By Don Davis
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has had a lot of time to think in the past month.
The 67-year-old governor is stuck at his official state residence in a body cast, recovering from hip surgery he underwent at Mayo Clinic just over a month ago. While he meets in person and by telephone with staff and commissioners, he cannot get out to political, social and official events. He said that he cannot even go downstairs.
That leaves him bunches of time to ponder state policy and politics.
Capitol reporters learned that Thursday as he answered questions in a conference call for 55 minutes, ending the chat only because the time had come to invite in some medical marijuana proponents. Dayton said that he was open to another conference call the next day if reporters wanted one. It never happened.
Among things Dayton said in what can only be described as a wide-ranging conversation:
– A just-released report showed Minnesota with more than 2.8 million jobs, the most in the state history. That is 150,000 more than when Dayton took office in 2011.
– Legislators need to pass a tax-cut bill by Wednesday in order for Minnesotans to reap $57 million “in immediate tax savings,” he said. Later, to a reporter’s question, he admitted that taxpayers still could get those benefits if they file amended tax returns. He also said that maybe lawmakers have another day or two beyond Wednesday to pass the measure.
– Discussions about whether to enact tax breaks to attract the Super Bowl are “very preliminary.” He said he has talked to Democratic legislative leaders, and plans to get Republicans involved in the next few days. On Friday, GOP leaders said they had not received an invitation and have not seen him since the surgery.
– Even though House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, had said he wanted to approve a bill to raise the minimum wage in the first two weeks of the legislative session (which has passed), Dayton predicted it will not get done until the end of session, which must come by May 19.
– He wants “almost all of the Senate offices moved out of the Capitol” and into a proposed building across the street to the north. “I think it should be a modest building,” he added, unlike some early plans. “It needs to be a Minnesota-style building.”
The governor hopes his time trapped at home may be near an end. He is expected back at Mayo in the coming days to find out how his hip is healing.
Auditor: Councils inadequate
The legislative auditor says four minority councils the state created years ago do not have a clear mission and are not “adequately integrated into state policy making.”
The report the Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles’ office says the councils on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, Black Minnesotans, Chicano-Latino Affairs and Indian Affairs “have done a poor job setting specific objectives and identifying outcome measures to assess the impact of their activities.”
Also, the report said, council members often do not attend meetings.
“Overall, there is little evidence that the state’s four minority councils have been effective advisers or liaisons to state policy makers,” the report concluded.
The Council on Black Minnesotans was strongly critical of the auditor’s report, and went on the attack.
The council said Noble’s office needs “to improve its understanding of African heritage people, their various cultures, and their history in Minnesota.” It suggests more “African heritage people as auditors and general personnel.”
While the Council on Black Minnesotans says there are numerous false statements and the auditor’s report should not have been released, the other councils reacted with both praise and mild disagreements with parts of the report.
City revenues up
State Auditor Rebecca Otto just released a report on Minnesota city finances that showed revenues were up 3 percent in 2012 compared to a year earlier.
For cities more than 2,500 population, revenues increased 2 percent, while smaller cities received 6 percent more money.
Total spending for 2012 was $5.4 billion, Otto reported, a 4 percent hike. Bigger cities upped spending 3 percent, while smaller cities’ spending rose 13 percent.
Over the past 10 years, the report indicated, city revenues actually went down 9 percent when dollars were adjusted for inflation. At the same time, actual money coming from property taxes went up 78 percent for cities statewide. Even when adjusted for inflation, property tax revenues were up 29 percent.
The proportion of revenue coming from property taxes grew during the past decade as state aid fell.
Transportation safety bill near
Chairman Frank Hornstein of the House Transportation Finance Committee said he expects to unveil a bill Wednesday to fund transportation safety measures in light of increased crude oil movements through Minnesota.
The Minneapolis Democrat said the bill likely will not include a tax he earlier proposed on crude oil transported through the state. However, he hinted an existing fee charged railroads may be expanded to allow the state to add to its one rail inspector.
The issue became a hot topic after last year’s spectacular oil train derailments in Canada and North Dakota.
Two Harbors wants signs
Two Harbors officials want to allow business names to appear on signs along U.S. 61 that goes through the North Shore community.
A House committee has approved legislation to allow signs in Two Harbors like rural businesses can get. In rural areas, blue signs may direct motorists to nearby businesses, but that is not allowed in cities, where only major attractions and places like gasoline stations, restaurants and motels are allowed to be on signs.
“We’re looking for kind of a level playing field,” Two Harbors City Councilman Seth McDonald told the committee.
Department of Transportation officials were concerned that if the state changes its law, it could violate federal regulations on advertising signs.
Drink up at U
The University of Minnesota, the first Big Ten college to serve alcohol at its football stadium, earned a profit in the first two years of sales.
The legislative permission to drink is ending, so lawmakers are considering extending the program.
The university reports a nearly $181,000 profit last year.