 75% of the cost of a new stadium, then the county would get 75% of the revenues that the team would receive after building the stadium, over and above what they used to get.

I still don't like government funding of stadiums, but this plan is a whole lot better than the current one. In the plan the county passed, they would pay for about three quarters of the stadium, but get no revenue whatsoever. Now, as an investor, I would not put up millions of dollars in capital improvements for a company without receiving some of the new revenue those improvements generate. I don't know enough about the Krinkie-Marty bill to know what it says about things like naming rights, concession revenue, and so forth, but the revenue recapture is enough to make it many orders of magnitude better than what we have now.


Yep, gonna be a loooooooong special session.