Transportation brings together Bakk, Dayton

Dayton, Bakk

Dayton, Bakk

“Let’s create a photo op.”

With those words from Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, and a hug with Gov. Mark Dayton, the two most powerful Minnesota Democrats publicly made peace Thursday, after a nearly month-long spat.

The two were in Dayton’s office promoting their plans to raise taxes for a $6 billion decade-long transportation plan. When a reporter asked how the two were getting along, Bakk invited journalists to take his picture with the governor as he put his right hand on Dayton’s shoulder; Dayton tentatively put his hand on Bakk’s back.

They smiled at each other and declared all is well with their political relationship. Bakk said the two are doing fine and Dayton said they are doing their best to serve Minnesotans.

When the news conference started, the two stood awkwardly side by side, wearing serious expressions and not taking note of each other. That all changed when Bakk launched the photo opportunity.

It is a notable accomplishment because a month ago Dayton raised the salaries of his commissioners by as much as $35,000 a year, telling legislators about it weeks later. Bakk quickly sponsored legislation to delay the raises, prompting Dayton to launch into harsh criticism of the Senate leader.

Dayton said Bakk, D-Cook, connived and was a backstabber and said he no longer would meet with Bakk without a witness present. They since said they made up, but Thursday was the first public appearance they planned together.

The appearance came as Senate transportation leaders joined Dayton in promoting their similar transportation plans.

The event featured a large map showing 26 locations the administration has been to promote the transportation proposal.

When a reporter noted that just one of the visits came in the northern part of the state, Dayton immediately responded that he plans to visit Moorhead and Bemidji next week. His spokesman said timing and other details of the visits are to be worked out.

In Moorhead, Dayton likely will discuss the need to build overpasses to allow trains to pass through the city with less traffic disruption. In Bemidji, Minnesota 371 improvements are bound to be on the agenda.

The governor also plans to be in Willmar today.

Sen. Roger Reinert, D-Duluth, said Transportation Commission Charlie Zelle plans to be in his city a week from today.

Reinert said greater Minnesota would be especially helped by the governor and Senate plans to increase transportation funding.

Dayton and other Democrats said the House transportation plan is inadequate and a volatile economy means the state needs stable and dedicated funding rather than relying on variable general tax revenues.

House Transportation Chairman Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, says he plans to continue to investigate the real transportation needs and will come up with a full funding plan later this legislative session.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, was critical of Democrats for continuing to seek a tax increase.

“Over the last two weeks, we’ve heard bipartisan agreement that Minnesotans don’t support a gas tax increase, and it’s the wrong approach for Minnesota families especially in light of a nearly $2 billion surplus,” Daudt said.

Political Chatter: White House touts Minnesota exports

Minnesota exported $21.4 billion of goods last year, the White House has announced.

President Barack Obama talked Thursday about his economic plan, which he said resulted in an American record $2.35 trillion in exports. Part of the White House push included highlighting state trade.

Obama’s team said that Minnesota’s exports supported 106,000 jobs in 2013.

“On average, jobs in these export-related industries pay up to 18 percent more than non-export related industries,” the White House reported.

Minnesota exports were boosted by the Obama “Made in Rural America” initiative, the White House said.

The report emphasized Obama initiatives including the White House Rural Council, which hosted a series of workshops to “connect rural leaders and businesses with resources to expand exports and to identify barriers to exporting for rural businesses.”

Feedback from those conferences resulted in actions to help export rural products.

Minnesota’s exports came from a number of areas, the White House reported, led by computer and electronic products ($3.8 billion); machinery, except electrical ($3.2 billion); and transportation equipment ($2.6 billion).

The state exported $10.2 billion of good to countries around the Pacific rim and $4.2 billion to the European Union.

“Minnesota has a diverse and robust export economy, with more than 930 different products going to 192 countries in the fourth quarter,” Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben of the Department of Employment and Economic Development said.

Poll shows mixed message

A new poll shows Minnesotans are split about Gov. Mark Dayton’s performance, but don’t like his highly publicized boost in commissioner pay.

SurveyUSA’s poll 600 Minnesota adults for KSTP-TV indicated that 46 percent approve of the job Dayton is doing, while 42 percent oppose, with a 4.4 percent margin of error.

At the same time, 70 percent of Minnesotans oppose the Dayton move to give raises of up to $35,000 a year to his commissioners. Nineteen percent approved the raises, with 11 percent not sure.

The Legislature approved and Dayton signed a bill temporarily rolling back the raises, but allowing Dayton to reinstate them — or other sizes of raises — on July 1. Beginning July 2, any raises would need legislative approval.

SurveyUSA’s poll showed 74 percent wants the Legislature to have that final approval.

The poll also shows that Dayton may face problems in passing his $6 billion, 10-year transportation plan. Fifty-one percent oppose the plan, with 43 percent in favor.

At the same time, a preliminary Republican plan to spend $750 million on highways and bridges received 75 percent support. However, the poll did not tell respondents that the GOP plan is just a temporary one, with a full proposal expected in coming weeks.

Peterson backs pilots

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a pilot, has introduced Pilot’s Bill of Rights legislation to increase protections for pilots.

The Peterson bill would reform the pilot medical certification system and make it easier to provide no-cost transportation for patients receiving medical treatment to assist in disaster relief.

“The Pilot’s Bill of Rights II takes important steps to strengthen the rights of general aviation pilots and address burdensome government regulations,” the western Minnesota Democrat said. “The bill will promote safety while reducing barriers to pilot certification and protecting volunteer pilots who support the public good.”

Franken hails FCC vote

U.S. Sen. Al Franken was thrilled with the Federal Communications Commission took a vote backing up his feeling about the Internet.

The FCC adopted new “net neutrality” protections meant to ensure that the Internet remains open and free for all.

“This is an enormous victory,” the Minnesota Democrat said. “This is the culmination of years of hard work by countless Americans who believe, just as I do, that the Internet should remain the free and open platform that it’s always been.”

One part of net neutrality is preventing charging Internet users who want faster access. Franken said that such charges would allow the rich better internet access than others.

Trafficking bill heads to vote

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s anti-sex trafficking bill is heading for a full Senate vote.

The Minnesota Democrat’s legislation, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, is modeled after a Minnesota law that helps to make sure minors sold for sex are treated as victims, and not prosecuted.

The U.S. House already has passed a version of the Klobuchar bill.

“Sex trafficking isn’t just happening in some far-away nation, it’s happening in our own backyard,” Klobuchar said. “In Minnesota, we’ve already recognized that kids who are sold for sex are not criminals who need jail time; they are victims who need support.”

Page leaving

The best-known Minnesota Supreme Court justice is retiring.

Alan Page, who gained fame in the 1970s as a Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle, reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 this year and leaves the court at the end of August.

Gov. Mark Dayton has asked the Commission on Judicial Selection to review candidates for the Page position and any others that open this year. Justice Wilhelmina Wright has been recommended for a federal post, which could produce another opening.

Dayton asked that applications be made by April 10.

Tax rebate not favored

Senate Finance Chairman Richard Cohen of St. Paul followed Friday’s announcement of a $1.9 billion surplus with his opposition to sending rebate checks back to Minnesotans as occurred when Jesse Ventura was governor.

Cohen recounted that his “Jesse Check” was for $250, which paid for about half of an airline ticket to New York City. He said that while he enjoyed the trip, he paid for it “over the next decade with higher property taxes, higher fees.”

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, wants to send much of the surplus back to Minnesotans in the form of tax cuts.

When asked if he would like to send “Kurt Checks” to Minnesotans, he quickly responded “that’s a good idea,” but just as quickly said he was joking.

 

Updated: Minnesota surplus rises $832 million

Frans

Frans

Minnesota’s real budget debate began today when state finance officials announced a $1.9 billion surplus, an increase of $832 million from a report less than three months ago.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he has been told it is the largest-ever state surplus, but Minnesota Management and Budget officials worked to confirm that this afternoon.

The governor, a Democrat, said that he will propose using the new money for education and transportation programs, along with adding to nursing home funding and providing money to make payments to borrow $850 million for public works projects.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, appeared to say he wants at least $900 million of tax cuts, as well as increasing spending on some programs such as nursing homes. He was not specific about tax cuts.

“Today’s news is very good news,” Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget said in announcing the surplus. “Over the last few years, we have righted the ship.”

Added Dayton: “This surplus comes from more Minnesotans working than any time in Minnesota’s history.”

The surplus did not influence Dayton to reverse his desire for a $6 billion, 10-year transportation plan, funded in a large part by a new gasoline sales tax.

“They are still proposing a huge tax increase on Minnesota families in the form of a gas tax increase,” Daudt said. “I am going to challenge Democrats in the Legislature and the governor to take this off the table.”

Instead of raising taxes, Daudt promised to push a plan to lower them. However, he had no specific proposals.

The surplus will allow lawmakers and the governor to spend more money, use it to cut taxes or increase the state’s reserves — or a combination of them. State legislators and interest groups already have announced desires to increase spending on a variety of programs.

Dayton said that spending for education and transportation “will pay off for Minnesota for years to come,” and it makes sense to spend the money in good economic times because it will not last forever.

Revenues are expected to be $616 million higher than expected in December and spending is predicted to be $115 million less. Other changes add $107 million more to the surplus, Minnesota Management and Budget reported this morning.

Dayton released his first budget proposal Jan. 27, based on an early December budget prediction showing a $1 billion surplus. Now he will tweak that $42 billion, two-year plan about how to spend state tax revenues to reflect today’s refined numbers.

Also, today’s announcement gives legislative leaders information they need to write their own budget plans, which will come out in the next few weeks.

Legislators have until May 18 to write a two-year budget and send to Dayton for his signature.

Today’s report was based on national economic forecasts and altered to fit anything different in the Minnesota economy.

Minnesota’s economy has shown good signs in recent months, including a lower unemployment rate than the national average. It is doing better than rival Wisconsin, which faces a $2 billion budget deficit this year.

After releasing his budget plan on Jan. 27, Dayton told reporters that if more money were available, nursing home funding would be at the top of his list for increased spending.

When state officials announced their budget forecast in December, they said that the $1 billion surplus would be eaten up if inflation were factored in. However, Dayton said that he would expect things such as higher salaries to be handled by his commissioners within existing budgets, not in higher budget requests.

$6 billion would buy 607 road, bridge projects

Zelle, Dayton, maps

Zelle, Dayton, maps

Gov. Mark Dayton produced 607 reasons why he thinks Minnesota should raise and spend $6 billion over 10 years to upgrade the state’s roads and bridges.

On Tuesday, he released a list of 607 projects across the state that he said would not be built if his proposal is rejected.

Dayton broke with a long-standing tradition that governors not release a list of road and bridge projects before legislators pass a funding bill when he and Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle stood amid maps outlining projects throughout the state.

“If we don’t follow this path, then we are going to see a significant deterioration of Minnesota’s highways, roads and bridges, as well as its transit system,” Dayton said in promoting his transportation proposal, funded by adding a new gasoline tax, higher vehicle registration fees and an expanded Twin Cities sales tax for transit.

Dayton said that his plan would allow 2,200 miles of state roads and 330 bridges to be repaired, replaced and expanded. The governor’s plan would be on top of more than $7 billion the state already plans to be spent by 2024.

Zelle said that in the past few years borrowed money funded many of the road and bridge improvements, but the state is bumping up against the transportation borrowing limit so new funding is needed. Dayton’s transportation funding plan centers on a new 6.5 percent fuel tax.

Without the added $6 billion, Dayton said, “it will be just trying to keep pace with deteriorating conditions and handling the worse repairs.”

By releasing the 607 projects that likely would be funded by the new money, Dayton puts pressure on legislators to support his plan.

The governor’s proposal and one by Democrats who control the Senate are similar, but the Republican-controlled House has brought forth a much smaller bill until lawmakers have time to further study transportation needs.

Chairman Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, of the House transportation committee said that his smaller bill is not a long-term solution. He has said that the full House will come later this legislative session, which must end May 18. Most Republicans have said they do not think taxes need to increase to fund transportation.

“The strategy of providing everything to everyone is unfortunate,” Kelly said of the Dayton proposal. “I don’t even think there is one project that isn’t on the list.”

Zelle said that 72 percent of the projects in the Dayton plan would be in greater Minnesota. However, Twin Cities projects usually are much more expensive and Zelle’s staff could not produce a comparison of spending between the two areas.

Cities, counties and townships would receive $2.4 billion over the next 10 years in the Dayton plan, on top of the $6 billion for state roads and bridges.

Zelle said the state would save money if it supported the Dayton plan.

“It becomes much more expensive dealing with deterioration the longer we wait,” the commissioner said.

Zelle added that the Dayton plan would not produce a world-class road and bridge improvement program and many projects that may be needed still could not be afforded.

The most expensive project on the list probably is upgrading Interstate 94 between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Zelle said.

The Dayton plan would fully fund the much-discussed rerouting of U.S. 53 around an expanding taconite mine in northeastern Minnesota. Zelle said that $60 million now is available for the project, but up to three times that much is needed.

Projects on the list are the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s priorities now, but things could change, Zelle said. If an unexpected need for transportation funding arises, he said, money may need to be pulled from other projects.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press, a Forum News Service media partner, contributed to this story.

Political Chatter: Midwest man to run GOP convention

A long-time Minnesota political operative with North Dakota roots and who lives part-time in Wisconsin will run the 2016 Republican National Convention.

The four-day event Jeff Larson will oversee is to be in Cleveland. He did the same for the 2008 national convention in St. Paul, about 20 miles from his Hudson, Wis. home.

“From planning and preparation, to execution and implementation, I will work to the best of my abilities to ensure the Republican Party holds a successful national convention to showcase not only our nominee but also our party’s vision for the future of this country,” Larson said of his chief executive officer duties.

Larson, who divides his time between Hudson and the East Coast, helped Republicans win back U.S. Senate control last year.

Larson has worked in Minnesota politics, particularly advising Sen. Norm Coleman.

He brings to the 2016 convention a varied of Upper Midwest background.

Larson got his political start volunteering for then-Grand Forks, N.D., Mayor Bud Wessman. He earned his degree in his hometown, at the University of North Dakota, and worked on a statewide campaign before heading to the state’s Agriculture Department for a marketing gig.

He was not there long, getting involved in politics again in 1984, and staying involved ever since, including a stint in South Dakota. He moved to Minneapolis in 1990 and later to Hudson.

Larson received his most notoriety for paying $130,000 for 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s clothes at the 2008 convention. The Republican Party eventually repaid him.

‘Black market highway’

Recent news reports of cigarettes being smuggled into Minnesota come as no surprise.

Dale Erickson of Henry’s Foods in Alexandria told Gov. Mark Dayton in a March 2013 town hall meeting in Moorhead that a proposed cigarette tax increase would mean Interstate 94 “will become a black market highway” as cigarettes taxed at a lower North Dakota rate would show up in Minnesota. “There is no way to trace the cigarettes.”

Erickson and convenience store owner Frank Orton told Dayton that they would lose business to Fargo, N.D., stores that collect smaller taxes.

“Minnesotans could drive across the bridge to Fargo and buy their cigarettes for $18 less per carton,” Erickson said.

Minnesota legislators and Dayton upped the cigarette tax, along with adding a higher tax to the richest Minnesotans in 2013.

The Star Tribune recently reported that cigarette smuggling is on the upswing, and state officials say they need $1 million to improve their tobacco law enforcement. Officials say cigarette smuggling costs the state $2.6 million in tax revenues.

GOP unveils MNsure plan

Republicans have wanted to get rid of MNsure since it launched, but with it firmly in place, at least some have turned their attention into making major changes instead of eliminating the health insurance sales program.

One plan would confine MNsure to serving those on public health care programs and establish a non-profit entity for people who want to buy private insurance without public subsidies.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said that since 91 percent of people MNsure serves have policies fully or partially paid by government, that should be the emphasis of the controversial program.

“MNsure has been serving two masters and it’s time for that to stop,” Benson said.

Another GOP proposal, by Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont, would add insurance expertise to the MNsure board and require that its budget obtain legislative approval.

A third Republican bill authored by Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, would open the MNsure marketplace to more companies and products and would let Minnesotans buy insurance across state lines.

State wolf control?

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson and other representatives have introduced legislation to return wolf management decisions in the western Great Lakes area to the states.

A December federal court decision put the region’s gray wolves under federal protection in Minnesota and other nearby states, meaning the state has little authority to manage them or to allow farmers to protect their livestock from wolves.

“This legislation returns gray wolf management to the state of Minnesota where it belongs,” the western Minnesota Democrat said. “Farmers should not have to choose between protecting their livelihood and complying with federal law.”

The bill came after the Minnesota Farm Bureau and the Minnesota Farmers Union jointly asked Minnesota members of Congress to take that action.

Lobbying like trial

Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea of the Minnesota Supreme Court likens her lobbying lawmakers for a 7.5 percent budget increase to going to trial.

She calls paperwork she hands out to legislators “evidence” and like a lawyer heading into a trial, she remains focused on the main goal, not letting anything distract her. In the legislative case, she concentrates on the budget issue, and does not promote changes in policy during this budget legislative session.

The chief said she likes to talk about the courts system: “I do go pretty much wherever two or more are gathered.”

Check is doubtful

Bluestem Prairie blogger Sally Jo Sorensen writes that newly elected state Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, may be barking up the wrong campaign donation tree.

“He sent a fundraising letter to one of Swift County’s most successful farmers and business people, Murdock seed farm owner Jim Falk of Murdock, whom Miller’s letter identified as a ‘fellow Republican’ who shares Miller’s values…” Sorensen wrote. “Bluestem suspects that Miller shouldn’t get his hopes up, since Falk is not only Swift County DFL chair, he’s also the father of Andrew Falk, whom Miller defeated in a fairly personal campaign last fall.”

 

Republicans slap back at commissioner raises

Minnesota House Republicans took a swat at Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton Monday for giving his commissioners what one called “luxurious, gold-plated salaries.”

Rep. Steve Drazkowski’s remarks echoed those of other Republicans who criticized Dayton for giving raises that in some cases are $35,000 a year.

“I don’t think there is a citizen in the state of Minnesota that thought the surplus is going for raises for commissioners,” Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said about a projected $1 billion surplus in a two-year budget that will top $40 billion.

The criticism came as the House Ways and Means Committee discussed a bill to plug $15 million of holes in three state departments’ budgets.

Ways and Means Chairman Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, said Dayton’s agencies would not have needed to ask for as much money in the budget that ends June 30 had he not given commissioners raises.

Dayton ignited the debate late last week when he sent legislative leaders a letter to let them know about the raises. Pay hikes ranged from $22,407 to $35,000.

The biggest raises sent salaries from $119,997 to $154,992 for some of his two dozen commissioners.

“The raises I approved were to salaries that had remained stagnant for over 12 years and thus were well below the amount paid to people with comparable responsibilities in other states,” Dayton said in a new letter he sent to legislative leaders Monday.

The governor said that he places a high priority on providing Minnesotans with “the very best government services,” and one way to do that is to bring the best-qualified people into the administration.

However, Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said that Dayton’s commissioners are quality people and they accepted the jobs “at the old price.”

Dayton said none of his commissioners asked for higher pay or said they would leave if they did not receive a raise.

The 2013 Legislature, controlled by Democrats, approved a law to allow the governor to set commissioner salaries, but on Monday Rep. Roz Peterson, R-Lakeville, introduced a bill to require the Legislature to approve them.

Monday’s Ways and Means slap at Dayton was a potential preview of what is to come.

The GOP-dominated committee voted to remove $40,000 from three departments contained in a bill seeking appropriations for things not included in the current budget.

Most of the $15 million in the “deficiency bill” would allow the state security hospital in St. Peter, where the most dangerous mentally ill patients are sent, to improve its security in light of recent attacks and a death there.

The bill also would deliver $2 million to four hospitals that geared up to treat any Minnesota Ebola patients. Less than $1 million would go to the state for its Ebola duties.

Also in the bill, due for a full House vote within a week, is more than $1 million for the Minnesota Zoo and $568,000 for the Department of Natural Resources law enforcement arm.

Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said the deficiency bill showed mismanagement by the Dayton administration because his agencies could not live within their budgets.

Knoblach complained that the raises came a couple of weeks after Dayton introduced his budget proposal for the next two years. The governor did not mention commissioner raises in his budget plan, Knoblach said.

Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget said in an interview that while the raises are retroactive to Jan. 5, when Dayton began his second and final term as governor, decisions about the size of some raises came throughout January, delaying a letter notifying lawmakers about the pay hikes.

“I earn my salary,” said Frans, among those making the top amount of $154,992.

But Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, did not buy the argument about the need for higher pay. “You can’t make this right with any explanation.”

Education-focused Dayton budget covers a wide range of issues

Dayton

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s two-year budget plan would pump more than a half billion dollars into education, increase the number of food inspectors by 26, add facilities at some parks, fund better supervision of child abuse programs, improve railroad crossings and provide hundreds of other changes.

He would do it without a general tax increase.

Dayton’s increased spending, which would bring the budget that begins next July 1 to about $42 billion, comes from a $1 billion surplus.

The surplus, announced late last year, normally would have been taken up by state agencies paying for higher wages, utility bills and other inflationary costs. However, Dayton said, he wants agencies to absorb most of that inflation by taking money-saving measures such as leaving jobs open.

Dayton surprised no one by making education his top fiscal priority, as he has since he ran for governor in 2010. He proposes setting aside $418 million of the budget for education through high school and $93 million for higher education.

“Minnesota’s future success — and health of our families, the vitality of our communities and the prosperity of our state — will depend upon our making excellent education available to all Minnesotans,” Dayton said. “That is exactly what my budget proposal aims to do.”

Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget said the state is in better fiscal state than it has been for years. Many state officials expect a new state revenue report due in a month to show a larger surplus, and thus giving legislators and Dayton more money to spend.

The budget continues a modern-day trend, broken just once, of increasing the budget each year. The current two-year budget is $39.6 billion.

After Dayton, a Democrat, and the Democratic-controlled Legislature raised taxes $2 billion two years ago, there was little change in taxes in this Dayton budget.

“We are in a position where we can meet the needs without a general tax increase,” Dayton said.

The governor’s budget plan will be used at the basis for legislators to draw up their own spending plans. However, those will not come until after a new report on the state’s economy and expected tax revenues, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 27. Dayton also will revise his budget proposal after the report and propose a public works bill funded by the state selling bonds.

One item not in the Dayton budget drew the ire of nursing home advocates and Republicans.

The Long Term Care Imperative, representing facilities such as nursing homes, issued a statement saying members were disappointed that Dayton did not include more funds for their cause.

“As 60,000 Minnesotans will turn 65 this year, and next year, and until at least 2031, the demand for care will continue to grow,” the imperative statement said. “We need to start the conversation immediately about how we are going to address the care of aging Minnesotans.”

House Republicans won the majority in November’s election by winning Democratic seats in rural areas, where the most nursing home fiscal problems are found. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he was not happy that Dayton skipped increasing funding for them.

Dayton said that nursing homes have received $93 million in new founds in the past four years, so opted not to include new funding in this budget. However, he said in response to a reporter’s question, nursing home funding will be near the top of his priority list if the Feb. 27 report shows a bigger surplus.

Overall, Republicans were critical that Dayton wants to increase spending as much as he does.

Daudt said that if Dayton’s budget were to be adopted, its increased spending would cost every Minnesotan $1,244.

Democrats were happy with the Dayton plan.

“Gov. Dayton’s budget proposals reflect the values and priorities all Minnesotans share,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said. “I am pleased his budget proposal funds a comprehensive transportation plan, invests in our youngest learners, supports economic and workforce development initiatives, and maintains the balanced budget in the years ahead.”

Dayton took the rare step of withholding new money from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system until a dispute between faculty and the administration is settled.

The money would have gone to allow MnSCU continue a tuition freeze. The governor proposes to give the University of Minnesota $93 million more to continue its freeze.

The MnSCU controversy centers on an initiative, Charting the Future, established by Chancellor Steven Rosenstone. Seven faculty organizations have passed “no confidence” votes against Rosenstone for the initiative, which is designed to streamline the system.

MnSCU leaders on both sides of the dispute said Tuesday that they are working toward an agreement.

Youth-related programs and health and human services spending account for 75 percent of Dayton’s new proposals.

Featured in his education funding plan is providing free pre-kindergarten programs to 4-year-olds.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said the programs will be voluntary for school districts, and local officials could decide what schools would offer the programs.

Dayton also would put more money into general public school needs and he wants $100 million available for child-care tax credits that can be used for working families.

The Dayton budget plan also would spend:

– $30 million to improve broadband Internet service, mostly in rural Minnesota.

– $33 million gained from a railroad assessment would help improve rail safety, mostly on tracks that carry North Dakota oil. He also plans to ask legislators to approve borrowing $43 million for rail safety (mostly to improve rail crossing in the Prairie Island Indian Community, Willmar and Moorhead).

– $10 million to buy two used airplanes for state use, replacing two aging ones that need more maintenance than they are worth. He said the state will reduce the number of airplanes and helicopters it owns.

– $2.5 million to improve oversight and training for county public health workers dealing with child abuse. Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said more money may be needed after a series of recommendations is released in March.

Also folded into the budget is money for more Agriculture Department food inspectors: 11 wholesale food inspectors, 10 retail inspectors and five meat inspectors.

Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said parks and trails would receive $7.2 million more, going to things such as new facilities at state parks.

The budget plan Dayton released Tuesday is for state programs funded by general tax revenues. However, when transportation, federally funded state programs and other initiatives are considered, the all-accounts budget can nearly double the state taxpayer-funded portion.

—-

Some examples of two-year budgets over the years:

– 1964-1965, $770 million

– 1974-1975, $3.5 billion

– 1984-1985, $9.8 billion

– 1994-1995, $16.7 billion

– 2004-2005, $28.1 billion

– 2006-2007, $31.5 billion

– 2008-2009, $33.9 billion

– 2010-2011, $30 billion

– 2012-2013, $35.3 billion

– 2014-2015, $39.6 billion

– 2016-2017, $42 billion

—-

How the governor’s proposed budget funded by general tax revenues would be spent:

– Public school education: 42 percent

– Health and human services: 28 percent

– Property tax aids and credits: 8 percent

– Higher education: 7 percent

– Judiciary, public safety: 5 percent

– Other: 10 percent

Notes: Property tax aids and credits include programs such as aid to local governments. Most transportation funding comes from other sources not included in the state’s main budget.

16-cent-a-gallon gas tax center of transportation plan

Zelle

Minnesota motorists would pay at least 16 cents a gallon more gasoline taxes under Gov. Mark Dayton’s transportation funding proposal.

They would pay slightly higher motor vehicle license fees and $10 more to register a vehicle. Also, a half percent sales tax increase would be applied in the Twin Cities for transit needs.

Dayton announced Monday that he wants Minnesota to spend about $11 billion more in the next decade to improve the state’s roads and bridges and boost transit.

The Dayton administration indicates that those in greater Minnesota would pay about $15 a month for his plan while in the Twin Cities the cost would be closer to $24.

“Inadequate transportation clogs our lives with worse traffic congestion, longer commutes, more dangerous travel conditions,” Dayton said. “These deficiencies restrict our future economic growth and detract from our quality of life.”

The Democratic governor was critical of Republicans for refusing to raise taxes for transportation.

“It takes some political courage” to approve tax increases, he said.

The governor said that Republicans appear to want to solve the transportation situation is “waving a wand and saying ‘abracadabra.'”

However, the Republican chairman of the House transportation committee said that his committee will need time to assess transportation needs, which may not be completed until next year.

“I look forward to a long-term solution over the next two years,” Rep. Tim Kelly of Red Wing said.

Kelly already has laid out what he calls a temporary fix, which Republicans want until a long-term funding bill can be prepared.

The chairman said there probably is not enough time during this legislative session, which must end May 18, to fully understand transportation needs and funding alternatives.

At least for now, Kelly said, “we can address the problem with funding that is already there.”

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, was critical of Dayton.

“Gov. Dayton is showing once again he is either unwilling or unable to set priorities in the state budget, and instead resorts to massive new taxes on lower and middle class Minnesotans,” Hann said.

Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud, said the Dayton tax-increase plan comes “the minute working families begin to see some relief from high gas prices.”

Legislative Democrats generally liked the Dayton plan.

“Unfortunately, the proposal put forward by the Republicans in the Minnesota House fails to meet any of the standards necessary for Democratic support,” House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said. “While Gov. Dayton’s plan would be a bridge to the future, Republicans have offered Minnesotans a bridge to nowhere.”

Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said half of the state’s highways are at least 50 years old, and 20 percent have three or fewer years of life left.

In addition to state highways, the Dayton plan increases funding for cities, counties and townships.

Greater Minnesota transit funds would increase $120 million in the next two years, with money coming from the state General Fund. Twin Cities transit needs would be funded by the higher sales tax.

The major part of the Dayton increase comes in a wholesale tax on gasoline. While it is different from the existing per-gallon tax, it would be felt much the same at the pump.

The tax would be 16 cents a gallon when wholesale prices are $2.50 a gallon or less. If wholesale prices go higher than $2.50, so would Dayton’s proposed new tax.

The wholesale price now is about $1.30.

The existing state gas tax is 28.5 cents a gallon and the federal tax is 18.4 cents.

Transportation officials did not say what specific projects that would be funded by the higher taxes.

Dayton’s plan depends on federal funds, which have yet to be appropriated.

The governor pledged to find $600 million from the Minnesota Department of Transportation doing things more efficiently.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, a leader of a city coalition seeking more street funding, said the Dayton plan is a good start, but does not give cities enough to fix their streets. And, he added, it does not help cities smaller than 5,000 population.

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 Transportation funds

Money in Gov. Mark Dayton’s transportation plan would be divided over 10 years:

– $5.4 billion for state roads and bridges

– $2.4 billion for cities, counties and townships

– $2.8 billion for Twin Cities transit

– $120 million for greater Minnesota transit

– $75 million for bike and pedestrian paths and the Safe Routes to Schools program.

Political Chatter: House Dems say they helped greater Minnesota

Minnesota House Democrats think they are getting a bum rap by Republicans who say that greater Minnesota has been ignored in recent years.

A move to treat greater Minnesota right was the GOP focus for much of last fall’s House campaign and has intensified since then. Even suburban Republicans have joined the battle.

Most of the House Republican priorities involve the area outside of the Twin Cities. The No. 1 bill, for instance, would give tax breaks and aid to businesses, featuring such provisions as helping companies buy land for homes in rural communities with housing shortages. Nursing home aid also is on the list.

Democrats are skeptical that Republicans, who only control the House as Democratic-Farmer-Laborites still run the Senate and governor’s office, actually will do much to help greater Minnesota.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, has been joined by Assistant Minority Leader Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, and others in saying they did lots to help greater Minnesota when Democrats were in charge the last two years.

Now, DFL operative and House employee Zach Rodvold has compiled a list of items he says prove his party served greater Minnesota well, including:

– Investing $660 million in schools, including reducing the difference in state aid between high and low wealth districts.

– Taking actions that resulted in property tax cuts after a decade in which rural taxes rose eight times as much in rural areas than in the Twin Cities.

– Spending $20 million to improve high-speed Internet, known as broadband, in rural areas.

– Increasing money spent on care of the state’s elderly, with a higher percentage of them living in rural Minnesota.

– Cutting taxes for more than 90,000 farmers.

– Investing in the Corridors of Commerce program that improves highways around the state’s regional centers.

Budget plan coming

Tuesday is one of the key days in this year’s legislative session: That is when Gov. Mark Dayton releases his budget proposal for the next two years.

The Democrat will unveil the plan in front of journalists, who will be outnumbered by lobbyists who want to know how hard they will need to work to get funding for their clients.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate will base their budget plans on what Dayton presents, although they may look far different. But don’t expect the legislative plans to fully appear until after a new economic and state revenue report released near the end of February because things could change by then and lawmakers want to use the latest information.

Dayton himself will update his budget plan after the budget report, which basically will show how much money lawmakers and Dayton have to spend.

In all likelihood, Dayton’s plan will call for collecting and spending more than $41 billion of state tax money in the next two years.

While Dayton says he will not seek a general tax increase, he will ask for a new wholesale fuel sales tax to boost transportation spending. He plans to release his transportation spending plan Monday.

Space a political drama

Controlling state Capitol turf always has been an interesting spectator sport.

The Senate, House and administration protect Capitol space they control, which set up an inside-politics drama when Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, wanted offices for 23 senators kept in the Capitol after it is renovated and a new Senate office building is finished.

Leaders of both parties in the House and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton did not like the idea of keeping the Senate Capitol offices because the new building includes offices for all 67 senators. Negotiations among legislative leaders and Dayton went past a deadline; missing the deadline could have cost the state thousands of dollars a month in construction delays because contractors would need to wait until they knew how the space would be divided before going ahead with work.

The night before the Capitol Preservation Commission met to approve space allocation, Bakk relented and reduced the number of senator offices to four, and promised no senator would have an office in both the Capitol and the new building.

“I’ve always known that you need some type of tension to get things done at the Capitol,” quipped Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.

Klobuchar: lots of improvements

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar wrote a column resembling a state of the state or state of the union address.

“With the economy improving, we are no longer governing from crisis; we are governing from opportunity,” the Minnesota Democrat wrote. “Especially as we head into a new year with a new Congress, Washington must put governing over gridlock and get things done that will move our economy and country forward.”

She pointed out that Minnesota’s unemployment rate is down, exports are up and many industries are surging.

“Starting this month, I will be taking on a new leadership position as chair of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee,” she said. “This position will give me a chance to reach out to members across the aisle, as well as community leaders, businesses and policy experts, to identify areas of common ground and work together for the benefit of all Americans.”

Her first priority, she said, is to “start with rebuilding and revitalizing our infrastructure.” She also called for government leaders to help make sure students and workers have needed skills for newly created jobs.

Dayton wants diversity

Gov. Mark Dayton has established a council to improve state government’s recruiting and retaining employees of a diverse background.

The governor will lead the Diversity and Inclusion Council.

“A government that serves the people of Minnesota, should reflect the rich diversity of Minnesota,” Dayton said. “We must ensure that all Minnesotans have equitable opportunities to work for their state government, to do business with the state, and to participate fully in the development of policy within our democracy.”

Work on ‘people’s house’ to proceed

Dayton

Minnesota citizens will have more space and senators less space when a $273 million state Capitol renovation project is completed two years from now.

“There is a winner here: the people of Minnesota,” said Paul Anderson, a former state Supreme Court chief justice, shortly after the Capitol Preservation Commission on Thursday approved a space allocation agreement among those who use the nearly 110-year-old building.

That deal, combined with formal approval to spend money for the final phase of renovation work, means construction will proceed as planned. A stalemate among Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook and House Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown about dividing space threatened to delay construction, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars a month.

Dayton and Bakk told commission members that they reached agreement late Wednesday about how to split up the space.

“We rolled up our sleeves pretty hard on this,” Bakk said.

Bakk dropped his plan to put 23 senators’ offices in the Capitol, with the possibility they also would have offices in a building under construction across the street.

The deal would allow “up to” four senator offices in the Capitol, with the rest in the new building, Bakk said. No senator would have more than one office.

Senators who hold the majority traditionally have had Capitol offices. With Democrats in the majority now, 39 senators are in the facility. Republicans are in a building across the street that also houses all House members.

The House will have offices in the Capitol that its leaders can use, but no representative would have a permanent office there.

Putting most Senate offices in the new building opened up space throughout the Capitol for the public.

“That’s what is important,” Dayton said.

All five floors will have more public space, beginning with an expanded restaurant area in the basement. There will be space for lawmakers to meet with groups and individuals in the Capitol and areas for displays around the building.

“It is just a thrill to see how much public space has been incorporated into the Capitol,” Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said. “It is the people’s house.”

While the House and Senate use most of the Capitol space, all of the governor’s office also is in the building. The Supreme Court sometimes still will meet in its historic Capitol chambers, but it generally is housed in a building just to the east. The attorney general has Capitol offices, but also has some in downtown St. Paul.

Food services, the media and Minnesota Historical Society also will have spaces in the renovated facility.

Work started several years ago to repair the outside of the Capitol after pieces of the marble walls began to fall off. The leaking dome also was fixed.

Then attention turned to the inside, where problems include peeling paint, antiquated heating and air conditioning and handicapped visitors struggling to get around. Lawmakers and Dayton approved funding the renovation, and Capitol employees began moving out more than a year ago.

Now, only a third of the Capitol is open as construction workers take over the rest.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said he is glad the work is progressing and that people in his west-central Minnesota district appreciate the work.

“If we can’t maintain this building, I don’t know what we can maintain,” Urdahl said.

While the main part of the project is funded, Urdahl said that the current appropriation does not fully restore some Capitol artwork, so the Legislature or private business may need to come up with funds for that.

One of the major reasons for renovation was what officials call “life safety.” For instance, there now are no safe fresh air intakes at the Capitol. After renovation, all air will come from vents away from pollution such as vehicle exhaust.

The plan is to have 90 percent of the building protected by fire sprinklers, compared to 40 percent that now has sprinklers. The work also is replacing all of the building’s plumbing.

U of M president throws flag on banning early games

Gov. Mark Dayton’s wish to start all football games after noon would result in a penalty, the University of Minnesota president says.

“The governor and I had a conversation about that,” President Eric Kaler said Tuesday after a reporter asked him about the issue.

Kaler explained to Dayton that the university gives the Big Ten Conference media rights and if Minnesota broke away and made its own television deals, it would lose a lot of money.

Games often are moved away from their traditional 1 or 1:30 p.m. start times to accommodate when TV executives want to air them.

In a late-December interview, Dayton complained about 11 a.m. kickoffs.

“If you want to tailgate, you have to be there by 9 a.m.,” Dayton said. “Most students, I don’t think, are awake at 9 a.m.”

Minnesota started football games at 11 a.m. at home four times in the 2014 season.

“It’s all driven by television and the dollars involved there,” Dayton said, remembering that it was easier for personal schedules when TV did not dictate team schedules.

The governor said he planned to discuss the issue with governors in other states with Big Ten teams.

While Dayton complained about lower attendance when games start in the morning, Kaler said that there is little difference between morning and afternoon starts.

Not only did Kaler object to the loss of money that would follow if Minnesota requires afternoon starts, but he said that he likes earlier kickoffs.

“You have a lot of day left in front of you,” he said.

‘No choice’ but to raise Minnesota taxes for transportation

Dibble

There is no choice but to raise taxes to improve Minnesota’s transportation system, say state Senate Democrats.

“I can’t think of another path … without some increase in revenue,” Sen. Vicki Jenson, D-Owatonna, said Monday as she and colleagues introduced a bill that will raise and spend more than $1 billion annually for roads, bridges and transit projects. “We are going to have to pay.”

Sen. Susan Kent, D-Woodbury, said that changes are made because transportation needs remain unmet.

“We are not addressing these needs with our current approach,” Kent said.

While House Republicans suggested a short-term $750 million spending bill over four years, Democrats said more money, and permanent funding, is needed.

“We are very much headed in the right direction,” Kent said about the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party bill. “This is basic math.”

The plan, similar to one expected later this month from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and one already released by transportation advocates, would impose a new wholesale 6.5 percent sales tax on gasoline, on top of the current 28.5 cents per-gallon gas tax.

The wholesale gas proposal would add the equivalent of about a dime per gallon at the current wholesale price.

Also, it would raise vehicle license plate fees, increase a Twin Cities sales tax for transit projects and borrow money for other transportation needs.

The proposal would add nearly $800 million in the next year, with more than $1 billion coming in future years.

Republicans were critical of the Senate Democratic majority.

“The proposed Senate DFL tax hike will hit the pocketbooks of Minnesota’s middle-class with a vengeance,” President Mark Drake of the GOP-leaning Minnesota Jobs Coalition said.

House Transportation Chairman Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, last week released a $750 million proposal that he said was designed as a short-term fix until the House could determine the state’s real transportation needs. He said $200 million of it would come from other state programs and the rest of the money would be from money the state already has on hand, such as funds the Legislature has approved for road projects, but not spent.

The DFL plan’s author, Minneapolis Democratic Sen. Scott Dibble, said that state leaders have taken too long talking about the problem of crumbling roads and congestion.

“The time has come to stop the admiring of the problem,” he said.

Dibble said the state needs to spend $21 billion over 20 years to maintain what is in place, and pegged the price at $55 billion to compete internationally.

The senator said lack of proper transportation funding is driving the elderly, disabled and young people out of their homes and communities, which costs Minnesotans money. He also said that it increases the number of wrecks and fixing the problems will cost more if not done now.

Dibble and Jenson said that the state’s transportation problems reduce the chances of businesses moving to the state.

Sen. Roger Reinert, D-Duluth, said money for regional centers such as where he lives can keep them “economically viable.” The Dibble bill sets aside some funds for a passenger rail line from the Twin Cities to Duluth, which could proceed if federal money becomes available.