2008 amendment offers buffet of outdoors, arts funds

Moose meeting

By Don Davis

The moose population in northern Minnesota’s forests is dwindling, but a tax that voters raised in 2008 could help save the giants.

“All of us came together on this project, Minnesota Moose Collaborative, to do what we know would work for one element to improve the moose’s existence: improving habitat,” President Mark Johnson of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association said.

The $3 million the organization has received is being used to clear areas of forest of brush, some of which was 20 feet tall, to make way for better grazing areas. It also is being used to plant trees to give shade from the warm summer sun.

“From a moose’s standpoint, it is like we renewed the buffet,” Johnson said.

“Buffet” may be a good way to describe where the moose project received its funding, because like a food buffet gives a diner lots of options, a large variety of funding opportunities came in the “legacy amendment” voters approved in 2008.

In what is known as the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, Minnesota voters approved a constitutional change to increase the state income tax three-eighths of a percent. In the first six years of funding, including money legislators approved this spring, about $1.5 billion has been split among four funds: outdoor heritage, clean water, parks-trails and arts-cultural.

Revenue voters raised in 2008 provides money for projects as varied as $334 so the Becker County Historical Society could microfilm newspapers to $36 million for one of several projects to protect the state’s forests.

Nearly 10,000 projects have received funding from the state funding buffet.

The amendment requires that all money be spent on things the state otherwise would not fund. The sales tax increase ends after 25 years.

In the program’s sixth year, which is just beginning, $378 million is being spent on projects that otherwise would not have received money.

Pam Aakre, a Clay County Fair Board member, credits a mural painted on the back of the grandstand to the funds.

“We would not have been able to do it without legacy funds,” she said, a comment heard across Minnesota from funding recipients.

A handful of other states have looked into expanding outdoors-related spending, and a few did by raising taxes, but Minnesota lawmakers found they needed to include money for arts and culture projects, such as theaters and artwork, for the measure to get enough legislative votes. The amendment faced relatively mild opposition once in front of voters, and indications are it passed mostly to boost outdoors program spending.

“Minnesotans feel so strongly about our great outdoors, when given the choice they are willing to pay for it,” Executive Director Brett Feldman of the Minnesota Parks and Trails Council said.

And it happened during a recession. It allowed Minnesota to increase spending in the four areas at a time when the economy forced other states to cut back.

“I think it is just phenomenal,” state Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said of the first five years.

“We are in the early stages of constructing a house,” Landwehr said, illustrating why he and others think it is too early to declare the legacy amendment a total success.

Those involved with legacy funds generally agree the biggest problem has been geographic balance, especially in parks spending.

“One of the most disappointing aspects to us is our systems had to battle one another for limited resources,” Feldman said about state, greater Minnesota and Twin Cities parks.

Creation of a greater Minnesota parks organization has smoothed things out, but “as long as there is money, there always are going to be battles,” Feldman said.

Minnesotans cannot get a full handle on geographic distribution of the money because most projects cover more than one county and determining how much each county benefits from each project is next to impossible.

Data compiled by the Legislative Coordinating Commission show each of the state’s 87 counties got a piece of the pie, with counties with more people getting more projects.

In northwest Minnesota, Mahnomen County got the fewest projects, 82, while the state’s largest county, Hennepin, led the way with 2,081 projects that used legacy money.

There have been attempts to shift money from urban to rural and vice versa, but the battles have fallen far short of fears. Lawmakers retain final say over how money is spent after committees for each fund make their recommendations.

Some lawmakers, mostly Republicans, question land the state is buying with legacy money, saying it should be left in private hands. Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said that while overall legacy funds are “doing so many great things,” there needs to be more discussion about land purchases.

“How are we going to deal with the cost?” he asked about ongoing expenses such as management and fire protection.

McNamara, Landwehr and others said they worry about the costs of creating new programs and suggested more work needs to be done so budgets do not balloon to take care of legacy projects.

Landwehr worries that the public could expect too much from legacy funds. They cannot solve all problems, he said.

In the clean water arena, for instance, Landwehr said that even though it gets nearly a third of all legacy money, all Minnesota water will not be clean when the legacy program ends in 2034. There are just too many problems with the water, he said.

Even with potential problems, interviews with people involved in legacy funding showed most consider the amendment a huge success. Few naysayers could be found.

The biggest success so far may be spending $36 million to protect large blocks of forest in northern Minnesota ($6 million more came from other sources).

Landwehr called it a “stellar example of a project you never would have seen” without the legacy amendment.

Other forest land near Brainerd and in southeast Minnesota also was protected, and legacy money helped leverage federal funds to clean up land along the St. Louis River near Duluth.

Compared to the forest work, the Worthington International Festival is a small-dollar user of legacy funds.

In past years, the festival often has received $5,000 for the annual mid-July festival.

This year, Rod Sankey, a Worthington City Council member, said he liked the International Festival approach because it offers a venue for Worthington’s diverse residents to mix and mingle.

“I think even more people should come down here because it’s a good way to begin understanding other cultures instead of just having negative attitudes about our diversity,” Sankey said.

Like the International Festival, the Clay County Fair has received smaller legacy grants.

In addition to the $10,250 the fair received for the grandstand mural, it got about $15,000 in two years to bring in singers, square dancers, a puppeteer and artist to offer family activities the fair otherwise could not afford.

“With this money, we are able to spend maybe a little bit more just to get some more quality arts and entertainment,” Aakre said.

 Reporter Jane Moore contributed to this story.

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International mask

Projects, spending per fund

Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, 7,345; $317 million

Clean Water Fund, 1,233; $533.9 million

Outdoor Heritage Fund, 141; $533.4 million

Parks and Trails Fund, 238; $228.9 million

Subject of projects

Agriculture-forestry-mining, 72

Archeology, 3

Arts, 6,261

Arts access, 5,113

Biological diversity, 121

Cultural heritage preservation, 1,409

Education outreach, 2,269

Historic preservation, 270

History, 733

Natural areas and habitat, 284

Legacy spending by county

Statewide, 414

Aitkin, 176

Anoka, 467

Becker, 214

Beltrami, 313

Benton, 205

Big Stone, 124

Blue Earth, 446

Brown, 252

Carlton, 180

Carver, 350

Cass, 254

Chippewa, 132

Chisago, 249

Clay, 193

Clearwater, 146

Cook, 218

Cottonwood, 131

Crow Wing, 270

Dakota, 609

Dodge, 167

Douglas, 159

Faribault, 181

Fillmore, 263

Freeborn, 172

Goodhue, 325

Grant, 104

Hennepin, 2,082

Houston, 165

Hubbard, 184

Isanti, 208

Itasca, 260

Jackson, 118

Kanabec, 114

Kandiyohi, 236

Kittson, 95

Koochiching, 126

Lac qui Parle, 123

Lake, 199

Lake of the Woods, 108

Le Sueur, 265

Lincoln, 111

Lyon, 151

Mahnomen, 82

Marshall, 123

Martin, 148

McLeod, 203

Meeker, 188

Mille Lacs, 144

Morrison, 253

Mower, 209

Murray, 87

Nicollet, 297

Nobles, 116

Norman, 88

Olmsted, 436

Otter Tail, 294

Pennington, 119

Pine, 166

Pipestone, 95

Polk, 192

Pope, 140

Ramsey, 1332

Red Lake, 82

Redwood, 138

Renville, 158

Rice, 364

Rock, 86

Roseau, 155

Scott, 325

Sherburne, 283

Sibley, 190

St. Louis, 809

Stearns, 544

Steele, 197

Stevens, 125

Swift, 109

Todd, 215

Traverse, 67

Wabasha, 186

Wadena, 169

Waseca, 169

Washington, 472

Watonwan, 135

Wilkin, 95

Winona, 279

Wright, 340

Yellow Medicine, 119

 Source: www.legacy.leg.mn

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Minnesotans advise North Dakota

Minnesotans entering their sixth year of a fund that pays for a variety of outdoor projects have some advice for their North Dakota neighbors who this fall may decide to implement a similar fund: Work out spending details early.

One of the few major problems encountered in launching the Minnesota legacy fund, with money coming from a sales tax increase, was vague language about how parks and trails money may be spent. That issue only arose following a mostly harmonious campaign to get the constitutional amendment passed.

“One of the lessons that was learned in Minnesota is if you don’t identify and advance the process on allocating funds, you will have a lot of agreement before the ballot (vote), but a bloodbath after the ballot,” Minnesota Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said.

While the constitutional amendment Minnesota voters approved in 2008 specifically divided the new tax money among four funds — outdoor heritage, clean water, parks-trails and arts-culture — it left specifics alone, which became an issue when it came to the $30 million to $40 million parks and trails receive each year.

The feeling before the 2008 vote was “we will play nice in the sandbox,” Landwehr said about parks and trails advocates. “Now it is this annual bloodbath among the metro (Twin Cities) parks, the regional parks and the state.”

The addition of a commission to look after park interests outside the Twin Cities has helped, the commissioner said, since state and Twin Cities parks already had organizations.

A broad-based coalition opposing the North Dakota amendment touches on the issue: “This measure would commit 5 percent of North Dakota’s oil extraction tax — at least $300 million per biennium — to a new massive conservation fund with no clear idea of how the money would be spent.”

The amendment North Dakotans will consider is different from the Minnesota one in several ways.

Most importantly, the Minnesota fund divvies up the new sales tax money four ways: 33 percent to clean water, 33 percent to outdoor heritage, 19.75 percent to arts and cultural heritage projects (something not included in the North Dakota proposal) and 14.25 percent to parks and trails.

The Minnesota Legislature has final say over spending money, but various boards made recommendations, which lawmakers generally follow. In North Dakota, a 13-member citizen board would recommend spending to a commission composed of the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner, which would have the final spending decisions.

Minnesota Sen. Tom Saxhaug, D-Grand Rapids, said he knows a bit about the North Dakota issue, which “seems to have a much more organized campaign against it than we did.” The opposition coalition includes members from farm, business, local government and energy organizations.

Saxhaug, Landwehr and others suggested that one thing North Dakotans should consider is how to fund ongoing operating costs after the state buys more land and starts programs with the new money. Such costs usually fall into the regular state budget, which may not be able to take on the added costs.

But President Mark Johnson of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association had just one bit of advice: “North Dakota, jump on it.”

Johnson said that despite what many people think, “if they wait 20 years, the money is not going to be there. … If they want to keep their standard of living, from a natural resources standpoint, now is when they need to be doing it.”

‘Legacy’ has different meanings

Minnesota and North Dakota may be neighbors, but they do not always speak the same language.

In Minnesota, “legacy fund” means revenue from an increase in the state sales tax that voters approved in 2008. The money goes to outdoors, clean water, parks, trails, arts and culture programs.

In North Dakota, voters approved a measure in 2009 they know as the “legacy fund” to use revenues from the state oil and gas tax to build up a budget reserve in case it is needed for any reason in the future. The state calls its proposed constitutional change, similar to the Minnesota 2008 one, the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment.

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Creek change

Other money joins legacy funds

The “legacy amendment” usually is blended with other money to fund nearly 10,000 projects around Minnesota.

One of the most complex projects fell on the shoulders of Myron Jesme, Red Lake Watershed District director in northwestern Minnesota, to implement. He cobbled nearly $12 million from about a dozen federal, state and local sources to fix problems caused in 1904 when a straight channel was cut to replace six miles of the meandering Grand Marais Creek from near Fisher to the Red River.

Jesme said that about $3 million in legacy money was the key, especially a $2.32 million allotment from the outdoor heritage fund.

“We needed this $2.32 million to put the gas in the car and start driving,” Jesme said. “Once we got that money, the federal government came in.”

Other agencies began joining the project, too. Each has its own reason, but combined they are funding flood reduction, erosion control, water quality improvement and habitat restoration along the creek.

After a multiyear effort, the hope is to have water flowing through the original channel by year’s end, keeping the shorter straight channel for flood relief when that is needed. Putting water through a curvy creek will keep 700 tons of sediment out of the Red River each year.

Restoring the last six miles of the 45-mile-long Grand Marais Creek has many benefits, Jesme said, by returning aquatic and related ecological systems to how they were before the 1904 channel was changed.

Legacy money often provides the seed funds to attract other projects. In that way, it is like the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. That fund has nothing to do with the legacy amendment, but it gets a lot of attention on a Web page otherwise devoted to legacy funds and has been around longer than the legacy amendment.

The Legislative Coordinating Commission reports that the fund, which gets revenue from the Minnesota Lottery, attracts nearly as many page visits as its legacy home page. The arts and cultural heritage fund gets about a third of the page visits, slightly more than a page about the clean water fund.

The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, which recommends to lawmakers how to spend the lottery money, recently compiled a $45.8 million list of 64 projects for consideration next year.

The list includes items ranging from a University of Minnesota research center aimed at slowing the spread of invasive plants and animals to researching animals including bats, turtles, elk, loons and white pelicans to improve preservation efforts.

Such projects are similar to some of the outdoors-related ones that get legacy money, and the two pots of revenue often are confused.

Here are some examples of projects at least partially funded by legacy money:

– Becker County Historical Society, $334, to add 12 rolls of microfilmed newspapers to broaden public accessibility to primary records.

– Goodhue Soil and Water Conservation District, $105,450, to construct seven grade stabilization structures in Minneola Township to reduce erosion and sedimentation to North Fork of Zumbro River, protect public roads, retain water, create wildlife habitat and increase groundwater recharge.

– Stevens County Water Quality Initiative, $84,000, to establish up to 12 miles of buffers along the Pomme de Terre River and its tributaries and install up to five rain gardens within the cities of Morris and Chokio.

– Clay County Fair, $10,250, to create a mural on the back of the grandstand that embodies the activities and spirit of the Clay County Fair.

– Friends of Lake Bronson State Park (Kittson County), $5,050, for the Woodcarvers’ Festival.

– Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District, $329,750, to improve the water quality of Little Buffalo Creek, a tributary to the Mississippi River.

– City of Kandiyohi, $6,114, to install new doors and windows to the well house, purchase and install six wellhead protection signs.

– Farmington Elementary School, $13,603, for all students at Farmington Elementary to work with artists using the European and American folk song and dance, Ghanaian drumming, West African dance and puppetry.

– Beltrami County Historical Society, $6,896, for Doctor, Doctor, Give Me the News: Early Healthcare, an exhibit on early county health care drawn from primary records in local and state repositories.

– Minnesota Public Television Association, $6.2 million, for production and to buy programs.

– Minnesota Discovery Center (St. Louis County), $4,829, to create an exhibit on the history of the Iron Range as told through personal narrative of 10 residents.

– Nobles Soil and Water Conservation District, $22,346, to test waters needing data for impairment listing in the Rock River and Little Sioux watersheds.

– University of Minnesota, $4.4 million, to establish an aquatic invasive species research center to fight species such as Asian carp and zebra mussels.

– Park Rapids, $8,058, to test wells water and aquifer.

– Boys and Girls Club of Morrison County, $4,500, to invite a resident artist and arts educator, Jodi Legeros, to conduct fine arts programs at the Little Falls club location.

– Carlos Township in Douglas County, $28,000, to evaluate alternatives to fix failing sewage treatment systems.

– Wadena-Deer Creek School District, $11,836, to create works of art and learn creative problem solving strategies.

– Cottage Grove, $6,500, for spill response plan and well survey.

– Woodbury, $10,000, for well site study, ordinance review and public education.

– Dakota County Historical Society, $6,183, for 20 interviews about the history of the Hastings State Hospital, 1938-78.

– Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District, $130,055, to develop the watershed restoration and protection, while also enlarging and sustaining public participation.

Minnesota doctors may be in short supply

By Don Davis

Primary care doctors soon may be in short supply, a Minnesota Hospital Association report showed on Monday.

“Many of our hospitals, especially those in greater Minnesota, already have difficulty attracting physicians,” association President Lawrence J. Massa said. “I hope this new information will provide an impetus to policy makers to make the urgent decisions needed on both the state and federal levels to give our health professional students access to the clinical training and residency experience they need to become licensed to practice.”

The study written by Towers Watson, a professional services company, says the doctor shortage will appear in the next decade. It found that “the current pipeline of graduates barely appears adequate to replace retirements as they occur. That, coupled with projected increases in demand because of an aging population, will result in a significant talent gap for physicians.”

There could be a shortage of 850 primary care doctors by 2024, the study shows.

The study blames the shortage on a growing and aging population, along with fewer doctors graduating and increased retirements. Many fields are experiencing higher retirement numbers as baby boomers age.

The hospital study shows about 1,350 primary care doctors are expected to leave the profession in the next decade from the approximately 5,000 in Minnesota today. At the same time, 1,300 doctors are expected to begin practice. Combined with increased demand, that would leave an 850-doctor shortfall, the study shows.

“Minnesota health care organizations will need to take action to ensure they have access to the talent needed to successfully deliver quality care,” said the study’s chief author, Rick Sherwood of Towers Watson.

Hospital association officials say they will ask federal and state lawmakers to make changes that would encourage more people to pursue physician degrees. Some laws discourage taking medical courses, while federal cuts are being discussed in the medical education field, the association reported.

The association suggests developing a statewide health-care task force to look into the doctor situation. It also seeks more state medical education funding.

The group also says tele-medicine should expand to use more technology to serve patients remotely.

“Given the challenges of moving additional spending proposals through Congress, solutions at the federal level may continue to be elusive,” Massa said. “More action at the state level is critical.”

The study said the registered nurse supply should remain strong.

More counties expect flood aid

By Don Davis

More Minnesota counties likely will be added to a presidential flood disaster declaration.

President Barack Obama on Monday declared eight of 51 counties that experienced flood damage this summer as eligible for federal disaster aid. However, Gov. Mark Dayton’s office reports that more counties are expected to join the list as local officials complete their damage assessment.

Dayton said that he initiated the disaster response process before all county damage totals were available to speed federal money to the state.

So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reports $37.1 million in damages from floods that begin on June 11. That is nearly $30 million more than needed for Obama to declare a disaster.

The eight counties on the list so far are Chippewa, Freeborn, Jackson, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Renville and Rock, mostly southern and western Minnesota rural areas. State Emergency Services Director Kris Eide has said the most expensive damage is in the Twin Cities area.

Federal aid that will follow Obama’s declaration will help local governments pay for flood-related costs such as debris removal, road repairs and fixing other public facilities like parks and water treatment plants.

Washington reimburses 75 percent of disaster costs, with the state picking up the rest. Dayton said that he may call a special legislative session to fund the state portion, but has not decided about the issue, and does not know when a session might occur.

The presidential declaration allows all Minnesota local governments to apply for funds to prevent or reduce future disaster risks to life and property.

While it is possible some aid will be made available to individuals and businesses, the Obama declaration only applies to state and local governments.

“Weeks of torrential downpour this summer triggered devastating flooding that inflicted severe damage all across our state,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. “This disaster declaration will deliver critical funding and support to communities impacted by flooding and help our state rebuild and recover.”

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., called Obama’s decision “a necessary first step to helping residents in the affected counties get back on their feet.”

State officials have called the June flooding, which remains a problem in parts of the state, the most widespread disaster the state has experienced. More than half the state’s 87 counties reported damage.

Political chatter: U.S. House races bring in money, too

By Don Davis

Everyone knew that U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Mike McFadden will run rich campaigns if they face off in November, as expected, but a couple of mostly rural U.S. House races involve more money than usual.

Northern and east-central Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District race between Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan and Republican challenger Stewart Mills is a financial barnburner.

Nolan reports $1 million raised in April, May and June, with $579,000 in the bank. First-time candidate Mills says he raised $989,000 in the same time period and has $429,000 available.

Mills, of the Fleet Farm supply store family, gave his campaign $121,000.

In the 7th district, taking in a huge area of western Minnesota, incumbent Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat, raised $1 million and has most of it in the bank: $717,000. State Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, surprised many observers by picking up $430,000 during the quarter, with $328,000 cash on hand.

National Republican groups have picked Westrom and Mills as two GOP candidates with bright futures and are helping them financially. Both districts are expected to attract lots of money from groups other than the campaigns.

Other incumbents hold massive leads over rivals, such as in southern Minnesota where Democrat Rep. Tim Walz collected more than $1 million for the quarter as two Republicans combined got little more than $200,000.

In the 2nd Congressional District, just south of the Twin Cities, Republican Rep. Kline amassed more than $2 million, with Democrat Mike Obermueller reporting less than $600,000.

For the Franken-McFadden race, incumbent Franken, a Democrat, reported that he took in more than $3.3 million during the quarter and had $5 million in the bank. McFadden, the Republican challenger, says he raised $1.1 million in the same three months, leaving $2 million in the bank.

Auditor race on TV

Minnesotans expect to see television commercials for governor, U.S. Senate and maybe even the U.S. House, but state auditor not so much.

In what may be a first, the two Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party auditor candidates have TV commercials looking for votes in the Aug. 12 primary election.

In what normally is a quiet, or maybe even invisible, campaign, incumbent Rebecca Otto and long-time DFL politician Matt Entenza are competing.

Entenza’s commercial clearly is looking for DFL votes.

“Matt Entenza, progressive for auditor,” his commercial ends.

“Progressive” often is used as another word for “liberal Democrat.”

He promises to “end unnecessary tax giveaways to big corporations,” something traditionally outside the bounds of the state auditor’s office, which usually is thought of as just auditing local governments’ books.

Otto’s commercial closely matches how most in government view the auditor.

She begins her commercial saying that she ran because she discovered “hundreds of millions of dollars in errors” in local government audits. She ends it with: “I will make sure the numbers add up.”

Pre-registration ending

Today is the final day for Minnesota voters to register before the Aug. 12 primary election.

They still may register at the polls, although that could result in a delay casting ballots.

Minnesotans may register online, at mnvotes.org, for the first time this year. They also may see who is running at that Website and download pre-registration applications.

Nearly 5,700 voters have registered online.

Where’s spell checker?

Republican governor candidate Jeff Johnson pointed to an embarrassing spelling error by the campaign of the man he hopes to replace, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Johnson wrote on his Facebook page about his son Thor and a visitor:

“A young man knocked on our door. Thor answered. The young man said, ‘Do you know who your household is voting for in the governor’s race?’

“Thor: ‘Jeff Johnson is my dad, so probably him.’

“Young man: ‘Dude, that’s so cool — I actually got Jeff Johnson’s house on my list. You should give this brochure to your dad; he’ll think it’s funny that they misspelled Minnesota on the top.’”

The young made handed Thor an item headlined: “Help us continue to build a better Minnesta.”

Separately, the Dayton campaign sent a tweet about his running mate: “Red Lake Senior High School on Red Lake Indian Reservation hosted a visited by @Tinaflintsmith today.”

Both campaigns and journalists fear such misspellings and misused words (the fear is especially bad for a journalist writing about someone else’s misspelling).

Thursday a bad day

Thursday was a rough day for those around Minnesota government.

That is when word came of three deaths: President David Olson of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, former state Rep. Mary Ellen Otremba of Long Prairie and Rueben Simpson of New York Mills, the 99-year-old father of Dean Simpson, a former state representatives Kurt Zeller’s lieutenant governor candidate.

Thompson becomes manager

Former Republican governor candidate Dave Thompson has become Scott Newman’s attorney general campaign manager.

Both are GOP state senators.

Thompson, of Lakeville, lost his party’s endorsement for governor to Jeff Johnson. Newman, of Hutchinson, faces token opposition in the Aug. 12 primary. He wants to replace Democratic Attorney General Lori Swanson.

Wage poster ready

Minnesota’s minimum wage is to rise on Aug. 1, and the state Department and Labor and Industry is ready with a new poster employers must display.

The poster is available at www.dli.mn.gov/posters.

Workers in large businesses will be paid at least $8 an hour, with those at small firms getting $6.50. It is the first step in boosting big-company wages to $9.

Farmington leaders offer to host special legislative session

Pitching Farmington

By Don Davis

Leaders of the southern Twin Cities suburb of Farmington Thursday offered to host a special legislative session to fund flood recovery.

“Minnesota has a proud tradition of coming together to provide relief for those in need following natural disasters, and Farmington would be a unique and well-suited location to host any upcoming special session given the current state of the Capitol,” state Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said.

The invitation came as much of the Capitol building is closed for a $273 million renovation. However, state officials say the House and Senate chambers and some meeting rooms will be available if Gov. Mark Dayton needs to call a special session.

While the governor’s office and House speaker did not reject the Farmington proposal, neither did they give it much hope.

“It is an intriguing idea,” House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said. “However, there are questions in terms of costs and feasibility.”

Dayton press secretary Matt Swenson said a special session, which is not a certainty, would need agreement among all four legislative leaders and the governor.

“While Rep. Garafolo’s idea is an interesting one, the additional costs incurred by holding a special session outside the Capitol would need to be considered…” Swenson said. “Gov. Dayton’s primary concern is ensuring Minnesotans affected by this summer’s flooding get the help they need as quickly as possible.”

Floods that affected more than half of Minnesota’s counties likely will bring a presidential disaster declaration, but even though the federal government would pay for most flood recovery costs, the state would be on the hook for 25 percent. That probably means the Legislature will need to convene to appropriate the money.

Most disaster recovery funding sessions last less than a day and are routine.

Farmington residents said they can offer lawmakers a home away from Capitol construction and it would give them a chance to toot their own horn.

“We are small town Minnesota nice, but with big city dreams,” Farmington High School student Natalie Pellin said.

School officials proposed using iPad technology they already have in their 5-year-old school to record votes.

“Farmington High School has the space and technology to host a legislative special session, and this is a chance for legislators to see firsthand the technology our students are using to help improve our education outcomes in the classroom,” Chairwoman Tera Lee of the Farmington School Board said.

Farmington Mayor Todd Larson said that holding the session in his community would showcase his entire community.

Garofalo said he is concerned with technological issues during a special session in the Capitol because some recording systems have been removed. He also expressed concerns about the public’s safety in a construction zone.

However, even though the Capitol will remain mostly closed next year, he said that he does not have the same concerns during next year’s regular session that begins in January and could last into May.

Garofalo admitted that the Farmington suggestion could set off a competition among cities around Minnesota to host the session. Soon after Farmington leaders talked to reporters, Rep. Joe Radinovich, D-Crosby, tweeted that his area would be a good location.

“This is purely to showcase the accomplishments of Farmington,” Garofalo said.

Ex-lawmaker Otremba dies

Otremba

By Al Edenloff

Mary Ellen Otremba, a popular and soft-spoken state legislator who represented areas of central and west-central Minnesota for 13 years, died Thursday. She was 63.

Otremba, a Democrat, was known for working across party lines for greater Minnesota issues, as evidenced by Republicans praising her service in the hours after her death.

In 2010, Otremba announced that she wouldn’t seek an eighth term. At that time, she issued a statement saying it had been “an incredible privilege” to serve the citizens of District 11B in the Minnesota House.

“There is no greater honor in a democracy than to be selected by one’s fellow citizens to represent them in the halls of government,” Otremba said in her statement. “I will always be grateful for the years I’ve had to serve in our beautiful Capitol, working to enhance the quality of life for all Minnesotans.”

She said her father “brought me to my first precinct caucus. Since that day, I’ve never stopped working to shine a light on the wonderful things than make greater Minnesota’s quality of life so special.”

After Otremba retired, Republican Mary Franson of Alexandria defeated the DFL-endorsed candidate in Otremba’s district, Amy Hunter, in the 2010 election.

“My hearts mourns for Mary Ellen and the family she leaves behind,” Franson said. “Mary Ellen was a dedicated public servant who represented the heart and soul of our community well.”

Another Republican also praised the Democrat.

“Rep. Otremba was widely respected in the Legislature and known for her passion for Todd County residents,” said Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls. “Party politics didn’t play into her thinking; instead, her integrity and strong desire to represent Todd County drove her legislation.”

Otremba was first elected in a November 1997 special election after the death of her husband, Rep. Ken Otremba, two months earlier.

She chaired the House Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Committee, and was a member of the Ways and Means Committee. She also served on a variety of committees dealing with agriculture, rural development, veterans affairs and health and human services.

She was an assistant House minority leader from 2001 to 2004.

Otremba graduated from Long Prairie High School and attended the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, where she received a degree in home and community service. She later attended St. Cloud State University, receiving a master’s degree in child and family studies. She worked as a nutritionist for the Todd County Department of Public Health from 1984 to 1989, as a teacher in the Freshwater Educational District from 1986 to 1989 and as a teacher at Eagle Valley High School in Clarissa from 1989 to 1997. She also taught family and consumer science at Swanville High School and was a substitute teacher there.

Minnesota farmland taxes expected to rise

By Don Davis

Many Minnesota property owners could see some tax relief this year, but farmers can expect higher taxes for at least the next two years.

“What I am hearing is it is making it much more difficult to do business as a farmer,” Rep. Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, said of agriculture property tax increases.

Still, he said, the Democratic-controlled Legislature and governor’s office have slowed increases that have occurred for more than a decade.

A new, nonpartisan Minnesota House report shows that property taxes as a whole should fall $49 million this year, a 0.6 percent drop, although the cost for each property owner will be different. The tax cut may not be seen on property tax bills because the House figures in tax refunds that Democrats increased.

In 2015, property taxes should go up $238 million, a 2.8 percent increase, the House report predicted.

In both years, farmland property taxes are expected to rise: 8.1 percent this year and 4.7 percent next year.

Researchers emphasize that they are working off their best guess because they cannot predict factors such as how much local governments may raise property taxes and how much property may be worth.

The two major parties waged a news release battle soon after the property tax figures were released. Democrats emphasized this year’s predicted drop in most types of property taxes, while Republicans focused on the 2015 increases.

“We knew farmers and rural landowners were going to be hit hard with property tax increases, but now it appears that homeowners in all tax brackets can expect to pay more despite promises the Democrats made over the past two years,” said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska. “Make no mistake, hardworking Minnesotans from all corners of the state are going to feel the impacts of this property tax increase.”

A news release from Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party lawmakers showed a different side, explaining that when Republicans were in charge, property taxes soared $370 million in 2012.

“The DFL-led Legislature made property tax relief a priority in our budget and, in particular, made direct property tax relief a priority,” the DFL reported, adding that Democrats approved $178 million in property tax relief in the past two years and more than 300,000 homeowners should receive larger property tax refunds.

Marquart, long an outspoken supporter of lowering farm taxes, said that at least agriculture taxes are not rising as fast as they would have under the policies in effect when Democrats took over in early 2013.

The rising taxes still bother him: “I don’t like that, but I think we are getting ag property taxes under control.”

Marquart said the main reason farm property taxes are going up is that farmland value is rising. While home values recently have gone up 6.8 percent, ag land is up 13.3 percent, he said. That shifts property taxes from homes to farmland.

Farmers complain that while land prices are rising, they do not benefit unless they sell their farms.

Marquart said farmers in his western Minnesota district report taxes that not long ago were $14 to $15 an acre now are $30 to $40. “It really has impacted the cost of production.”

Marquart said he does not have the answer to how to fix ag taxes, but said the Legislature and governor must tackle the issue next year.

“We still have a lot of work to do, absolutely,” Marquart said. “But we are moving in the right direction.”

Capitol notebook: Renewable fuels group blasts big oil

By Don Davis

The Renewable Fuels Association says major oil companies strong-arm retailers that sell gasoline under their brand names to avoid using any more plant-based ethanol than legally necessary.

Independent gasoline stations are four to six times more likely to sell higher blends of ethanol, usually made from corn, than those that carry major oil company names, the association reported.

At stake is whether high ethanol blends will be readily available to consumers. Those blends include E85, which features 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent petroleum-based gasoline. Also being hindered, the association says, is the sale of E15, with 15 percent ethanol; most gasoline today contains 10 percent ethanol.

The association claims that contracts major oil companies make retailers sign construct roadblocks to selling anything other than what big oil wants, which is to sell their petroleum products.

“This new report underscores the need for the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to look into these allegations, and I will continue pushing to ensure that consumers have access to the cheaper, cleaner fuels they deserve,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel.

Reuters news agency reports that oil companies, which long have called for repeal of a federal biofuel mandate, say retailers have been reluctant to sell E15 due to concerns that it could harm engines in older vehicles, and that consumers do not want to buy the product.

Klobuchar and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have pressed the FTC for almost a year to investigate whether oil industry practices regarding ethanol violate antitrust laws. It is unclear whether the agency has taken action on the matter.

Where are the farmers?

The New York Times is sponsoring a conference this year called “Food for Tomorrow,” promising that it will discuss how to “farm better, eat better, feel better.”

But the Daily Yonder online rural newspaper points out that U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine is the only farmer and only rural resident on the speaker list: “She has an organic operation that supplies her restaurant and lodge, and she sells a good bit of wool on line.”

While Times officials tell the Yonder they are adding speakers, they did not promise any farmers would speak from the dais.

Times columnist Mark Bittman is to be keynote speaker at the New York event, with a couple of Times reporters on the agenda.

Yonder reports: “There’s a panel discussion on who will farm (with no full-time farmers) and a group talking ‘sustainable scale,’ with no farmers and nobody who has had to deal directly with food monopolies.”

4 lane or 2 lane?

Republican governor candidate Jeff Johnson’s running mate told a southern Minnesota newspaper that it was a mistake to turn a northern Minnesota highway into four lanes.

The Owatonna People’s Press reported on Bill Kuisle’s visit: “Another issue for Kuisle is how the MnDOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation) and lawmakers interact. In general, he said that the Legislature has a ‘hands-off’ approach to choosing transportation projects. But a strong legislator can lobby to get work done in his or her region, which can be a misplaced priority.

“As an example, he mentioned U.S. Highway 2 in the northern part of the state. He said it was made into a four-lane roadway under the watch of former (federal) Rep. Jim Oberstar, who died earlier this year. Kuisle said that the highway should have stayed at two lanes.”

Another Republican candidate, Marty Seifert, jumped on the comment and said he thinks the highway should be four lanes so grain can be delivered from Minnesota farmers and all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles can be shipped from Arctic Cat in Thief River Falls to the Duluth port.

Seifert spends a lot of time reminding GOP voters of his rural background.

Other candidates also can claim a rural background. Johnson grew up in Detroit Lakes and Kuisle is a lifelong farmer south of Rochester. Candidate Kurt Zellers grew up on a North Dakota farm and his running mate, Dean Simpson, owns two grocery stores in Otter Tail County communities.

The fourth major Republican governor candidate, Scott Honour, and running mate Karin Housley are suburbanites who have not pushed any rural roots.

Senate race costly

Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race is becoming an expensive contest.

Republican-endorsed candidate Mike McFadden reports that he raised $1.1 million in the second quarter of the year, bringing the Twin Cities businessman to $4 million since he began his race to challenge Democratic Sen. Al Franken.

Franken, meanwhile, reports that he raised more than $3.3 million in the quarter with more than $5 million in the bank.

Health leader to pitch

Being Minnesota health commissioner is the pits.

The horseshoe pits, that is. Commissioner Ed Ehlinger is bringing back his “pitch the commissioner” event after introducing it two years ago. He starts this summer’s horseshoe-pitching stops July 22 in Worthington.

Ehlinger is a horseshoe enthusiast who invites the public to talk to him while pitching horseshoes.

“Pitching horseshoes is a fun and easy way for people to be physically active and engage in conversation at the same time,” Ehlinger said. “It’s great to get out and visit people around the state, and hear their thoughts on what their communities need to be healthy.”

Besides Worthington, he plans to be in Eveleth on Aug. 13, Cook on Aug. 14 and Marshall on Aug. 28.

Dayton seeks presidential disaster declaration

By Don Davis

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton Wednesday asked that counties damaged by floods last month be declared a presidential disaster area.

Dayton also added 16 counties to the state disaster list, meaning 51 of Minnesota’s 87 counties reported damage from flooding that began June 11.

If President Barack Obama honors Dayton’s request, state and local government will get federal money to pay 75 of flood-related costs. The state will pay the rest.

Dayton said that eight mostly rural counties — Chippewa, Freeborn, Jackson, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Renville and Rock — have reported $10.8 million damage to public facilities. Minnesota needed to record at least $7.3 million to qualify for federal aid.

However, the governor said, 31 counties and one American Indian tribe so far have reported more than $55 million in costs, so total damages are expected to rise substantially as more damage reports come in.

As federal, state and local officials survey damage, Dayton said, damage assessments are coming in higher than initial reports.

State Emergency Management Director Kris Eide said she expects counties in the Twin Cities area to report far higher damages than rural areas because the population is higher and there are more public facilities.

Federal money only is available for government infrastructure damage and costs of fighting floods. Any help for private homes and business owners would come from other programs, but it is not clear if that will be available.

Even before Obama decides whether he will approve the Dayton disaster request, the U.S. Department of Transportation told state officials Wednesday that Minnesota will receive up to $5 million in “quick release” emergency relief funds to help fix the state’s flood-damaged roads.

The federal money will reimburse the state for emergency repair work and is in addition to $750,000 the federal government already sent Minnesota.

The state will share the funds with local road authorities.

“The flood damage recently inflicted on Minnesota roads, highways and bridges has been severe and widespread,” Dayton said. “These funds will speed up important repairs statewide.”

During a recent Minnesota visit, Obama promised that his administration will help Minnesota recover from one of the most widespread floods in state history.

The governor’s letter to Obama laid out the background for Obama: “Minnesota is experiencing historic summer flooding. The precedent conditions for the disaster were set this past winter when much of the state experienced well above average snowfall. Wide areas of northern and eastern Minnesota had between 150 and 200 percent of normal winter precipitation. Cool spring weather and an orderly snowmelt runoff fully charged the soils with moisture. By the end of April, wetlands and lakes were full; rivers and streams were running at high levels.”

The governor told the president about heavy rainfall in May and, especially, June.

The 10-member Minnesota congressional delegation followed Dayton’s letter with its own: “As we’ve toured affected communities in recent weeks, we’ve seen firsthand the damage these storms have caused. After disaster strikes Minnesota, we hit the ground running and do not stop until we have the resources in place to ensure that communities can recover. We urge you to make the federal government a full partner in that effort.”

Dayton’s letter explained that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Federal Emergency Management Agency and county emergency managers are continuing to assess damage in affected counties.

Most of the damage reported by local officials is to roads and bridges. Also, local governments spent money to protect their communities from rising water.

In addition to fixing roads and bridges, local governments and some non-profits could use federal funds for debris removal and flood prevention as well as fixing water public facilities such as sewage treatment plants and parks.

Minnesota home health workers expect summer union election

Showing support

By Don Davis

Christine Hale has undergone fusion procedures for her back and neck, and needs more.

But, the Crosby woman said, she gets no paid time off. So she must hurry back to work as a home health care worker after the procedures.

Because she cannot take enough time off for her back to heal, she and her mother said, she is forced into more treatment. That means her client, for whom she works 20 hours a week, will be forced to get used to a new health care worker while she is off, something Hale called an unsettling prospect.

“It’s time for us to stand up,” Hale said Tuesday as she prepared to hear her mother, Rosemary Van Vickle, talk to a couple of hundred people gathered outside the state Bureau of Mediation Services in St. Paul to celebrate taking a key step in forming a union to represent them in negotiations with the state.

Darlene Henry of Rosemount, who receives state aid to care for her mother 38.5 hours a week, said a union could negotiate to provide training, better pay and benefits for personal care attendants.

Attendants won the right to attempt to form a union in a law Minnesota’s Democratic-controlled Legislature and governor approved last year.

The union drive organized by the Service Employees International Union gave more than 9,000 signatures of people who want to unionize to the mediation bureau. If signatures are confirmed, the bureau is expected to set up an election this summer to see whether the 26,000 home health care providers want to form a union.

However, even if the election approves a union, clouds remain after a late-June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that banned unions like would be formed in Minnesota from collecting dues from people who do not want to join.

It had been assumed that “fair share” payments would be required from workers who did not join. In similar circumstances, that money has been crucial to unions.

Union organizer Nikki Villavicencio of Maplewood promised Tuesday that the union would not collect dues from anyone who is not a member, but it was not clear how that would affect the union’s work. Union organizers said they were not prepared to discuss the court ruling’s impact other than that it reaffirmed the right to form a union.

Republicans indicated they will continue to oppose the unionization of health care workers. GOP governor candidate Kurt Zellers, for instance, blamed the situation on Gov. Mark Dayton, who “has sided with liberal special interest groups.”

Henry said the workers in other states have been successful at getting higher wages and benefits, more training “and, most importantly, a voice in the state decisions that affect them.”

She said she is not concerned if Republicans take control of state government because everyone should see struggles home care workers face and “realize we need to do something different.”

Van Vickle, whose husband, Keith, sat with Hale in the front row of the celebration to support his wife, said she usually works two or three jobs 50 hours a week because being a home health worker pays so poorly.

Hale and Van Vickle said workers do jobs such as taking clients to doctor appointments, organize medication and clean house.

Van Vickle said she used to work in a nursing home, where “it was always rush, rush, rush.” She said she likes home health care, but the lack of pay and benefits is an issue.

Union organizer Sumer Spika of St. Paul said the health care worker election would be the biggest union vote in Minnesota history.

Political notebook: It’s truckers vs. farmers on biodiesel mandate

By Don Davis

Adding something to a petroleum-based fuel always has been controversial, so it should be no surprise that soybean-based biodiesel brings disputes.

“It’s blatantly unfair and costly to the trucking industry,” President John Hausladen of the Minnesota Trucking Association said about a law that took effect Tuesday requiring diesel fuel to contain 10 percent biodiesel.

His association’s chairman, Daniel Svaloja, complains that truckers are being forced to use the biodiesel blend even though other industries, such as mining companies, are exempt. Giving some industries a pass on the mandate proves the fuel blend has problems, Svaloja said.

“I believe the biodiesel industry is mature and can stand on its own” without a state mandate, said Svaloja, a Wadena native, who made a stop at Lund Boats in New York Mills and now is a Blaine-based transportation attorney.

Minnesota instituted its first biodiesel mandate in 2002, when a 2 percent biodiesel blend was ordered. It was raised to 5 percent, which on Tuesday was upped to 10 percent (but only during Minnesota’s warmest months).

From the time ethanol was first debated long before biodiesel came into the spotlight, opponents have complained that blending plant-based fuel with petroleum products would hurt performance or damage engines. While corn-based ethanol is blended at 10 percent levels in gasoline with few problems, truckers and other diesel engine users say that is not the likely outcome for biodiesel.

However, Bill and Karolyn Zurn of Calloway, Minn., told Agweek magazine that biodiesel works and is good for the state’s agriculture industry.

Karolyn Zurn said the Minnesota Soybean Growers association took the opposition seriously when lawmakers debated the issue earlier this year. The association added part-time lobbyists during the legislative session in its effort to get “B10″ approved.

Some legislators didn’t understand biodiesel and needed to be educated about it, she said.

Legislation was proposed to scrap the higher mandate, but failed in committee.

A survey by a trucker’s association member late last month found that the 5 percent blend then sold in Minnesota cost 4 cents to 6 cents per gallon more, before tax, than diesel sold in North Dakota and Wisconsin. Hausladen attributed that to the presence of biodiesel in fuel sold in Minnesota, and worried that diesel fuel will cost even more.

Bill Zurn said concern about B10 is unfounded.

“B5 has been working for quite a few years, with very minor issues,” he said. “Moving now to B10 in the summer months, we don’t feel that will be a problem.”

Senate race gets attention

Several organizations recently have taken note of Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race, including at least one that labeled it a “sleeper” contest.

A relatively few national reporters have written about the campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a nationally known writer and “Saturday Night Live” star before he ran six years ago. But since the Democrat beat sitting Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman by just 312 votes, and that only after nearly eight months of counting ballots, the race now is getting some attention.

NBC News wrote: “The race bears watching because either 1) it becomes more competitive in the fall, which could signal a potential GOP tsunami come November or 2) it doesn’t become competitive, which would be AMAZING considering that Sen. Al Franken won this race by about 300 votes. …”

What makes the race look interesting is Franken’s likely November Republican opponent is well-heeled businessman Mike McFadden, who surprised many by picking up his party convention’s endorsement about a month ago.

Franken is using recent press accounts to drum up donations.

“My race has just been labeled the ‘sleeper’ Senate race of 2014,” he wrote to supporters. “But unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we all get to take a relaxing nap; there are very few siestas involved in grassroots campaigning. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

“We have to be ready for anything. Because there is no telling how much my opponent or his special interest allies will throw at us. According to the same press account referenced above, my opponent ‘has the personal wealth to at least partially self-fund a campaign.’”

Propane help becomes law

It is summer and not much propane is being used for heating Minnesota homes these days, but the news for next year is good, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said.

A bill the Minnesota Democrat helped write is now federal law.

It gives governors more ability to declare a fuel shortage emergency for more than 30 days. The law also requires federal authorities to provide governors with early warnings if propane, natural gas or home heating oil supplies appear likely to be in short supply.

“Frigid temperatures and soaring propane costs hit Minnesota hard this winter and put a big strain on families who struggled to stay warm,” Klobuchar said. “This bill will cut red tape to help states quickly address propane shortages in the future, and I’m pleased that this commonsense measure has now been signed into law.”

Absentee voting open

The push is on by Republicans to cast primary election ballots.

The GOP is pushing its activists to vote now for party-endorsed governor candidate Jeff Johnson, U.S. Senate hopeful Mike McFadden and attorney general candidate Scott Newman. Johnson faces a trio of strong candidates, McFadden’s challenger did not do well in seeking the party’s endorsement and Newman’s opponent is a perennial candidate who has had little success.

A change in Minnesota law means absentee voters do not need to be busy on election day to cast an early ballot.

“Hectic schedules are often cited as the reason voters don’t get to the polling place on Election Day,” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said. “Now that all voters can vote early by absentee, Minnesotans have greater freedom to cast their ballots on their own schedule.”

Absentee ballots are available by mail or may be cast in person at a local election office.

More absentee information is at www.mnvotes.org.

Minnesota Capitol renovation closes more of building

Closed wing

By Don Davis

A $273 million Minnesota Capitol building renovation closed most of the facility when construction workers return to the job today.

The central rotunda will be among areas closed, along with all of the east wing and the ground and first floors of the west wing. The closures are a continuation of the gradual emptying of the Capitol during a three-year renovation project.

The governor’s and attorney general’s offices already have moved elsewhere, as have many Senate employees’ offices. The Minnesota State Historical Society, press corps and most others normally housed in the Capitol basement were removed last fall.

The House and Senate chambers remain open this year, and could be used if Gov. Mark Dayton calls a special legislative session to fund flood relief. They are scheduled to be used for the 2015 session, which begins in January. Plans are to use the House chambers for the 2016 session, but senators expect to meet in a building not yet constructed.

The shuffling comes with a renovation that gained legislative financial support because the Capitol’s exterior marble was crumbling, heating and air conditioning systems could not keep up with modern demands, and interior walls and ceilings show damage from years of a leaky dome. The dome has been fixed and workers have covered much of the exterior with scaffolding to work on the walls.

“The interior and exterior of the Minnesota state Capitol is a live construction site,” Administration Commissioner Spencer Cronk said. “We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to preserve this beautiful building for the next century, but with that opportunity comes some short-term inconveniences.”

Only 39 Democratic senators and 82 legislative employees now are housed in the Capitol, in smaller-than-usual offices. During a legislative session, about 360 work in the Capitol, with 320 there between sessions.

Legislative leaders hope a new Senate office building is ready before the 2016 session so senators and their staff can work there. There also is to be a temporary Senate chamber in the new building in 2016, as well as committee meeting rooms.

The House chamber is to be used in 2016, but most of the building will be closed to the public after the 2015 session until renovation is completed in early 2017.

There are no places inside the Capitol available for public events such as rallies that are common during legislative sessions.

The elaborate House and Senate chambers will be open for now, the Administration Department’s Curtis Yoakum said.

“We plan that they can remain open for the remainder of the year if needed for a special session,” Yoakum said.

Dayton said he may call a special legislative session to fund flood recovery.

House committee meeting rooms remain available in another building, as do three Senate Capitol committee rooms.

Dayton’s office has moved from the Capitol to the Veterans’ Services Building on the south end of the Capitol mall. Attorney General Lori Swanson and her Capitol staff have joined other attorney general employees who work at a downtown St. Paul building.

Other than the few Senate workers who stayed in the Capitol, Senate staff is scattered among other nearby buildings.

Outside the Capitol, built in 1905, the scaffolding workers use to fix the exterior will continue to move around the building, Yoakum said, as the entire exterior is fixed. Chucks of the marble walls have fallen, creating a hazard for Capitol visitors.

A street in front of the Capitol is closed, although it provides nine parking places for the disabled, Yoakum said.

Soon, much of the Capitol lawn will be turned into a staging area for construction materials. Already, two temporary parking lots have been built in front of the Capitol to replace those eliminated by construction.

One of the most visible features of the Capitol, the golden chariot Quadriga sculpture on the roof, will be enclosed to protect it, and part of it will be removed for repair.

Inside, Capitol artwork has been removed or covered to protect it from construction damage.

While visitors may not be able to see the artwork or much of the Capitol, visitors continue to take Minnesota Historical Society tours at the top of each hour from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday.

The Historical Society’s Brian Pease said that still on the tour agenda will be some of the latest governor portraits, House and Senate chambers, the Rathskeller cafe and, as weather permits, an outside swing to examine the Capitol’s exterior.

“We are optimistic about the changes to the tours,” Pease said. “When one door closes, we have the opportunity to open another, so we are able to add new information and a couple of tour stops that typically was not part of our regular tour.”

Tours include some information about the construction work.

Getting into the Capitol for the tours, or to conduct business, is a bit more difficult. The main south entrance is shielded by construction fencing. However, there is a gap near the middle of the Capitol the public may use to get to the Capitol.

And those taking tours will have a tough time finding restrooms. Two small unisex ones are available, as are one small men’s and a small women’s restroom.

Soon to be covered

Statue protected

Rotunda closing

Scaffolding to cover outside