Republicans fall in behind Johnson

Johnson, Zellers, Seifert

By Don Davis

It is one thing for defeated politicians to back their conqueror, but quite another for rank-and-file supporters to do the same.

As Jeff Johnson was edging his way toward victory in Tuesday’s Republican governor primary election, backers of other candidates were saying they could accept any of the four main hopefuls. And they said that the just-completed primary race, testy toward the end, may have been a good thing.

“I think it will be better for the party because we had a better real talk of who we think will be the best candidate …” Andy Gladitsch, a political science major at Gustavus Adolphus College said at candidate Marty Seifert’s post-election gathering in Mankato. “I think it will make the party stronger.”

Republicans appeared ready to back any of the four candidates because they see an opening in the campaign against Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

“He (Dayton) lacks communications skills,” said Trina Denay of North Mankato, also at Seifert’s gathering. “He’s not a very good public speaker.”

She said that for the GOP candidate to win, “it means talking to the people, listening to people and not just ‘this is what I do.’ “

The other three major GOP candidates joined Johnson in a Capitol-area news conference Wednesday to say they will support the winner.

“This state deserves to have leaders to take it to its full potential,” Scott Honour said, adding that Johnson is the person to do it.

Honour and Johnson had the most testy exchanges in a rare four-way Republican governor primary election race.

The other two major candidates, Kurt Zellers and Marty Seifert, joined Honour in offering full support for Johnson, a 47-year-old lawyer and Hennepin County commissioner. He is a Detroit Lakes native, graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead and worked for Cargill. He also served in the Minnesota Legislature before losing the state attorney general’s race to Democrat Lori Swanson in 2006.

Johnson won the party nomination in Tuesday’s primary with 30 percent of the vote.

He is a known as a nice guy, something he plans to embrace.

“Being perceived as a nice guy is a good thing in elections in Minnesota,” Johnson said in response to a reporter’s question, but hastily added that he will contrast his positions with those of Dayton.

Johnson predicted that Democrats will spread stories about him wanting “to drown kittens in the river for fun.”

Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party agreed that Johnson is a nice guy, but called him a Tea Party extremist. He said that the Republican nomination of Johnson means that party “wants to move us backwards” to the days “when people had to work two or three jobs and still live in poverty.”

Johnson, on the other hand, said that while Dayton proclaims the state economy is strong, many Minnesotans “are scared to death” of the economy. He said 49 percent of Minnesotans are underemployed, working lesser jobs than they want.

He said that the key to improving the economy is to “grow business in this state.”

“We are celebrating people who are successful,” Johnson said. “We never, ever give up on people who are poor.”

Johnson credited his win on obtaining the Republican state convention’s endorsement and the feeling that he is electable.

Endorsed candidates generally won Tuesday, although Jim Hagedorn upset Republican-endorsed Aaron Miller 54 percent to 46 percent in southern Minnesota’s U.S. House district. Hagedorn will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in the Nov. 4 election.

Republican Chairman Keith Downey credited Hagedorn’s name for the win. His father was a southern Minnesota politician.

In the Independence Party primary vote, Steve Carlson took 34 percent of the vote, upsetting party-endorsed Kevin Terrell, who had 22 percent.

Another endorsed candidate made it look easy. Auditor Rebecca Otto moved on to the general election, emerging from the Democratic primary by getting 81 percent of the vote. That came after challenger Matt Entenza spent more than $600,000 to oust Otto.

Martin had nothing good to say about the Entenza effort, declaring that the former DFL House leader’s days as a politician are over.

The secretary of state’s office estimated that 286,292 Minnesotans voted in the primary, a near record low and a fraction of the 3 million who normally vote in the general election.

Martin said that it is not good for democracy when just hard-core partisan voters go to the polls. He said that he will continue to lobby lawmakers to move the primary to June, when he thinks more Minnesotans would vote.

Joseph Ryan Denton contributed to this story.

Oil train disaster training not here yet

Talking oil train disasters

By Don Davis

Forum News Service

LITTLE CANADA, Minn. — Minnesota emergency services personnel will be trained and equipped in a few years to deal with oil train disasters, but the governor worries about what could happen before then.

“If the accident would just wait for two years, three years, four years, boy, would we be ready,” Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday told his first in a series of rail safety roundtables.

Dayton’s public safety commissioner, Ramona Dohman, told the governor that every city and county must have plans for dealing with disasters, but not specifically how to handle volatile North Dakota crude oil that fills about 50 trains that cross Minnesota each week.

“We are the cross-country freeway for this because it is going to the East Coast,” said Dave Christianson of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Local government plans are “one size fits all…” Dohman said. “They cover whatever may happen in your community.”

“It is just that they have not responded to these spills and fires…” the commissioner said. “How do you respond to the Casselton fire?”

Dohman and others from the public safety community said they are concerned about how Minnesota would deal with an oil train fire like in Casselton, N.D., late last year. Or an accident that killed people in Quebec. Or a fire in West Virginia. Or any of a number of other incidents involving crude oil pumped from the Bakken oil field in western North Dakota. Most of that oil is transported across Minnesota.

Doug Bergland, the Washington County emergency management director, said many firefighters already have 40-hour classes dealing with hazardous material response, but nothing specific about the crude oil that often moves in 100-car unit trains. He said he does not think that most law enforcement officers have any significant training on that issue.

“We are in uncharted territory here,” said state Rep. Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis, a sponsor of legislation that passed earlier this year to help fund training for first responders.

Christianson said that problems exist on several levels, including lack of training, lack of proper equipment and aging 1960s-era rail cars. “You have gaps layered upon gaps, layered upon gaps for the next three years. … In the meantime, we have real risks for communities.”

Dohman said that first responders will begin to get rail oil safety training next month. “Bakken awareness 101,” she called it.

However, she added, limited money is available and none will be spent on improving training for responders who already know the basics.

Dayton said the first thing that needs to be done is to make sure someone is in charge of looking ahead to see what the oil transportation situation will be in the next decade. He promised that person will be named within a week.

The task will be difficult. Hornstein said that Bakken oil transportation has increased 70-fold since 2005, and North Dakota oil production continues to increase.

“This is not a theoretical problem,” Hornstein said.

A report from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration singled out Bakken crude as being more volatile and riskier to transport than other U.S. crudes. However, a recent North Dakota Petroleum Council-commissioned study yielded similar data as the PHMSA study but found Bakken crude to be consistent with other types of light, sweet crude.

Christianson contends that Bakken crude is more dangerous than other oil: “This stuff if so volatile, you don’t fight the fire, you evacuate.”

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman called the situation frustrating for elected and public safety officials, who have a difficult time dealing with the ever-changing situation.

With an expanding railyard in his city, more trains will carry many types of dangerous substances are expected. Up to eight oil trains a day go through St. Paul.

In additional to the legislation that funded training, lawmakers ordered state officials to report back on how many crossings along oil train routes need to be upgraded, and to complete an assessment of training and equipment in public safety agencies where oil trains travel.

Dayton said that he plans similar meetings along oil train routes in coming weeks, with the next in coming days in Moorhead, near where most North Dakota oil enters Minnesota.

More counties to get federal flood aid

Federal authorities on Friday added 24 Minnesota counties affected by summer floods to its disaster list.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa and Prairie Island Indian Community also were declared federal disaster areas.

State officials earlier this week asked Washington to add 30 counties and the two tribes.

“I will continue advocating strongly for the inclusion of the six additional counties that sustained significant damage during this summer’s flooding,” Gov. Mark Dayton said.

Friday’s announcement means 30 Minnesota counties are included in the disaster, even though state officials have said more than half of the state’s 87 counties sustained at least some damage.

Federal money will fund 75 percent of state and local government costs related to floods that began on June 11. The other 25 percent is to be paid by the state.

The 24 counties added to the federal disaster list are Beltrami, Blue Earth, Brown, Carver, Dodge, Faribault, Koochiching, Lac Qui Parle, Lake of the Woods, Le Sueur, Marshall, Martin, McLeod, Nicollet, Redwood, Rice, Roseau, Scott, Sibley, Steele, Todd, Wadena, Waseca and Yellow Medicine. The counties that originally were designated are Chippewa, Freeborn, Jackson, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Renville and Rock.

Still being considered for federal aid are Dakota, Hennepin, Lyon, Ramsey, Watonwan and Wright counties.

Federal funds only are available to local and state governments, not individuals or businesses.

New Minnesota laws include measure to fight synthetic drugs

Synthetic drug wrappers

By Don Davis

Synthetic drugs will be a bit easier to fight beginning today.

They can be handled much like other illegal drugs under one of dozens of Minnesota laws that took effect today. The drug law classifies any substance that mocks an illegal drug as also being illegal, so synthetic drugs that sell under names such as K2 and Spice no longer should be sold.

“If you are using it and you are getting high, in my interpretation, it is a drug,” said Duluth police Lt. Steve Stracek, commander of the Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crime Task Force.

The law gives the state Pharmacy Board the power to order stores to stop selling the drugs.

Also, the measure, which received widespread bipartisan support, says that synthetic drug sellers who claim the drug is legal can be forced to pay restitution for costs resulting from the sale. Those costs include emergency response expenses and health care needed by someone who takes the drugs.

A key state official in implementing the law said it will not end synthetic drug use, which has resulted in young people’s deaths and serious health issues. But Executive Director Cody Wiberg of the Pharmacy Board said it will be a continued step in the right direction.

Wiberg said a series of anti-synthetic drug laws and extensive publicity about a Duluth arrest is helping reduce use of the dangerous substances.

“I am not so sure it is 100 percent gone, the retail sales of it,” he said. “I am not sure there is any place being operated so openly as Last Place on Earth.”

Last Place on Earth was a Duluth head shop that, like others in the state, openly sold synthetic drugs as legal. But with the owner facing a potential federal prison sentence, Wiberg said, young Minnesotans who flocked to the drugs because they thought they were safe may be getting the message.

“What we have tried to do on the state level with synthetic drugs is try to limit the retail sale,” Wiberg said. “I think we are making some headway there.”

Stracek agreed. “The volume we were dealing with before is not there.”

“I think that certainly tells other people that there are consequences,” he said about the Last Place court case.

With the Last Place closed, synthetic drug use appears down in Duluth, Stracek said. Now, however, users are turning to the Internet, which he said likely is the next problem policymakers must deal with.

Wiberg said state and federal officials can’t do much about online sales, but Stracek said there could be ways to stymie delivery of substances ordered online.

On Wednesday, Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson is to announce a website designed to make the public more aware of the dangers of synthetic drugs — dangers that officials say are similar to the already-illegal drugs they mimic.

Wiberg said he has not heard from law enforcement organizations that they will want him to take action as soon as his board’s new powers kick in, but he does plan to remind them that the new law is available.

“The board will work with law enforcement, with county prosecutors to do what we can …” Wiberg said. “These are dangerous drugs, more dangerous than some of the users really believe.”

He likened synthetic drugs to Russian roulette because “there is no quality control in these products.” If someone tries one of the drugs, then buys more later, the new compound could be many times more potent than the first one, he added.

Stracek said one of the biggest synthetic drug problems has been “the underestimation of these drugs.”

Other news laws include:

– Law enforcement officers will be forced to obtain a warrant from the courts before collecting information from electronic devices such as smartphones, and eventually the device’s owner must be notified and information obtained generally will not be admissible in court.

– The state minimum wage begins a rise to $9.50 an hour by 2016 for large businesses; it rises to $8 an hour today, with small businesses paying $7.25.

– Public employees with access to driver’s license files must have a legitimate need to examine the data or face penalties.

– The use of cotton threads to remove eyebrow, lip and other hairs no longer needs to be done by cosmetologists.

– Notaries may charge up to $5 for their services after years with a $1 maximum.

– Thermostats containing mercury are outlawed and manufacturers must pay for collecting and replacing them; no items with mercury will be allowed in the waste stream.

– Retailers no longer can sell cleaning products containing the antibacterial compound triclosan.

– A person with multiple convictions for unlawfully killing wolves may be liable for a civil penalty.

– Snowmobiles mostly will be allowed only on forest roads during rifle deer hunting season.

– A person 60 or older may use a crossbow for hunting deer during the archery season; now, crossbows are allowed only during firearms season.

– Thermal imaging equipment may not be used to hunt deer.

– Social media communication between elected officials and the general public will be allowed without it being considered an open meeting violation.

– People who commit domestic abuse or stalk someone may lose access to their firearms.

– Motorists are required to stop and investigate when they strike an object.

– The state may store infants’ DNA without parental permission.

The nonpartisan House Public Information Office contributed to this story.

Ventura wins suit

A split federal jury awarded former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura $1.8 million in his case against the estate of an author who claimed they were in a bar fight.

Attorneys from Ventura and the author’s estate agreed to accept the 8-2 jury decision early this afternoon. Jurors on Monday told the judge they did not think they could reach a unanimous agreement.

Ventura sued former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who claimed in his book “American Sniper” that he hit Ventura in a California bar. Ventura denied that and claimed the book reference made it harder for him to land jobs.

Kyle died in 2013, and Ventura continued his case against the author’s widow.

Jurors entered their second week of deliberation this morning.

It is rate that attorneys agree to accept a split verdict.

The $1.8 million was divided between $1.3 million for unjust enrichment on Kyle’s part and $500,000 for defaming Ventura.

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.”