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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ST. PAUL - Minnesota sportsmen, environmentalists and arts supporters say paying a penny, or a little more, on every $4 purchase is a good investment in their interests. Debate on a bill raising the sales tax to support those programs began Wednesday in a Minnesota Senate committee. In the Senate alone, five bills are being considered, although they could merge into one as early as next week. Two major questions must be answered: How much would taxes rise and what special interest groups would share in the bounty?
ST. PAUL - Tribal casinos contribute $285 million to Minnesota's rural community annually, a new study shows. The report also indicates the casino industry is "mature," and not able to sustain more casinos without hurting existing ones. "There is an assumption out there that this is a never-ending industry," said John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, which funded the study. The association is best known for fighting efforts of some northern Minnesota tribes to establish a Twin Cities casino.
ST. PAUL - State and local government pension plans face $4 billion in deficits because they paid too rich benefits in good times, but did not cut them back in lean times, the Minnesota Legislative Auditor's Office reports. While Duluth has gained the most publicity on the issue, other cities and schools face similar problems keeping enough money to pay for retirement benefits Most of the problem is with health care provided retirees. One out of five local governments providing benefits beyond pensions faces financial problems, the audit indicates.
ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty suggests increasing Minnesota's two-year budget 9.3 percent, to $34.5 billion, while cutting local property taxes. As always, education gets the biggest dollar amount of his budget proposal, but veterans and military programs would see the biggest percentage increase, topping 50 percent. Health and human services programs would increase nearly 16 percent in one of the other biggest spending areas. The governor already had announced most proposals he included in the budget that he released this morning.
Some issues in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's $34.4 billion, two-year budget: Property taxes Much-discussed property tax cuts would consume $150 million of the budget. Of that, $10 million would go to increasing Local Government Aid, a state payment to cities, mostly rural and Minneapolis and St. Paul. Another $47 million would be used to give tax credits to homeowners across the state, with $40 million more going to schools. Pawlenty also would limit how much property taxes could rise in cities that get more than a third of their budgets from the state.
Some items from Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed $34.4 billion, two-year budget: -- While the total budget would be $55 billion, the state only has control over $34.4 billion. Much of the rest is federal money that just passes through the state budget. -- Only "emergency" and projects policymakers already have accepted would be included in a bonding proposal -- a measure for borrowing money for construction and similar uses.
ST. PAUL - It's a win-win-wind situation for Minnesota, renewable energy supporters say about a new legislative push that appears to be on the fast track. Four versions of a legislative proposal to increase use of renewable energy sources, such as wind, feature relatively minor differences this year after a half-dozen years of controversy. The biggest change is Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, has offered a bill similar to those of two Northland senators and one pushed by one of the most liberal senators. "The stars are aligned," Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St.
ST. PAUL - Rural and inner city communities would be hurt if Gov. Tim Pawlenty's property tax freeze plan is enacted, rural lawmakers say. "Why should you always kick the dog at the bottom?" asked Sen. Keith Langseth following Pawlenty's fifth State of the State address Wednesday. Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, and other rural lawmakers did not like the Republican governor's proposal to cap property taxes levied by local governments. The dispute is a continuation of one that has gone on for years.
ST. PAUL - Minnesota high schools would need to perform better under a set of reforms Gov. Tim Pawlenty unveiled Wednesday during his fifth State of the State address. "We're not just going to pay for good intentions anymore," Pawlenty told a packed House chamber. "We're going to pay for better performance as part of a new 'Successful Schools' initiative." The governor proposed increasing school funding by 2 percent each of the next two years, with the possibility of doubling it if a school earns at least three out of a possible five stars on the state school report card.