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Racino add-on to stadium bill is probably short-lived

Aaaaaand it’s back, for a day at least. Our Doug Grow and Tim Nelson of MPR report on the return of the racino. “In a surprise maneuver," writes Nelson, "supporters of putting slot machines at Minnesota horse tracks tacked a racino plan onto the Vikings stadium bill on Wednesday. As the Senate finance committee approved the bill it added a plan to legalize slot machines at horse tracks as a backup financing mechanism. The measure will now head for the Senate tax committee, and could be headed for a vote by both the House and Senate within days. … Stadium bill author Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said the addition threatens to kill the bill. She said there is still time to strip the racino option, which is likely to draw opposition from the state's Indian tribes and gambling opponents.”


Charley Shaw at Politics in Minnesota delivers a very thorough overview of the stadium’s “reversal of fortune”:  “[A]n intense lobbying campaign that has seen labor and business moving in concert for the first time has kept the bill alive and moving. House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said he believes the push from labor, in particular, has exerted a restraining influence over elements of the legislative DFL that had been inclined to engage in gamesmanship over the stadium. ‘Labor has been pushing very, very hard,’ Dean said. ‘There are a lot of their members that are on the bench. When they see political games being played, they get angry.’ The bill’s chief author, Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, noted that the business lobby has turned up the heat on Republicans in a similar fashion. … In addition, the revenue potential of e-pulltabs has proven to be a point of contention. Many legislators have expressed doubts that authorizing an electronic version of a game that is played mainly by older people will yield any serious windfall to the state or to sponsoring charities. And those doubts have cast a spotlight on backup revenue sources conceived to make sure that any revenue shortfall from electronic pulltabs and bingo does not have to be made up by drawing down general fund dollars.”

“Where’s ours?” is pretty much the cry from St. Paul as the Legislature continues its march toward a load of taxpayer goodies for Minneapolis. Rochelle Olson in the Strib writes: “Mayor Chris Coleman found himself Wednesday in a position familiar to many of his predecessors at St. Paul City Hall: Pleading with legislators for state investment in the eastern twin city. ‘If you feed one twin and starve the other, one of them is going to die,’ he told the Senate Finance Committee, a majority of whom were not swayed. The panel stripped from the $1 billion Vikings stadium bill a provision that would have forgiven St. Paul's $43 million indebtedness from 1993 for the RiverCentre Convention Center downtown. Given the $400 million in state money that would go toward the stadium and the discussion of an additional $150 million for the Target Center — both in Minneapolis — Coleman doesn't want his city to be left out. The mayor is seeking money for a trifecta of projects. In addition to the RiverCentre, he would like cancellation of $34.75 million in loan payments for the Xcel Energy Center and $27 million put in the bonding bill for a new 7,000-seat St. Paul Saints ballpark in Lowertown. So far, things are not going so well.”  But the mayor is getting more comfortable with that “dying twin” metaphor.

Accretive Health Inc., charged by Attorney General Lori Swanson with pursuing patients into the emergency rooms over unpaid bills, saw its stock price crater. The AP reports: “Shares of Accretive Health Inc. plunged Wednesday, after the Minnesota attorney general reported that the Chicago company advised a Minnesota hospital to use high-pressure tactics to collect money from some patients before administering care. … SHARE ACTION: Down 30 percent, or $5.54, to $12.95 in afternoon trading. Earlier shares traded at $12.42, the lowest price since June 2010.”

I still want to keep an eye on this one … Dennis Lien of the PiPress writes: “Moments after the Minnesota House overwhelmingly approved a measure changing oversight of state school trust lands, Republicans and Democrats shook hands and exchanged hugs. On the House floor. At center aisle. That unusual display of bipartisanship on Wednesday ... reflected years of work by several lawmakers to shift administration of school trust lands from the state Department of Natural Resources. They contended the DNR has not done a good job of generating revenue for schoolchildren from those properties. The House, and a couple of hours later the Senate, repassed an updated version establishing a Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission and a trust lands director, appointed by the governor, to oversee and administer land given to the state in the mid-19th century. … The bill, however, was not without critics. Several DFLers said two provisions inserted during conference committee negotiations undermine the package. They said one of them would eliminate legislative approval of lakeshore sales and the other appears to allow future Legacy and Environmental Trust Fund dollars to be used to buy land already under state control. Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, called those efforts a ‘money grab.' ''   

Some alleged swindles don’t even compare to the big dogs … Sarah Horner at the PiPress reports: “Blaine's longtime chief building official is scheduled to appear in court Thursday ... on charges of using his authority as a city employee to swindle a resident. Gary Hagedorn faces one count of gross-misdemeanor misconduct as a public officer and one count of misdemeanor theft by swindle in the 2010 incident, according to a criminal complaint in Anoka County District Court. … Hagedorn, a 16-year employee in charge of Blaine's building and inspections division, is accused of telling a resident in need of extensive home renovations that he was qualified to conduct an electrical inspection of the man's residence, the complaint said. Hagedorn also claimed he could do the work for less than it would cost to hire a state inspector. Before the exchange, the city had designated the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry as the inspection authority for all electrical inspections in Blaine, the complaint said. On August 9, 2010, the resident ... wrote a $400 check to Hagedorn for the work.”

Joe Senser was on the stand in his wife’s trial Wednesday. Abby Simons of the Strib says: “Joe Senser knew his wife hit more than a construction cone or barrel when he examined the damage to his Mercedes-Benz the morning of Aug. 24. He was still giving Amy Senser the silent treatment, he testified Wednesday, angry for being roused from bed the night before to pick up their teenage daughters and two of their friends from a concert at the Xcel Energy Center after she failed to show up. The next morning, he said, his annoyance turned to panic when he looked at the ‘odd’ damage to the front right fender, then saw a news report online that a man had been killed on the Riverside Avenue exit ramp. … Under questions by his wife's attorney, Eric Nelson, Senser said he regretted being angry with his wife for getting lost that night because she was on antibiotics for a sinus infection and her migraines were returning. He said he never smelled alcohol on her or suspected she had been drinking. ‘Not at all,’ he testified. ‘Never even crossed my mind’."

Following Joe Soucheray’s lead … the Strib puts up an editorial on the misplaced privacy notions regarding payouts of public money: “Count it as a partial victory: The state Department of Administration said this week that Burnsville school officials should not have blacked out parts of a $255,000 settlement agreement with a former employee. News media organizations, including the Star Tribune, and outraged citizens had challenged the school district's decision to redact nine lines of a separation agreement with Tania Z. Chance, the former human-resources director, leaving taxpayers in the dark about the use of their dollars. … even the unredacted document fails to give specifics about the circumstances that prompted Chance and the district to part ways. A proposal to strengthen the state's Data Practices Act would fix that problem. Rep. Pam Myhra, R-Burnsville, has introduced a bill that would close loopholes and mandate that complete terms of agreements must be disclosed and specific reasons given for big payouts.”

The lefty Capital Times in Madison serves up an editorial that is, shall we say, “uncomplimentary” of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. After noting various legal predicaments of previous high government officials, it says: “While past governors have had their ethical challenges, Gov. Scott Walker is in an ethical — and legal — league of his own. In recent days, Walker has been dogged on his recall election campaign trail by questions about when exactly he decided to hire a team of criminal defense lawyers to help him navigate the challenges posed by an ever-expanding John Doe inquiry into allegations of felony wrongdoing by individuals he employed as aides and hit up for campaign contributions. Walker also faces questions about why he worked so hard to suggest in February that he only recently began hiring former federal prosecutors and lawyers with experience defending criminal conspirators — when, in fact, it now appears that he began assembling a defense team as much as a year ago. … It is important to recognize that Walker’s establishment of a legal defense fund, his hiring of a team of criminal defense lawyers and moves by the governor and his campaign to retain four top law firms to help deal with an investigation into official and campaign corruption does not mean that Scott Walker has committed any crimes. That is for prosecutors, judges and juries to determine. But the governor’s refusal to speak openly or frankly about the fact that he has, indeed, organized a legal defense fund and that he is, indeed, ‘lawyering up’ is another issue.”

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Comments (4)

Senser trial coverage has been mixed

I watched one KSTP video that clearly used footage of a different ramp in one story, and another KSTP story where they used a severely underexposed video to imply that it was pitch black on that ramp that night. That ramp is as well lit as any other ramp in the Cities, and the KSTP trooper video was either darkened or underexposed.

Tuesday's Strib coverage ran long during the day, but once they had their video footage ready to insert, the Strib editors slashed the article in half, taking care to leave in everything that made Brittani Senser sound like an ungrateful child and, of course, all references to the victim's bloodstream content (obviously his family should have hidden his body for a week so it could pass a drug test).

The Strib did publish a graphic that showed the construction barrels were all at the top of the ramp (as far away as possible from the actual accident scene), but the Strib failed to connect those obvious dots, preferring instead to push pro-Senser talking points. (I have the before and after pdfs from Tuesday if anyone would like to see how the Strib editing process shaped their coverage.)

The rest of the media has been pretty good, although you have to wonder why Esme Murphy was at the trial yesterday when she's not covering this story on her blog.

I don't have any inside dope on what's coming, but I strongly suspect the prosecution team's best cards have yet to be played. Eric Nelson has to be praying for a mistrial.

Well-lit ramp?

Mark - The media reports from the time of the accident indicated that, because of the construction, power had been shut off to the street lights along the ramp, so it would in fact have been dark on the ramp. I'm not saying that to exonerate anyone, just to present a more accurate picture. If those reports have been contradicted anywhere, I haven't seen it.

Tim, the media at the time parroted Eric Nelson's talking points

I took that ramp all the time including the night before and the night after the accident, and it was never dark.

You may have also gotten the notion from the media that the entire ramp was filled with cones and barrels. If you look at the Strib's graphic of the ramp, you'll see that ALL the barrels were at the top of the ramp.

Eric Nelson has successfully introduced a lot of spin into the coverage, and lazy reporters parrot the spin without investigating. I emailed the original Strib reporter (who was not at the scene that night) and he said the same thing about it being dark. He did not say he had contacted the city to see if the power was out, only that he was going by the Channel 5 footage which was spectaculary underdeveloped.

Second hand, but I heard from a family friend that the trooper shown in the clip was using his flashlight not to find evidence, but to read the information on the Mercedes part he was looking at. He then went to his car and googled up which model Mercedes had struck Phanthavong.

But since I can't PROVE the streetlights were on, let me ask you this: why would the construction crews or city cut power to a ramp they were not working on at night? Mr. Nelson has been very aggressive about trying to spin the facts, and he's succeeded quite well, at least with the more gullible members of our local media.

Chumming the stadium waters

seems to have worked. Business, labor, local government and their captive politicians are all in the pool. Give everyone something to eat and they'll all go after it, regardless of principle or priorities.

Do me these favors: the next time you want something done by state government and there's no money for it and no new revenue to be found, don't let me hear you complain; the next time you look at the cost of living and/or doing business in Minnesota, remember that you played a role in creating the problem.

If you'd really rather have a collection of mercenary athletes to call your own than safe roads and bridges, be proud. If you'd rather host a Super Bowl somewhere down the line than provide decent schools for your kids, have at it. If you prefer to continue the to allow a group of well-heeled owners use its monopoly to extort hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers in Minnesota and around the country, so be it.

If you really believe that it takes a major league football team to be a major league community, you've already lost.