Political notebook: Forecast to take budget temperature

By Don Davis

One of the big days of the Minnesota legislative session arrives Thursday, when state fiscal leaders announce how state revenues and spending are doing.

The budget forecast, released twice a year, tells legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton how much the state has to spend or, most often in recent years, how big a deficit they face.

The November forecast showed a $1.1 billion deficit. Dayton released his budget on Jan. 22, but after Thursday’s forecast he will need to tweak it to match the new numbers.

State Economist Tom Stinson said the Thursday report will consider some what-if discussion about federal budget decisions.

The day after the forecast, the federal government likely will begin to undergo automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. Since federal funds flow into many state coffers, those cuts would affect Minnesota government.

Minnesota receives less federal money than many states, but the cuts still could cut millions of dollars.

Washington observers say they doubt Congress and the president will reach a deal before Friday to avoid sequestration. Until there is an agreement on sequestration and other budget issues, states will not know just how much federal money they will lose.

Oberstar for secretary

Minnesota’s Democratic members of Congress want President Barack Obama to consider appointing former longtime U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar as transportation secretary.

Oberstar was chairman of the House transportation committee in 2010 when he lost his re-election bid to Chip Cravaack, who in turn lost last November to Rick Nolan.

“Here in Congress and throughout our nation, Jim Oberstar is recognized as a preeminent leader whose understanding of the complex and challenging transportation, infrastructure and aviation issues we face is simply unmatched,” wrote Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Reps. Tim Walz, Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum, Collin Peterson and Nolan.

The Democrats’ letter told Obama that Oberstar has “bipartisan respect and affection.”

Current Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is leaving the administration.

While Oberstar’s name has come up since Secretary Ray LaHood announced his resignation last month, The Hill newspaper reports “he has not been thought of a likely pick for the DOT post.”

Mercury down

Minnesota power companies have done a good job of reducing mercury emissions, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reports.

Ninety percent of the atmospheric mercury that falls into Minnesota water comes from outside of the state, the MPCA says. The 10 percent coming from Minnesota is best figure in the country,

Power companies, whose generators produce much of the mercury in the air, began state-ordered efforts to reduce mercury in the mid-1990s.

“Mercury emissions from this sector are now at less than half of where we started a little over a decade ago,” MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine said. “And our power utilities are well ahead of their scheduled reductions laid out in the Minnesota Mercury Reductions Act of 2006.”

Mercury, dangerous in the food supply, is released into the air and falls on water and land. In water, it often accumulates in fish. Power plants are the biggest source of mercury.

Kline thinks

U.S. Rep. John Kline is not ready to jump into the race against U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

“I will make a decision on whatever I’m doing sometime this summer,” the Minnesota Republican said. “It’s just too early to say.”

Kline, who represents the southern Twin Cities and areas to the south, and U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen have been discussed as potential Franken opponents in 2014. Paulsen represents the west Twin Cities area.

For Kline, the decision must take into account whether his current position is more important than being senator. He is chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, which deals with major issues Congress is debating.

Baldwin keynoter

A newly elected U.S. senator, one of the most liberal in the body, will speak at the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s major annual event.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is scheduled to speak at the Hubert H. Humphrey-Walter Mondale Dinner in Minneapolis April 20.

Baldwin, elected in a state that also picked conservative hero Scott Walker as governor, is the first openly gay U.S. senator.

Wisconsin vs. Minnesota

Wisconsin Rep. Erik Severson continues to compare his state with Minnesota, and says the state to the east is better for business.

The Osceola Republican praised GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s budget plan, which starts with a $420 million surplus compared to Minnesota’s $1.1 billion deficit.

“Two weeks ago, I sent a letter to Minnesota businesses detailing the fact that Wisconsin and Minnesota are headed in opposite directions,” Severson said. “Gov. Walker’s budget proposal highlights these differences perfectly.  While Minnesota’s Gov. (Mark) Dayton is raising taxes on businesses and consumers, Gov. Walker is cutting income taxes for middle and lower class families.”

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