Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Memorial Day photoblog

"Never in the history of the world has any soldier sacrificed more for the freedom and liberty of total strangers than the American soldier. And, our soldiers don't just give freedom abroad, they preserve it for us here at home."

—Sen. Zell Miller (D-Georgia), address to the 2004 Republican National Convention

Armed Forces Day (photo: North Star Liberty)
Armed Forces Day
Salute to Our Military
May 20, 2006
Grace Church, Eden Prairie

JAVM (photo: North Star Liberty)
Japanese American Veterans of Minnesota
Memorial Day Observance
May 22, 2006
Fort Snelling National Cemetery

Memorial Day (photo: North Star Liberty)
American Legion Post 118
Memorial Day Observance
May 29, 2006
Heritage Park, Wayzata

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Minnesota's Mr. Right to return home

Jason Lewis (photo: WBT-AM, or KSTP-AM?)

"There's no place like home, there's no place like home..." He'll be back just in time to rile up the conservative base for the fall elections, on 100.3 KTLK-FM The FM News Talk. We hope the mics and studio webcam will be turned on to record Jason's first meeting with Brian Lambert.

Terri Bonoff: Twins stadium tax, whether you want it or not

Sen. Terri Bonoff (photo: Minnesota SenateIn spite of portraying herself as a moderate, Senate District 43's Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) showed that she can raise taxes and spend with the best of them during this session's stadium votes.

The Minnesota Senate, on a 34-32 vote (HF 2480), granted Hennepin County an exemption from the state law that requires local units of government to ask for voter permission to levy a local option sales tax. Hennepin County plans to levy a 0.15 percent sales tax to subsidize the Minnesota Twins baseball stadium and fund "political cover" projects such as youth sports and libraries in Hennepin County.

A little talked-about provision of the bill also grants Anoka County permission to levy up to a 0.75 percent local option sales tax, also without a referendum, to build a retractable roof Vikings stadium. This provision is contingent on legislative approval of the development and financing agreement for the stadium:
Representatives of Anoka County and the Minnesota Vikings shall negotiate an agreement for the development and financing of a stadium that meets the programmatic requirements of the National Football League, and that has a retractable roof, to be located in the city of Blaine. A report on the agreement must be presented to the legislature by January 15, 2007.

Subdivision 1. Authorization. To provide local government revenue to finance a football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, located in the city of Blaine, Anoka County may impose a general sales and use tax on sales subject to taxation under Minnesota Statutes, chapter 297A, within its jurisdiction of not more than 0.75 percent. The tax imposed under this section must terminate 30 days after the county board determines that sufficient revenues have been received from the tax and other sources to retire or redeem the bonds issued to pay for the stadium...

Subd. 3. Exemption from local approval requirement. This section is not subject to the local approval requirement under Minnesota Statutes, section 645.021.
If any one of the 34 senators had voted no, these tax increases would not have passed. Sen. Bonoff was one of only three suburban and two Minneapolis senators from Hennepin County to help pass the referendum-free tax increase. Five DFL senators, including Senate Taxes Committee chairman Sen. Larry Pogemiller (DFL-Minneapolis), joined their Republican Hennepin County colleages in voting against the referendum exemption.

Hennepin County senators voting NO:

Bill Belanger (R-Bloomington)
Linda Berglin (DFL-Minneapolis)
Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis)
Chris Gerlach (R-Apple Valley)
David Hann (R-Eden Prairie)
Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove)
Geoff Michel (R-Edina)
Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista)
Larry Pogemiller (DFL-Minneapolis)
Jane Ranum (DFL-Minneapolis)
Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope)

Hennepin County senators voting YES:

Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka)
Linda Higgins (DFL-Minneapolis)
Steve Kelley (DFL-Hopkins)
Linda Scheid (DFL-Brooklyn Park)
Wes Skoglund (DFL-Minneapolis)

When asked to state her position on the stadiums at the League of Women Voters forum last fall, Bonoff said "not now" regarding the Vikings stadium, but in addition to the final stadium bill, Bonoff also voted in favor of an earlier version that funded the Twins, Vikings, and University of Minnesota stadiums with a 0.5 percent, seven-county metro area tax and a 13 percent wholesale sports memorabilia tax.

By voting to increase taxes without a referendum to subsidize professional sports, Sen. Bonoff showed how her beliefs differ from that of most Minnesotans (according to recent polls), and from fiscal conservatives in the west metro.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Bob Collins: I'm growing to hate this word: "blogosphere"

Check out Bob Collins's interesting reflections on the evolving role of blogs in politics. Collins is the senior editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio and coordinated MPR's political coverage in the 1990s. Collins also blogs as Polinaut, and he has piped up in this blog's comment section.
One of the real tensions right now in the political universe is a clash of cultures between people whose goal it is to control the message (aided and abetted by an only-too-willing media, by the way) and a medium that cannot be controlled.

I know that many politicians and their campaigns read blogs, so chew on this idea: this week, visit your favorite blog, and ENGAGE. Visit the ones you don't like, the ones that are saying bad things about you (go to the source) and ENGAGE. Just to see what happens.
What Collins does not explain very well is why he is growing to hate the word "blogosphere." It sounds to me that it's not the blogosphere itself that he hates, it's just the term "blogosphere."

Monday, May 15, 2006

Stadium lobbying isolates politicians from reality

By John Marty

Two recent polls show that there are different realities in Minnesota stadium politics:

AT THE CAPITOL, Governor Pawlenty and many legislators have made stadium funding a top priority. Most legislators sincerely believe that a majority of their constituents support the stadium subsidies.

Legislators of both parties are now proudly describing stadium funding, along with the bonding bill and eminent domain legislation as the main priorities they plan to accomplish this session.

AROUND MINNESOTA, people oppose using taxpayer money to pay for any professional sports stadium by more than two-to-one (65% - 30%, according to a May 11 poll for KSTP by SurveyUSA.) While more people thought the Twins needed a new stadium than the Vikings or Gophers, it was still only 35% of the public that thought they needed one, according to a May 14 Star Tribune/Minnesota Poll. And, when asked about paying for it, 68% of the public opposed the use of public money, with 59% of them STRONGLY opposed (Minnesota Poll.) Despite years of expensive advertising and PR campaigns on behalf of public subsidies, the voters remain strongly opposed.

Why is the "reality" at the capitol so far removed from the attitudes of the public? After a decade of intensive lobbying, PR efforts, and campaign contributions by team owners and their lobbyists, the Governor and legislative leaders have come to believe in a new reality.

These political leaders are living in a bubble in which they end up talking to lobbyists for the team owners and their allies more than to their constituents.

Furthermore, these legislators believe the "astroturf" (phony "grassroots") lobbying campaign organized by highly-paid consultants and PR firms actually reflects public opinion.

These public officials are so confident they are doing what the public wants that they dismiss the two new polls as unbelievable. Politicians who are usually eager to do what polls show to be popular, reject these polls because they don't mesh with their "reality."

Legislators from greater Minnesota have been persuaded by the stadium lobby that the vast majority of their constituents support the subsidy bills because it is not their constituents that will be stuck with the taxes for a stadium, but people in other communities. Yet the KSTP/SurveyUSA poll shows that people outside of the metro area oppose the taxpayer subsidies just as people in the metro area do. It doesn't occur to these lawmakers that their constituents understand the unfairness of the tax and don't think their fellow citizens in Hennepin or Anoka county should be stuck with it either.

Likewise, the stadium lobby has persuaded many politicians that the dreaded stadium issue will go away if they give in and provide the subsidies demanded. These politicians don't realize that as soon as these stadiums are funded, new demands will crop up. They don't see the writing on the wall about the Timberwolves stadium wishes when team owner Glen Taylor tells the Star Tribune, "I was in politics... the last thing we need is [a Target Center funding debate] NOW. (emphasis added)"

In previous years, the Governor and legislators understood that these taxpayer subsidies were unpopular with the public, so public officials claimed that they did not consider stadiums to be a priority, only an option that would be nice to do. Now, Governor Pawlenty and legislative leaders have given up any pretense of that, and will freely admit that although the state won't be doing anything significant to address our education or healthcare or transportation needs this session, they want to make sure we fund at least two stadiums.

To the credit of Minnesota voters, they have held fast to their principled opposition to stadium subsidies despite the expensive stadium PR campaigns. Nevertheless, the stadium lobby has shown that with enough money, they can persuade many sports fans that taxpayer subsidies are important, even though they are designed primarily to bring more money into team owners' pockets. Through their well-funded efforts, the stadium lobby has generated many calls and emails to legislators demanding action. And, using campaign contributions and a bus-load of lobbyists, they have made stadium subsidies not only an issue, but a priority, at the capitol.

John Marty is a DFL Senator from Roseville.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Education Minnesota promotes health insurance mandate

Health insurance can be a dry topic, but the Education Minnesota teachers union is promoting a health insurance plan that would impact every public school district in Minnesota. Taxpayers should take notice.

The Association of Metropolitan School Districts (AMSD) sent the following position statement on the proposal to force all school districts to join a health insurance buying pool, a mandate that could increase health insurance costs for many districts. The statement was sent to legislators and AMSD member school districts:
AMSD opposes legislation that would create a mandatory statewide health insurance pool for school employees. Specifically, AMSD is opposed to HF 517/SF 1459, legislation that would mandate all school employees join a statewide health insurance pool, as well as an alternative proposal which mandates that employees in school districts with fewer than 400 full-time teachers join a modified Public Employee Insurance Program (PEIP).

There has been some confusion as to whether or not the proposal that would mandate that school employees in districts with fewer than 400 full-time teachers join PEIP is a compromise. In fact, this is NOT a compromise proposal and AMSD is opposed to this measure which is currently contained in the House State Government Finance Bill, HF 2833.

Under HF 2833, 317 of the state’s 344 school districts would be immediately mandated into PEIP. School employees in school districts with more than 400 full-time teachers are also greatly impacted by this proposal. The proposal allows each exclusive bargaining unit in districts with more than 400 full-time teachers to determine whether or not they will join the PEIP pool with the school board and other employee groups having no say in the matter. Local control would be severely compromised under this proposal.

Alternatively, AMSD supports HF 3625/SF 3359, legislation that would provide new voluntary options to school districts through the Public Employee Insurance Plan (PEIP). This proposal would maintain local control by allowing school boards to work with their employees and communities to design a health insurance plan that best meet their needs. Under HF 3625/SF 3359, school boards and their employee groups would have the option of joining the modified PEIP program which would offer coverage similar to what is currently available to state employees. School boards and their employees would have available to them the same benefit design and health care cost containment and quality improvement initiatives now available to state employees. At the same time, those school boards and employees groups that have worked hard through the collective bargaining process to design a health plan with cost containment measure and a benefit design that meets their needs would not be forced to abandon that effort.
According to AMSD Executive Director Scott Croonquist in an e-mail to AMSD members, "It appears that there will be an amendment offered tomorrow [May 12] in the Senate and possibly the House related to the mandatory school employee health insurance pool. In the Senate, the likely target is the State Government Finance bill, SF 2618, authored by Sen. Sheila Kiscaden. In the House it is possible that there will be an attempt to amend the Education policy bill, HF 3179, sponsored by Rep. Mark Buesgens."

You wouldn't let them campaign on a platform of more mandates, decreased local control, and higher fixed costs for school districts, so why let them govern that way?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Bad apples?

Honeycrisp apples (Photo: University of Minnesota)

While not exactly rising to the level of scandal, yesterday's 53-4 vote in the Minnesota Senate to designate the Honeycrisp™ apple as Minnesota's state fruit got us wondering: who were the four Senators who voted no?

The Pioneer Press reported this morning that "Teacher Laurel Avery's fourth-grade class at Andersen Elementary School in Bayport chose the Honeycrisp because it was developed through the University of Minnesota's apple-breeding program." Next they wrote their state Senator, Sen. Brian LeClair (R-Woodbury), who introduced SF 2302 last year. Rep. Mike Charron (R-Woodbury) introduced the companion bill in the House, where it awaits action in committee.

If you have never had a Honeycrisp apple, wait until this fall and visit one of the local apple orchards for a taste. It is absolutely the crispest, juiciest, tastiest apple you'll ever eat. You might pay a little more for a Honeycrisp, but what could be a more quintessential Minnesota experience than having a Minnesota-grown apple on a crisp fall afternoon at an apple orchard? And why not promote the U and Minnesota agriculture by designating the Honeycrisp the official state fruit?

So what where Senators Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), John Marty (DFL-Roseville), Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul), and Wes Skoglund (DFL-Minneapolis) thinking when they voted "no," even after Senate Majority Leader Sen. Dean Johnson (DFL-Willmar) designated the Honeycrisp bill a "special order," calling for an immediate vote?

Apparently, for some in the Legislature, everything is partisan politics.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Online petition for a referendum on stadium taxes

An online petition has just been posted to demand that Governor Tim Pawlenty veto any stadium bill that does not include a referendum on any stadium tax:
Dear Governor Pawlenty,

We, the undersigned Minnesota Taxpayers, demand that you, Tim Pawlenty, Governor of the State of Minnesota, VETO all stadium funding bills that do not allow us, the taxpayers, the right to vote for any sales tax increases.

This is what the law requires, and we demand that you uphold the law.

Thank you,

The Undersigned Taxpaying Citizens of The State of Minnesota
The petition was created by an activist named Shar in Minneapolis. Shar says in an e-mail to referendum supporters, "LET ME MAKE THIS PERFECTLY CLEAR, THIS IS NOT ABOUT BEING ANTI-STADIUM; THIS IS PRO-REFERENDUM. I want to be able to vote, and should a referendum vote be cast that says, 'Yes, WE THE PEOPLE are willing to fund this new stadium,' then I will live with that decision."

My thoughts exactly. According to Shar, in the nine years since the state law was enacted requiring a referendum to approve a local option sales tax increase, the Legislature has never granted an exemption. If the sales tax is such a good idea, let's follow state law and have a referendum.

Sign the petition here.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

If I ran the PiPress

I don't know about the rest of you bloggers, but the PiPress out-blogged me today with a wonderfully breezy, unsigned lead editorial on the Legislature's latest stadium machinations:
We went to the stadium fight at the Capitol this week and a transit plan broke out.

Who knew? The 10-year-old battle over a new stadium for the Minnesota Twins is just a cover for putting train tracks and busways from here to Anoka. It sure seemed that way at the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday, where a reluctant Democratic-Farmer-Labor majority lumped the Twins' ballpark, the Vikings' stadium and a futuristic transit plan into a huge tax package.

With lids on each park. A half-cent metropolitan sales tax hike that never ends, sending money to transit programs existing only as dotted map lines. And a referendum so voters in the seven-county metro area can just say no.

What fun!
Add to that a reality check on gas prices by David Strom on the facing page, and a cautionary editorial cartoon on Iran's nuclear program, and you get a refreshing right-leaning counterweight to the Strib. So where's the west metro edition?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The devil and Sandy Pappas

It's official:
"I would sell my soul for transit," said Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, a supporter of a proposed light-rail line from Minneapolis to St. Paul.
Not to be outdone by Hennepin County's $1 billion sales tax for the roofless Twins stadium and other boondoggles, the Senate DFL is proposing a $13 billion, seven-county sales tax for two retractable roof stadia for the Twins and Vikings, $12 billion of which would go for mass transit projects.

In both cases, the public subsidy for billionaire professional sports teams is only a small fraction of the total tax being proposed — the tip of the iceberg!

Some of these politicians would sell their souls to spend your money on their pet boondoggle. This is why state law requires a referendum before local units of government can levy or raise a local option sales tax. In the case of a county tax, cities will get stuck paying it on their purchases, which will result in increased property taxes.

County sales tax increase = Property tax increase.

Minnesota taxpayers need the Taxpayers League of Minnesota now more than ever.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Senate Taxes Committee: let the people vote

Yesterday the Senate Taxes Committee voted unanimously to deny Hennepin County an exemption from the state law that would require a referendum for Hennepin County's proposed billion-dollar stadium tax. Hennepin County wants to establish a new sales tax that would raise $1.1 billion over 30 years, of which only a portion would fund a new Minnesota Twins baseball stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

"This referendum vote is a huge victory for taxpayers because the opinion of voters prevailed over the team owner’s special interest lobbyists," said Laura Lehmann of Citizens for a Stadium Tax Referendum, in a press release.

The Pioneer Press reported, "[Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat] and Jerry Bell, Twins owner Carl Pohlad's representative in negotiations with lawmakers, said Monday the county and the team would abandon their stadium plan rather than submit the issue to voters."

SD 43 Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Plymouth) favors granting Hennepin County permission to levy the new tax without a referendum of its residents.

If the stadium tax is such a good idea, let us vote on it, as required by state law. As Judy Johnson, Republican challenger for Bonoff's Senate seat, said,
The Plymouth City Council, last year, passed a motion that Hennepin County should send this proposed tax increase to the voters as required by current law. The county commissioners, on a very narrow split vote, chose not to do so and want an exemption from state law to enact an increase in the sales tax on Hennepin County taxpayers. All cities pay sales tax on their purchases — enacted in the early 90s when the state hit deficits a decade ago. The state sales tax is, therefore, rolled into property taxes. Also, cities that propose a local option sales tax or an increase in their sales tax for local projects, like libraries, must go for voter approval as required by state law. I would hope common sense would prevail and not force a minority of taxpayers to be left without a voting voice — this is very bad tax policy.
Hennepin County sales tax increase = Property tax increase.

Monday, May 01, 2006

There goes the judge

Congratulations to SD 43 favorite son Ron Abrams (R-Minnetonka) on his appointment to the Hennepin County court by Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Now that Rep. Jeff Johnson (R-Plymouth) is running for attorney general, former Sen. David Gaither (R-Plymouth) was appointed Governor Pawlenty's chief of staff, and Abrams will retire from the legislature at the end of the session, we now know for sure that no more SD 43 incumbents will be vacating their seats this year (unless the DFL endorsed candidate Sen. Terri Bonoff suddenly resigns!).

Minntelect tells this story by the numbers and makes some early election predictions.

I am an American

In the last century, an immigrant group came to the United States seeking a better life. They took jobs in agriculture, gardening, and house cleaning. They ran fruit stands and opened grocery stores. In spite of virulent racism, they decided that their children would be born in America and would become Americans in every sense of the word. They insisted that only English would be spoken outside the home. When their sons were turned away from joining the local Boy Scout troop, they formed new troops. Some of the children were educated in the "old country," but most grew up in American public schools, where their parents insisted that they earn grades at the top of their class.

When war was declared on the country of their ancestors, they proudly declared on large signs, "I AM AN AMERICAN." When their country removed them en masse from their homes and interned them in concentration camps in the name of "military necessity," then ironically asked them to enlist in the Armed Forces to defend liberty, they volunteered in droves and served and died for their country. The parents joined their natural-born American children as naturalized American citizens as soon as federal law permitted it.

Not only did they understand the meaning of E Pluribus Unum, they lived it. Today, the racism faced by their first and second generations is memorialized in a park in Washington, D.C. Today, they are everyday Americans, sharing their culture with their fellow Americans, living the American dream.

On this Loyalty Day 2006, I salute the Japanese American immigrants of my grandparents' generation, and their children (like my parents), and fly the American flag in their honor.
Loyalty Day is also a time for us to reflect on our responsibilities to our country as we work to show the world the meaning and promise of liberty. The right to vote is one of our most cherished rights and voting is one of our most fundamental duties. By making a commitment to be good citizens, flying the American flag, or taking the time to learn about our Nation's history, we show our gratitude for the blessings of freedom. —President George W. Bush, 2006