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Pawlenty, senator agree rural roads funded fairly

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ST. PAUL -- The news release begged the question: Why spend up to $40 million on roadway congestion relief in the Twin Cities and only up to $5 million on improving safety of rural roads, where 70 percent of traffic fatalities occur?

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It is a natural question from a reporter whose work goes to 20 newspapers outside the Twin Cities.

"I knew you were going to ask that question, Don," Gov. Tim Pawlenty responded.

The governor quickly moved to quell any hint of urban favoritism, saying transportation spending is pretty evenly divided between the Twin Cities and the rest of Minnesota. He ordered a Minnesota Department of Transportation staffer to forward the proof, which arrived three hours later.

Pawlenty urged reporters to focus on the entire transportation budget.

"We are putting a lot of money into rural roads," he assured reporters.

Senate Transportation Chairman Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, agreed with Pawlenty. The two often have been at odds over the years.

"It is tough to do, but I have got to defend the governor a little bit here," Murphy said.

Death tolls are falling in rural Minnesota for many reasons, the senator added. "We are getting better at getting first responders there. We are getting people who are injured to a trauma center quicker."

Plus, more state troopers are patrolling the roads, thanks in a large part to Pawlenty. And transportation officials are doing a better job of engineering safe roads, Murphy said.

Franken helps friend

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is asking his supporters to help finance a North Dakota colleague's campaign.

Franken sent an e-mail message to his supporters asking them to donate to Sen. Byron Dorgan's campaign who last year, he said, "made the long trek from North Dakota to Minnesota and we spent some time talking to folks about helping small businesses and getting our economy moving again. I can't tell you how grateful I was for his insight and support."

Franken, who took office in July, said he has come to know Dorgan as a senator "and my respect for his dedication to public service continues to grow."

Federal Elections Commission reports indicate Dorgan's campaign has $4 million in the bank.

Franken often used e-mail to seek support for his campaign in the past year, then recount efforts as his race with Norm Coleman went into overtime.

'No state funds'

State Sen. John Marty, a Democratic governor candidate, says if California can hunt down a National Football League team with a stadium that costs no state money, the Minnesota Vikings can get a new stadium the same way.

"In Los Angeles, investors are building a new stadium, hoping to attract an NFL team," Marty wrote. "The lobbyists for Vikings owner Zygi Wilf are hoping to use L.A. to pressure Minnesota politicians into using taxpayer funds for a new Vikings stadium. They know most Minnesotans love the Vikings and are excited about the team's prospects. And, by holding open the possibility that the team will leave for Los Angeles, they hope to pressure the state into providing a massive taxpayer subsidy for the team. "

But Marty said he sees no need to spend state funds for a stadium, and said Minnesota faces too many money problems to consider it.

"Schools are laying off teachers, our courts are being cut to a point that threatens the integrity of our justice system, 31,000 of the most-sick people in our state are losing their health care," Marty said. "Minnesota has aging infrastructure, including schools and bridges, that need attention. And, on top of that, we are facing a multi-billion dollar budget deficit."

Marty recalls Wilf's testimony at a legislative committee saying that he plans to keep the Vikings in Minnesota. But there appears to be plenty of pressure for him to move the team to California.

The senator cites a study that shows if the state paid what the Vikings want for a new stadium, it would mean a $77-a-year subsidy for each of the 65,000 seats.

Pawlenty to Mexico

Gov. Tim Pawlenty plans to leave a trip to Mexico next month to help Minnesota companies increase exports.

Pawlenty and Mexican President Felipe Calderon plan to meet on Nov. 9. The governor also will meet with Minnesota business owners before returning to Minnesota on Nov. 10.

"Over the past 10 years, Mexico grew from Minnesota's 13th largest export market to sixth largest," Pawlenty said. "By sharing Minnesota's successes with business and political leaders in Mexico, we hope to expand an already strong relationship."

Business people wanting to attend Pawlenty's Mexico activities may contact Barbara Mattson (651) 259-7490 or barbara.mattson@state.mn.us by Wednesday.

Kohls out

State Rep. Paul Kohls suspended his campaign for governor, the first victim of a crowded field.

The Victoria Republican said that he still thinks he is the best candidate, but that does not appear to be the majority opinion.

"It has become clear to me that the activists are lining up in much greater numbers behind some of the other candidates in the race, and there continues to be speculation about others who may enter the race," Kohls wrote to supporters. "I certainly continue to believe that I'm the strongest Republican to take on the DFL candidate in 2010, but I also believe that this decision belongs to our party's delegates, not to me."

In an Oct. 3 Republican state convention straw poll, he finished fifth of nine candidates with 5 percent of the vote.

Poll finder

Minnesotans headed to the polls for Tuesday's local elections can find their polling places on line by going to http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.

Nearly a half million Minnesotans are expected to vote Tuesday for city and school officers.

Keep it simple

Any new federal health-care rules need to include paperwork reduction measures already in force in Minnesota, U.S. Sen. Al Franken says.

"Doctors and nurses should spend their time and resources dealing with patients, not paperwork," the Minnesota Democrat wrote to key committee chairmen. "I'm proud that Minnesota has been a leader in simplifying administrative processes. If the nation follows our example, we can save this country billions."

'Leave corn rows'

The Minnesota Department of Transportation pays farmers who leave about eight rows of corn stalks standing through the winter.

MnDOT pays more than a farmer would get by selling the corn.

The standing corn on the north and west sides of highways and interstates serves as a snow fence to help improve winter driving conditions and reduce snow plowing.

MnDOT reports the corn stalks can capture nearly 12,000 tons of snow in a quarter of a mile.

Farmers may contact their local MnDOT office or go to www.dot.state.mn.us/environment/livingsnowfence.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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