Inflation eats away surplus

Lots of charts

The Minnesota state budget surplus sits at $1 billion, but not really.

While state officials said a Thursday economic and budget report was good news, Minnesota’s top finance official said that inflation will eat up what many called a surplus. Still, political leaders agreed that the added money, unlike deficits they often have been dealt, will make budgeting easier when legislators return to St. Paul Jan. 6 and that no overall tax increase will be needed.

“Inflation is essentially everywhere,” Commissioner Jim Schowalter said of the state budget, and the $1 billion “surplus” mostly will be used to counteract it in the state’s two-year budget that begins next July 1.

“Yes, if you add in inflation, it evens out,” his boss, Gov. Mark Dayton, said.

However, Dayton and most other political leaders said Thursday’s report was good news and the governor insisted there is a surplus.

After raising taxes more than $2 billion in 2013, Dayton said that he sees no need for a general tax increase. On the other hand, the Democratic governor said that some type of new revenue is needed to inject needed money into road and bridge budgets.

House Speaker-designate Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that he does not think higher taxes will be needed for transportation, although all ways to increase transportation funding “are on the table.”

Dayton said that what he called a “surplus” could help fund some child care tax credits, increased broadband facilities across greater Minnesota and other needs.

As soon as the $1 billion surplus was announced, groups ranging from the University of Minnesota to those representing nursing homes said they need some of that money.

Part of the $1 billion is $373 million that is not being spent in the current budget and can be spent in the next two years. State law automatically requires another $183 million to remain in the reserve and not be folded into the next budget.

The news gives Dayton a benchmark as his administration works on a budget proposal that he plans to give legislators Jan. 27. The Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate will draft their own budget plans, most likely based on the Dayton budget, after another revenue report in late February or early March. Dayton will tweak his budget after that report.

Thursday’s report, known as a budget forecast, takes a look at the national and state economies and predicts how much is available to spend on state programs.

The state general fund budget has grown from $31.5 billion in 2006-2007 to $40 billion now. It is expected to top $40 billion for the two years beginning next July 1, a figure state lawmakers and the governor will work out in the legislative session that begins Jan. 6.

The general fund budget is that part of state spending funded by Minnesota taxpayers. When federal and other funds are included, the state’s total spending can be twice the state-funded total.

While Democrats, who have controlled the Legislature and governor’s office the past two years, were celebrating Thursday’s report as good news, Republicans had their doubts.

Daudt said that the state is bringing in more money, but Minnesotans’ personal budgets do not appear to be improving.

The Minnesota economy is closely tied to national trends, State Economist Laura Kalambokidis said. That includes a worse-than-expected housing market, which affects industries across greater Minnesota such as lumber and window makers.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said that he hopes the budget cushion announced Thursday gives lawmakers a chance to work on one of greater Minnesota’s most pressing issues: housing.

Industries located in communities from Roseau in the north to Jackson in the south say they have jobs available, but need housing for workers, and in many cases potential workers need more training.

Most of the state’s key political leaders specifically said after Thursday’s budget forecast that it means no overall tax increase will be needed. However, Dayton emphasized what he sees as the need to raise revenue for transportation.

While he said he is open to ideas about how to raise that revenue, one possibility he has discussed would be to add a tax on gasoline at the wholesale level. The current gas tax is added at the pumps.

Daudt, whose Republican candidates this fall campaigned on improving roads and bridges, said he is not convinced higher taxes are needed. He and other Republicans have said they prefer to cut other state programs that may not be needed and transfer those funds to transportation.

In general, state political leaders were waiting for the budget forecast to draw up specific proposals.

Besides transportation, Dayton specifically mentioned the need to fund expansion of high-speed Internet, known as broadband, across the state.

Broadband, he said, is “crucial for economic development over the state.”

Dayton and legislators this year approved a down payment for improving broadband access, but some projections indicate that billions of dollars more are needed to bring greater Minnesota to the same level as the Twin Cities.

 Key budget numbers

in next two-year budget

$1.037 billion: More money expected than earlier projections

$412 million: Lower revenues expected than earlier prediction

$502 million: Expected drop in overall state spending

$443 million: Less spending needed than expected in health programs

$2 billion: Expected gain in individual income tax receipts

$598 million: Expected increase in sales tax collections

Bakk

Dayton

Daudt

State economist

Political Chatter: It will be an orange cone session

By Don Davis

The orange cone, that construction icon, could be featured during the upcoming Minnesota legislative session.

An extensive ongoing renovation projects has all but taken over the state Capitol.

“It is going to be like a major highway project,” Gov. Mark Dayton said about the disruption Minnesotans visiting the Capitol will experience.

Just how big a problem it will be is anyone’s guess, he added. “I don’t know if anyone fully grasps it.”

Dayton was describing the disruption from his temporary office at the other end of the mall from the Capitol, talking to Capitol press corps reporters who more than a year ago were ousted from their Capitol basement offices to a building a couple of blocks away.

“It will be a very different experience … but we will make it,” he proclaimed.

During the 2015 legislative session that begins at noon Jan. 6, the House and Senate chambers will be open. But just three of six Senate committee rooms will be available, likely forcing schedulers to plan earlier and later meetings, as well as some on Fridays and Monday mornings that often are reserved for senators to travel home and back.

All House committee rooms are in another building and not affected by renovation work.

Representatives of both parties and Republican senators are in the other building, so will not be affected by construction work. But Democratic senators are housed in the Capitol and since most of that building is closed they and some staffers will be crammed into a much smaller space.

Many staffers have been moved to other buildings.

The big impact for the public will be, quite simply, lack of space.

In other years, groups rallying for or against some legislation, or just a general principle, often have gathered inside the Capitol and then dispersed to lobby lawmakers. There will be no space large enough for rallies next year, and probably not even enough room for large crowds to move around.

It is typical for the Capitol to host hundreds of people for committee meetings dealing with controversial topics such as gun control or abortion. It is not clear how those throngs will be handled next year.

In 2016, the theory is that the Senate chamber will be closed and action will move to a controversial office building now being built across the street. Senators are supposed to be housed in the new facility by then and a large committee room could replace the Senate chambers that year.

The only part of the Capitol open in 2016 likely will be the House chamber.

The normally ornate Capitol today features a good many plywood walls after construction workers isolated much of the building, including the rotunda where many events were held. The Great Hall, another favored location, also will be under construction and closed.

Forecast a biggie

Thursday likely will come and go with Minnesotans noticing little.

But their state officials will be neck deep in numbers that will tell them how much money they can spend in the next two years.

Thursday is when state finance officials release what they call a “budget forecast.” That is a report looking at the state and national economies and how it could affect state revenues, such as taxes.

The report forms the foundation of a two-year budget, probably in the $40 billion range, that Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators must adopt before July 1.

Dayton told reporters that preliminary indications some time ago were that the state will have a $635 million surplus for the next two years. However, he added, state rules forbid finance officials from telling him in advance what the Thursday forecast says.

Countrywide, economic projects show a slower economy than was predicted at the last budget forecast in February, but Dayton said that Minnesota is doing better than that.

While his staff and commissioners have been working on the budget, Dayton said he will not go at it “full bore” until he returns from a Thanksgiving trip to see family in California.

He promised to meet his Jan. 27 deadline of presenting a budget proposal to lawmakers.

New faces?

It appears a safe bet that some key aides soon may be missing from the Dayton administration second term.

“I asked most to stay,” the governor said about his commissioners and other keystones of the administration.

When a reporter asked if that meant he asked some to leave, he said that “if I didn’t ask them to say,” then let reporters’ imaginations take over.

While promoting the state’s turkey industry, Dayton revealed that Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson is sticking around another four years. Commissioner Tony Sertich of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board was the first to announce he is leaving the administration after Dayton was re-elected to another term.

Dayton said that he was thrilled that Lee Sheehy will continue to be chairman of the Minnesota Commission on Judicial Selection, a board that recommends judicial candidates to the governor.

Dayton did not talk about specific potential changes. “There is a degree of flux.”

Turkeys’ frowns turned upside down for farmers

Dayton and doomed turkey

By Don Davis

Everyone was all smiles Monday as Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton led a traditional celebration of Minnesota’s role in Thanksgiving dinners across the country.

The governor was happy to brag about the industry’s nearly $1 billion impact to the Minnesota economy as the country’s leading turkey producing state.

Turkey growers wore smiles because 2014 is a good year for them, with high demand and relatively low costs raising the birds.

Those who do not have money to buy a turkey this year came out in good shape as the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association donated 11,500 pounds of turkey to food shelves in communities including Cannon Falls, Faribault, Melrose, Willmar, Thief River Falls, Frazee, Perham and Buffalo.

The only ones to lack smiles were a couple of passive, sad-looking turkeys that are destined for holiday dinner tables, and not as guests.

Dayton joked that while the president has authority to pardon turkeys, a governor does not. So despite the publicity the pair received from their Monday governor’s office appearance, their fate will be the same as 46 million other turkeys the state’s 450 turkey farm produce annually.

“Today we give thanks for our state’s strong agriculture industry and we reflect on the long and storied history of Minnesota’s turkey farmers,” said Pelican Rapids farmer John Gorton, Minnesota Turkey Growers Association president. “We are grateful for our ability to provide food to a growing world population, including the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table, the turkey.”

The turkey producers’ donation will provide food for 14,500 people this holiday season. Turkey growers have donated more than 215,000 pounds of turkey since 2001, about enough to feed everyone in St. Paul.

Three companies in the state — Jennie-O Turkey Store in Willmar, Northern Pride Cooperative in Thief River Falls and Turkey Valley Farms in Marshall — have turkey processing plants throughout the state. The industry employs 26,000 Minnesotans.

Steve Olson of the turkey growers group said that farmers sell the birds for about $1.15 a pound, but the price in stores this time of year is about 89 cents. He said grocery stores offer turkey bargains this time of year to attract customers, who then buy other Thanksgiving meal essentials.

Gorton said this year has been very good to turkey growers. The $163 million of corn and $169 million of soybeans turkey farmers spent was about the same as in years past, keeping farmers’ input costs fairly static.

The 46 million-a-year production number also has remained static, Gorton said, which means the state does not produce so many turkeys that prices fall.

Rural votes decide House control

New House GOP majority

By Charley Shaw and Don Davis

Rod Hamilton summarized the Republican takeover of the Minnesota House: “This election should be a wakeup call to all state leaders! Do not turn your back on greater Minnesota!!”

Indeed, the Mountain Lake Republican legislator’s tweet pointed out, 10 of 11 House seats Republicans picked up from Democrats came from outside of the Twin Cities.

The GOP rural performance gave the party a say in state policy after Democrats controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office the past two years. Voters Tuesday retained Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, while the Democrat-controlled Senate was not up for election.

With the Tuesday election, it appears Republicans will control the House by a 72-62 tally after Democrats held a 73-61 edge for two years. However, one race is headed toward a mandatory recount.

Republicans and Dayton agreed on Wednesday that they did not want gridlock like occurred when Republicans controlled the Legislature and a newly elected Dayton was in the governor’s office in 2011. That was when state government shut down for three weeks as the two sides could not agree on a budget. Dayton and House Republicans said Wednesday they would give no promise that will not happen again next year.

If Republicans do not want to compromise, Dayton said, “it’s a prescription to gridlock unless we rise above it.”

House Republican Leader Kurt Daudt of Crown, one of at least two people running for speaker on Friday, said that cooperation “is up to the Democrats.”

There was plenty of talk about hope among those headed to the Capitol when the new Legislature convenes Jan. 6.

“I’m excited about working with a good two-party system,” Rep.-Elect Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said as Republicans celebrated their House majority.

He learned that he beat Democratic Rep. Mary Sawatzky just before 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, who said that in her first term “we made great strides across the board in carrying for people.”

In a story heard often, the race between Baker and Sawatzky had been the target of a massive advertising blitz by the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as by outside political action groups that had filled voters’ mailboxes with fliers during the campaign season.

Like many Republicans who won Tuesday, Baker said he ran for office because he believed that in the past two years the state produced a “bad tax policy” that was harming private sector job growth and there were “too many unfunded mandates in public schools.”

Daudt said Republicans won in greater Minnesota because Democrats ignored the area outside of the Twin Cities.

“We are not going to forget about any part of the state, especially rural Minnesota,” said Daudt, who lives on a farm north of the Twin Cities.

But House Speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis said that his party has taken care of rural Minnesota.

“If you look at the objective facts, I think we did quite well for greater Minnesota,” Thissen said, citing additional funding for nursing home, education and broadband.

The biggest factor in losing the House majority, the speaker said, was low turnout. Just half of Minnesota’s voters cast ballots Tuesday, with the average in recent non-presidential years about 60 percent. When turnout is low, it generally is because Democrats stay home.

“We need to really think from our party perspective about what we missed in some of those races this year,” Thissen said.

Twenty-six new members (or those returning after an absence) will be sworn in on when the 2015 session convenes; all but five are Republican.

Most of the 11 Democratic incumbents who lost Tuesday were first-termers, but veterans ousted included greater Minnesota Democratic veteran Reps. John Ward of Baxter, Andrew Falk of Murdock and Patti Fritz of Faribault.

DFLers held onto all but one of several competitive seats in the Twin Cities suburbs that they had picked up in 2012. The exception was House District 56B where Rep. Will Morgan, D-Burnsville, lost to Republican businesswoman Roz Peterson of Lakeville.

Like in rural Minnesota, parts of the Twin Cities likely will continue to be a battleground as many contests were decided by slim margins, notably House District 48A where Rep. Yvonne Selcer, D-Minnetonka, awaits an automatic recount in the race that shows she beat former GOP Rep. Kirk Stensrud by 36 votes.

Among crucial House races:

2A: Republican Dave Hancock of Bemidji was first elected to the House in 2010 and served one term before he was defeated in 2012 by Rep. Roger Erickson, D-Baudette. Hancock, who co-owned a tire and automotive business for many years, won his seat back on Tuesday in a rematch by 4.87 percentage points. The district was predictably difficult for DFLers, having been won in 2012 by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and on Tuesday by GOP 8th Congressional District candidate Stewart Mills.

10A: Four-term DFL House member John Ward of Baxter, who had managed to win decisive re-elections in previous years despite the Republican tilt to his district, met his match against Republican Josh Heintzeman of Nisswa. Ward won in 2010 by 15 points despite that year’s GOP wave that sent many DFLers in greater Minnesota packing. Heintzeman runs a log construction business.

10B: The victor of one of the DFL’s biggest upsets in 2012, Rep. Joe Radinovich, D-Crosby, knew he had a big target on his back in his rematch with Republican farmer from Aitkin, Dale Lueck. Radinovich won the first contest by a mere 1.47 points in a district that favored GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney by 9 points, but succumbed to Lueck on Tuesday by 3.86 points.

11B: Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, has had one of the most volatile electoral rides of any lawmaker in recent memory. Faust met his second re-election defeat on Tuesday in his east-central Minnesota district that also includes Mora and Pine City. Faust was first elected in 2006 on his second try to unseat former GOP Rep. Judy Soderstrom. He lost his seat in the subsequent 2010 election only for voters to send him back to St. Paul in 2012. After one term back in the House, Faust, a Lutheran minister, lost the swing district to Republican Jason Rarick, an electrical contractor from Pine City.

12A: Jeff Backer, a businessman and former mayor of Browns Valley, successfully won the seat from first-term Rep. Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake. McNamar had beaten his Republican opponent in 2012 points with an Independence Party candidate getting 6.14 percent of the vote.

14B: Jim Knoblach, who previously served six terms in the House and is a former Ways and Means Committee chairman, will return to the House. Knoblach, who retired from the House in 2006 to run unsuccessfully for Congress, won back his House seat against first-term DFL incumbent Zach Dorholt by 0.61 point, barely exceeding the threshold required to avoid an automatic recount.

17A: Rep. Andrew Falk, D-Murdock, saw his bid for a fourth term representing western Minnesota counties of Swift, Chippewa and Renville Counties upended by Tim Miller. The race was a rematch from 2012 when Falk beat Miller by a 7.9-point margin. Miller, a consultant from Prinsburg, eased past Falk on Tuesday by 10.9 points. Falk, a farmer, had worked extensively on agriculture and renewable issues in the House.

17B: Throughout Tuesday night, the race between Rep. Mary Sawatzky, D-Willmar, and her Republican challenger Dave Baker was agonizingly close. At times the secretary of state’s website showed a difference of less than a quarter of 1 percent. In the end, Baker, a hospitality business owner from Willmar, unseated the first-termer Sawatzky in a district that has swung back-and-forth since veteran DFLer Al Juhnke was upset in 2010.

24B: Rep. Patti Fritz, D-Faribault, lost her bid for a sixth term. Fritz, a nurse and leading advocate for anti-abortion issues that split the House DFL caucus, had won close elections before. This was another close contest. But Fritz was on the losing side of a race decided by 1.87 percentage points in favor of first-time candidate Brian Daniels. Daniels is a businessman and brother of Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, who ran unopposed this year.

27A: Republican challenger Peggy Bennett won big on Tuesday. The Albert Lea elementary school teacher beat first-term Democratic incumbent Shannon Savick of Wells by 13 points, with the wild-card factor that Independence Party candidate Thomas Keith Price of Alden garnered 6.9 percent of the vote. Democrats lost the House seat despite winning 27A in the governor’s, Congressional and U.S. Senate races. The southern Minnesota district has flipped between Republicans and Democrats in the last three House elections.

48A: Before Democrats’ hopes of holding onto control of the state House were dashed in greater Minnesota, victories in competitive districts in the Twin Cities suburbs provided them with early optimism on Tuesday night. Things have preliminarily gone the DFL’s way in 48A where Rep. Yvonne Selcer, D-Minnetonka, won by 36 votes, an outcome so slim that state law requires an automatic recount. Assuming the recount doesn’t change things, Selcer, a former Hopkins school board chairwoman, will have won a second term by defeating the seat’s former GOP incumbent Kirk Stensrud, whom she beat in 2012 by 202 votes, or 0.82 percentage point.

56B: Although the Twin Cities suburbs are loaded with swing districts, this Burnsville/Lakeville district was the only GOP pickup on Tuesday. Commercial realtor and Lakeville school board chairwoman Roz Peterson won a rematch with Rep. Will Morgan, D-Burnsville, from the race she lost two years ago by 0.8 percentage point. The race was one of that year’s marquee DFL pickups in the Twin Cities area, and Peterson began campaigning for a rematch shortly afterwards. On Tuesday she unseated Morgan, a Burnsville High School physics teacher, by 8.16 points. Morgan had served two terms in the House from 2007 to 2011, before himself being defeated and then regaining his seat in 2012.

Voters split their picks

Dayton

By Don Davis

Minnesota retains its reputations for being, well, unpredictable when it comes to elections.

In Tuesday’s election, the state’s voters gave two Democratic former recount survivors relatively easy victories, but turned over control of the state House to Republicans. They gave Democrats wins in two hotly contested U.S. House races, with one a razor-thin margin.

And a third party no longer will get state perks.

One look at maps illustrating the vote leads to a definite conclusion: Minnesotans are not shy about splitting tickets.

The most dramatic map would be of the U.S. House representation. Three massive mostly rural districts, along with Hennepin and Ramsey counties, elected five Democrats to the U.S. House. Three suburban districts, a far smaller acreage, picked Republicans for Congress.

Look on the map of where Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton drew votes and there are some clusters, such as the urban and northeastern areas. Republican Jeff Johnson did well in most rural counties, even those that voted for Democratic U.S. House candidates. It is just that most of those counties have fewer residents than where Dayton won.

Bring out the map for the state House races and you have a Republican domination.

Tuesday was a split verdict.

“We did very well in Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis counties,” a happy Dayton said Wednesday.

But, he said in response to reporters’ questions, that does not mean that he will ignore less populated counties that voted for Johnson.

“We made a lot of progress in the state, but there is a long ways to go,” he said, adding that he likes to travel the state talking to its residents — and that will not change in his final term in office.

“I am not going to sit in St. Paul the next four years,” he declared.

Election returns will not affect him, he added.

For Dayton, Tuesday marked a first and a last. It was the first time he tried to be elected to a second term, after opting against running a second time for state auditor and U.S. senator. On the other hand, he has said that at 67 this was his last election.

Across the state, Dayton beat Johnson 50 percent to 45 percent in complete but unofficial returns. The five-point win was big compared to his race four years ago that was decided by a recount.

Even more luxurious was Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s 202,899-vote margin over Republican Mike McFadden. Franken beat then-Sen. Norm Coleman by 312 votes after a lengthy recount and court battle in the 2008 election.

All statewide winners were Democrats, as they have been since Republican Tim Pawlenty won his second term in the governor’s office eight years ago.

The closest race came for secretary of state to replace retiring Secretary Mark Ritchie. Democrat Steve Simon received 22,408 more votes than Republican Dan Severson. Other statewide winners were incumbent Democrats Auditor Rebecca Otto and Attorney General Lori Swanson.

Statewide Democratic winners came in the face of a national Republican wave that washed the party into control of the U.S. Senate and boosted GOP’s U.S. House members, too.

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party statewide victories came despite a low turnout that normally spells trouble for the party.

“Turnout was clearly an issue,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, whose Democrats face being a House minority. “I suppose there are a lot of reasons for that. There wasn’t a particularly exciting statewide campaign.”

Two of the most exciting races came in mostly rural U.S. House districts.

Incumbent Democrat Rick Nolan and Republican challenger Stewart Mills waited until early Wednesday to learn that Nolan is headed back to Washington after winning 49 percent to 47 percent in the north-central, northeast and east-central part of the state.

In the large western Minnesota congressional district, 24-year veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson had an easier time beating Republican state Sen. Torrey Westrom 54 percent to 46 percent.

About half of the state’s 3.9 million registered voters went to the polls Tuesday or voted via newly legal early ballots. Ritchie said that in the last non-presidential general election, in 2010, turnout was 56 percent and in 2006 it was 60 percent.

Since there will be no statewide races in 2016, Republicans have four years to figure out how to get a winner.

It may take longer than that for the Independence Party, made famous by Gov. Jesse Ventura as the Reform Party. Since before Ventura was elected in 1998, the party carried legal status of a “major party,” giving its candidates easier ballot access and the chance to get state campaign money.

However, a major party must obtain at least 5 percent support in a statewide race, which it failed to do on Tuesday. That means Independence candidates will be treated by the state like other third parties, such as the Greens and Libertarians.

Update: Dayton wins his final victory

Dayton, Smith celebrate

By Don Davis

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton won one final victory Tuesday to cap his nearly 40-year career as a public servant.

Dayton beat Republican Jeff Johnson. With 67percent of precincts reporting, Dayton held a 52 percent to 43 percent lead, with many large counties reporting most of their votes but several rural ones providing few returns.

Johnson conceded just before 11 p.m., thanking his family and supporters for their help and prayers.

He recalled comments that he would not win the Aug. 12 primary election against three other Republicans or get the party’s endorsement, “but we did.”

If Dayton could hold his percentage through the night, he would be the first governor since Arne Carlson in 1994 to win re-election with more than 50 percent of the votes.

The Independence Party candidate, Hannah Nicollet, was holding getting about 3 percent of the vote, not enough to for her party to maintain official major party status that provides easy access to the ballot.

Dayton supporters said they are happy Dayton is returning.

“Gov. Mark Dayton has been a defender of women’s health and economic security since his first day in office,” said Sarah Stoesz of Planned Parenthood. “He’s vetoed every horrific attempt to restrict access to safe and legal abortion in Minnesota since during his tenure. He ushered Obamacare, the greatest advance for women’s health in a generation, into Minnesota without hesitation.”

This year’s race began as one between two nice guys, but ended with harsh talk like many other races.

Dayton said he improved Minnesota by creating jobs, investing in education and reforming government. Johnson said Dayton raised taxes too high and the jobs he created still left many Minnesotans underemployed.

Johnson labeled Dayton as incompetent and said the Democrat did not know what was in bills he signed. Dayton, however, said that Republicans were nitpicking on details when they should focus on the fact that as governor he took the state from a $6 billion budget deficit to budget surplus.

Dayton said Tuesday’s election would be his last. After he worked briefly as a New York City teacher, he began working for then-U.S. Sen. Walter Mondale 39 years ago. He later moved to the administration of Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich and served one term as auditor and one as U.S. Senate, with a defeat in his first governor’s race in between.

This year’s election was the first time Dayton ever ran for a second term. He said that the governor’s office suits him better than any job he has held. Dayton grew up in the Twin Cities, where he has lived much of his life.

Johnson is a lawyer raised in Detroit Lakes, Minn. He attended college in nearby Moorhead, worked out of state for a few years, became a Minnesota state representative and lost a race for state attorney general. He has been the lone Republican Hennepin County commissioner the past six years.

Headed into the election, Dayton led Johnson by an average of nearly 9 points in October polls.

Minnesota’s governor serves a four-year term and next year will be paid $123,912.

The Dayton-Johnson campaign began with the candidates giving voters few specifics. Dayton campaigned very little until October arrived, while Johnson was on the trail much of the time all year.

Taxes were a major issue in the campaign.

Dayton often talked about how his plan to raise taxes $2 billion, mostly on the rich, provided needed funds for state programs such as education. He won that proposal when voters two years ago gave him a House and Senate controlled by fellow Democrats.

However, things did not go as well for Dayton in his first two years in office. Right out of the chute, he and Republicans clashed on the budget, leading to a 21-day shutdown in 2011.

Johnson did not discuss the shutdown as much as he talked about Dayton not knowing items in bills he signed into law.

Update: Dayton wins his final victory

By Don Davis

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton apparently won one final victory Tuesday to cap his nearly 40-year career as a public servant.

Media projections that began soon after polls closed Tuesday night gave Dayton the win over Republican Jeff Johnson, although the candidates did not comment immediately. With half of precincts reporting, Dayton held a 52 percent to 42 percent lead, with many large counties reporting most of their votes but several rural ones providing few returns.

If Dayton could hold his percentage through the night, he would be the first governor since Arne Carlson in 1994 to win re-election with more than 50 percent of the vote.

The Independence Party candidate, Hannah Nicollet, was holding getting about 3 percent of the vote, not enough to for her party to maintain official major party status that provides easy access to the ballot.

This year’s race began as one between two nice guys, but ended with harsh talk like many other races.

Dayton said he improved Minnesota by creating jobs, investing in education and reforming government. Johnson said Dayton raised taxes too high and the jobs he created still left many Minnesotans underemployed.

Johnson labeled Dayton as incompetent and said the Democrat did not know what was in bills he signed. Dayton, however, said that Republicans were nitpicking on details when they should focus on the fact that as governor he took the state from a $6 billion budget deficit to budget surplus.

Dayton said Tuesday’s election would be his last. After he worked briefly as a New York City teacher, he began working for then-U.S. Sen. Walter Mondale 39 years ago. He later moved to the administration of Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich and served one term as auditor and one as U.S. Senate, with a defeat in his first governor’s race in between.

This year’s election was the first time Dayton ever ran for a second term. He said that the governor’s office suits him better than any job he has held. Dayton grew up in the Twin Cities, where he has lived much of his life.

Johnson is a lawyer raised in Detroit Lakes, Minn. He attended college in nearby Moorhead, worked out of state for a few years, became a Minnesota state representative and lost a race for state attorney general. He has been the lone Republican Hennepin County commissioner the past six years.

Headed into the election, Dayton led Johnson by an average of nearly 9 points in October polls.

Minnesota’s governor serves a four-year term and next year will be paid $123,912.

The Dayton-Johnson campaign began with the candidates giving voters few specifics. Dayton campaigned very little until October arrived, while Johnson was on the trail much of the time all year.

Taxes were a major issue in the campaign.

Dayton often talked about how his plan to raise taxes $2 billion, mostly on the rich, provided needed funds for state programs such as education. He won that proposal when voters two years ago gave him a House and Senate controlled by fellow Democrats.

However, things did not go as well for Dayton in his first two years in office. Right out of the chute, he and Republicans clashed on the budget, leading to a 21-day shutdown in 2011.

Johnson did not discuss the shutdown as much as he talked about Dayton not knowing items in bills he signed into law.

Projections suggest Dayton wins final victory

By Don Davis

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton hoped for one final victory Tuesday to cap his nearly 40-year career as a public servant, and some media projected that would happen early in the evening.

With 6 percent of returns in, Dayton held a 49 percent to 46 percent lead over Republican challenger Jeff Johnson. Less than 15 minutes after polls closed, NBC News and other media projected Dayton, seeking his second term, would win, based on exit polls and supported by polls conducted before election day.

Dayton and Johnson had no immediate comment on the NBC projection.

It was a race that began as one between two nice guys but ended with harsh talk like many other races.

Dayton said he improved Minnesota by creating jobs, investing in education and reforming government. Johnson said Dayton raised taxes too high and the jobs he created still left many Minnesotans underemployed.

Johnson labeled Dayton as incompetent and said the Democrat did not know what was in bills he signed. Dayton, however, said that Republicans were nitpicking on details when they should focus on the fact that as governor he took the state from a $6 billion budget deficit to budget surplus.

Dayton said Tuesday’s election would be his last. After he worked briefly as a New York City teacher, he began working for then-U.S. Sen. Walter Mondale 39 years ago. He later moved to the administration of Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich and served one term as auditor and one as U.S. Senate, with a defeat in his first governor’s race in between.

This year’s election was the first time Dayton ever ran for a second term. He said that the governor’s office suits him better than any job he has held. Dayton grew up in the Twin Cities, where he has lived much of his life.

Johnson is a lawyer raised in Detroit Lakes, Minn. He attended college in nearby Moorhead, worked out of state for a few years, became a Minnesota state representative and lost a race for state attorney general. He has been the lone Republican Hennepin County commissioner the past six years.

Headed into the election, Dayton led Johnson by an average of nearly 9 points in October polls.

Minnesota’s governor serves a four-year term and next year will be paid $123,912.

The Dayton-Johnson campaign began with the candidates giving voters few specifics. Dayton campaigned very little until October arrived, while Johnson was on the trail much of the time all year.

Taxes were a major issue in the campaign.

Dayton often talked about how his plan to raise taxes $2 billion, mostly on the rich, provided needed funds for state programs such as education. He won that proposal when voters two years ago gave him a House and Senate controlled by fellow Democrats.

However, things did not go as well for Dayton in his first two years in office. Right out of the chute, he and Republicans clashed on the budget, leading to a 21-day shutdown in 2011.

Johnson did not discuss the shutdown as much as he talked about Dayton not knowing items in bills he signed into law.

Final debate summarizes governor race

TPT debate

By Don Davis

Minnesota governor candidates who often deliver long campaign speeches neatly summarized their differences during their final debate

“Minnesota is moving forward,” Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday night, pointing to the fact that more people are employed now than when he took office nearly four years ago and that education has received more money.

“We need to have an engaged governor,” countered Republican Jeff Johnson, who added that Dayton frequently has not known what was in bills he signed.

The two comments echoed, in short form, what the competitors have said for the past month. Those simple comments were accentuated Friday night with frequent jabs at each other and demands to “let me finish” as both candidates often tried to talk at the same time.

In the Halloween night debate on Twin Cities Public Television’s “Almanac” show, to be rerun throughout the weekend of public television stations serving Minnesota, Johnson and Dayton were serious and determined to make their last major pitch to voters before Tuesday’s election.

Johnson said a “fundamental difference” between the candidates is over his proposal to audit every state program to determine what needs to continue. Dayton, Johnson said, thinks state money is being well spent, but he argued that is not the case.

“To imply that the state is just throwing money blindly at programs, that just is not true,” Dayton said.

On education, Johnson charged that Dayton makes decisions based on what the teachers’ union wants.

“If you think that, you don’t understand my 37 years of public service,” Dayton rebutted.

The two also argued about how to respond to a federal judge who says the state needs to change how it handles sex offenders. If the state does not take action, the judge could order his own changes, that could cost the state more than leaders want to pay, or sex offenders could be released.

Dayton blamed House Republicans for refusing to work with him and other legislators to make needed sex offender law changes. Without them on board, he said, it did not make sense to move forward with legislation.

“You had the opportunity to do it, governor, and you didn’t,” Johnson said.

“It is easy to stand on the sideline and throw rocks,” Dayton responded.

Neither candidate gave a solution to the problem.

Five names appear on Minnesota’s governor ballot Tuesday, but only Johnson and Dayton have achieved any traction. The Independence Party’s Hannah Nicollet appeared in two debates, but she has raised so little money and received such low poll numbers that she is a minor factor in the race.

For much of the campaign, Dayton and Johnson gave voters few specifics, but details began coming to the surface in October.

When he ran four years ago, his second try at the governor’s office, Dayton promised to raise taxes on the rich and increase education spending. He achieved his goals, mostly because two years ago voters put fellow Democrats in control of both the House and the Senate. But he also was part of a 2011 government shutdown when he and Republican legislative leaders could not agree on a budget.

Johnson’s campaign has attacked Dayton over several specific issues, especially the state-run MNsure online health insurance site. Johnson was critical that Dayton said rates would rise 4.5 percent next year, although it appears most Minnesotans will pay much higher increases than that. He also accused Dayton of pressuring PreferredOne insurance company to charge too little for premiums last year.

While one of Dayton’s commissioners did ask PreferredOne to consider lowering its initial rates, Dayton told reporters Wednesday that he intentionally stayed out of the discussion because it would have been inappropriate for him to be involved.

Dayton likes to talk about gains in employment around the state in the past four years, while Johnson says that even though more Minnesotans are employed today, many do not hold jobs as good as they should.

Johnson and Dayton each have raised about $2 million this year, although Dayton has gathered in more for the entire campaign cycle. Groups other than the campaigns spent nearly $5 million on the governor’s race as of Oct. 20, with Dayton getting the most benefit.

The person who wins Tuesday will receive $123,912 in pay next year. The governor serves a four-year term.

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Dayton

Mark Dayton

The incumbent governor, 67, has spent nearly 40 years in government jobs and public office. However, his first four-year term in as the top state official has proven to be his favorite job, he says. Dayton has been elected state auditor and U.S. senator as well as serving in top posts in the Gov. Rudy Perpich administration.

Johnson

Jeff Johnson

Johnson, 47, likes to point out that he has lived nearly half his life in greater Minnesota, unlike Dayton. Johnson grew up in Detroit Lakes and attended college in Moorhead, before leaving for a while. He is a lawyer who served in the state House and serves on the Hennepin County board. He lost the 2006 attorney general race.

Democrats’ goal: Get members to vote

Democrats rally

By Don Davis

Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party leaders are on a 30-city pre-election tour with one overriding goal: Get party members to the polls Tuesday.

“When we show up, we win,” Democratic Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges told dozens of party loyalists gathered on a chilly Wednesday morning.

After the rally, featuring 14 speakers, DFL leaders boarded a bus to begin their tour that will last through election eve.

There is a serious concern among Democrats that their members will not show up Tuesday, handing some tight races to Republicans.

While Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sen. Al Franken held slim leads in recent polls, Republicans say they are closing the gap in the top two races.

Dayton’s race against Jeff Johnson and Franken’s contest with Mike McFadden have got much of the publicity this year, but just as important is which party controls the state House, where millions of dollars have seen spent to influence a dozen to two dozen tight races.

There is what appears to be a toss-up race in the 8th Congressional District in northeast and east-central Minnesota, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan is trying to hold off GOP upstart Stewart Mills. And western Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District features the tightest race Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson has faced in years, with Republican state Sen. Torrey Westrom nipping at his heels.

All of these contests will be decided by people who show up Tuesday.

“There always is a falloff in a non-presidential election,” Dayton said about voter turnout. “It usually affects more DFL voters than Republicans. … We will see who turns out because it all depends on who does turn out.” Franken remembers his 312-vote victory after the 2008 election, following months of recounts and legal wrangling.

Even with polls showing him in the lead this year, he said that he is running like he is behind.

Dayton “won by a large, large margin as far as I’m concerned,” Franken said about the governor’s 8,800-vote 2010 victory.

The governor said that he vetoed 57 bills when Republicans controlled the Legislature in his first two years in office.

Democrats would not have wanted them to become law, he said, adding that Minnesotans like progress they have seen with him in office, supported by a Democratic-controlled Legislature.

While key Democrats are on the bus, Republicans are scattered around the state.

On Wednesday, Johnson’s schedule included meeting voters at a Twin Cities transit station and stops in New Ulm, Fairmont and Worthington. McFadden, meanwhile, spent part of his day in Duluth.

Republicans launched a pre-election campaign against Dayton called “Stop the incompetence. Stop Mark Dayton.” On Wednesday, they alleged that Dayton is “unaware what’s in his bills,” including Vikings stadium seat licenses and farm implement repair taxes.

Dayton, however, told reporters Wednesday that Republicans are “nitpicking” and missing the overall picture of him taking a budget deficit and turning it into a surplus.

“I don’t expect them to have anything good to say about me,” Dayton said. “That is the way politics have become these days. You slash, you trash.” .

 

Election notebook: Dayton says he was not part of MNsure rates

Dayton

By Don Davis

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says he was not involved in a request for an insurance company to lower its rates.

Dayton said that it would not have been appropriate for him to be part of Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman’s request last year to PreferredOne to lower rates for 2014 health insurance policies it offered on the state-run MNsure Website.

After Rothman asked for the decrease, the insurer did lower rates. Now, PreferredOne says it will not offer policies on MNsure next year, citing lack of profit last year.

Republicans have tried to turn the instance into a campaign issue, saying that Dayton forced PreferredOne into lowering rates.

“I was not privy to the conversations … and I’m not supposed to be,” Dayton said Wednesday in response to a reporter’s question.

The Democratic governor added that the commissioner “cannot force anyone to lower rates.”

“I did not talk with Commissioner Rothman,” Dayton said when reporters pressed him if he knew about the request.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, has requested Dayton administration correspondence related to PreferredOne insurance rates under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

“We now know without a shadow of a doubt the Department of Commerce pressured health insurers to offer premiums that were unsustainable, forcing PreferredOne to leave the marketplace and leading to massive cost increases and fewer healthcare options for Minnesotans,” Benson said. “All signs point to the Dayton administration participating in calculated rate manipulation to gain political points, not caring about the harm done to consumers, and then trying to cover it up by misleading Minnesotans about the significant increases in their insurance premiums next year.”

Also, Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, requested that the Senate Commerce Committee look into the situation.

“The Commerce Committee should investigate whether the Department of Commerce’s role in setting health insurance rates was politically motivated,” Gazelka said.

PreferredOne offered the lowest-cost premiums in MNsure’s first year, but as enrollments open soon for its second year most Minnesotans buying private insurance through the site will pay higher rates.

Two debates left

Each of Minnesota’s top two races in Tuesday’s election has one debate left.

Next up will be a Friday night governor candidates’ debate between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican challenger Jeff Johnson on Twin Cities Public Television’s “Almanac.” It is to begin at 7 p.m. with co-hosts Cathy Wurzer and Eric Eskola and will air live on TPT2 in the Twin Cities and be rerun several times during the weekend on all public television stations serving Minnesota.

While the TPT debate will not have an audience, Minnesotans may attend a Minnesota Public Radio U.S. Senate candidate debate at 7 p.m. Sunday.

The traditional final debate of the season will be in downtown St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater between Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Republican Mike McFadden. It will air live on MPR stations across the state.

Dayton may not be available to meet trick-or-treaters invited to his home Friday night. Even without the governor, they will be able to visit Dayton’s official residence at 1006 Summit Ave. in St. Paul from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Treats will include a variety of goodies, ranging from Salted Nut Rolls to toothbrushes.

Early voting still open

Minnesotans still may cast ballots early.

Absentee ballots for the first time are available to anyone, not just who are ill or expect to be out of town on Election Day.

State law requires county election offices (as well as those in cities that coordinate elections) to accept absentee ballots through Friday during normal business hours. On Saturday, they must be open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and open until 5 p.m. Monday.

Minnesota Ebola plan less restrictive

Osterholm

By Don Davis

Minnesota officials will allow people coming from countries affected by Ebola more freedom than controversial rules enacted by some states.

The Minnesota rules require quarantines for people who have exposed while treating Ebola patients, even if they themselves do not show symptoms of the often-deadly virus, but others will be mostly free to move around the state. Those showing Ebola symptoms would be hospitalized.

Minnesota health officials Monday began to monitor one person who recently returned from West Africa. State officials received reports of nearly 30 people, mostly from Hennepin County, who have come from affected areas in the past week, and monitoring may expand to include some of them.

Some states have imposed tighter measures, such as quarantining all medical workers returning to the United States from the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where nearly 5,000 have died in an Ebola outbreak.

Four people have been diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, with just one now being treated.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger and other state health leaders Monday announced they will contact people returning from countries with an Ebola problem, then monitor them for three weeks, the incubation period of the virus. While the monitoring will be voluntary, Ehlinger said that he has the power to quarantine people for public safety reasons if they do not cooperate.

The governor said the plan is science based and should protect Minnesotans.

“We’re doing the worrying for the state of Minnesota,” Ehlinger said, joining Dayton in saying that Ebola is not easy to transmit so Minnesotans who have not been to the three specific African countries should be safe.

Director Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota’s Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy said Minnesota is one of the states most prepared to battle Ebola if it shows up here.

However, unlike some threats, Osterholm added, Ebola will not go away quickly. “This is the crisis, potentially, of the year.”

The Minnesota plan relies on lists of people who have traveled to the three affected countries sent from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kris Ehresmann of the Health Department said the department will “interview the individuals; we will obtain information on their experiences while in Africa.”

A plan worked out over the weekend by a team of Minnesota-based experts requires the Health Department to monitor people who have provided health care in an affected country and others who have been in one of the countries, both those who have been known to be exposed to Ebola and those who have not been.

Ehresmann, director of the department’s Infection Disease, Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division, said 30 to 40 people in the department are working full time on Ebola, with dozens of others in other state agencies also involved. Three Health Department workers are assigned full time to monitor people returning from West Africa, and Ehlinger said more will be assigned as needed.

Those being monitored will be forbidden from using use public transportation for trips longer than three hours and those with known Ebola exposure will not be able to use any public transit or attend mass gatherings.

Anyone who has treated an Ebola patient and has been exposed will be quarantined in his or her home.

All travelers coming from the three countries will be required to keep a log of all activities and close contacts for 21 days.

Ehlinger said his department’s Ebola team will make specific decisions on a case-by-case basis.

The commissioner said that monitoring will begin as a voluntary action, with the citizen taking his or her own temperature and reporting health conditions to the department twice a day. If any Ebola symptoms are shown, the person will be directed to a treatment center.