It was a big day for St. Paul. Following the Wild’s 3 to 1 victory over Calgary, hockey fans were dancing in St. Paul streets in celebration of the team’s first-ever division title. Meantime, the city’s taxpayers were hopeful that they too might soon be celebrating. A line in the massive budget bill forgives St. Paul the $37 million it still owes the state for the Xcel Energy Center, home of the Wild. Victories are sweet. Forgiveness even sweeter.
Ah, the budget bill. “This is a confusing garbage bill,” said Rep. Brad Finstad, R-Comfrey, in the Strib, “It’s the size of a small novel and it’s got everything under the big top.” The bill, which is an attempt to fix the state’s nearly $1 billion projected deficit, kept legislators up into the morning hours before passing. But it faces an uncertain future with Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who again is not happy with DFLers. PiPress’s Rachel Stassen-Berger reported on her blog that the bill, which previously had passed in the Senate, made it through the House at 2:30 Friday morning.
Included in the budget bill is some aid and comfort for the state’s beleaguered smokers. An amendment would allow smoking shelters outside bars and restaurants. “This is an environmental vote if you think about it,” said Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, “because all those butts are ending up on the street with those people standing out there.”
Minnesota’s most unhappy politician may be U.S. Rep. James Oberstar. Once an airlines industry cheerleader, he blistered the Federal Airlines Administration and “the culture of coziness between airlines and senior FAA management.” FAA inspectors have been blowing the whistles over that cozy relationship, which has led to airlines ignoring safety guidelines. Tom Brantley, president of the union that represents FAA inspectors, says Southwest, United, Continental, our very own Northwest are among the airlines which knowingly have violated safety regs.
Not only was Northwest in the news in Washington, it was making news at home. The airline announced that because of rising fuel costs, it would be reducing the number of domestic flights by 5 percent in the fall, grounding 15 to 20 planes, increasing fuel surcharges on some international flights, suspending plans to hire more pilots and flight attendants. The Strib noted what might be the most shocking development in this announcement: Northwest CEO Doug Steenland received applause from a union. “We believe that Mr. Steenland’s decision to reduce cost and increase revenues by avenues other than cutting employing pay and benefits and layoffs is the correct choice,” the pilots’ union said in a statement.
While on the subject of airlines, Strib’s Mary Jane Smetanka has a nice smell-the-roses (and jet fumes) piece about the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which is located across I-494 from the airport.
Among those who will be flying over the refuge is the Dalai Lama. He’s headed to the Mayo Clinic on April 16 to participate in a discussion with scientists and clinicians titled “Investigating the Mind-Body Connection.” Will China also end up as part of the discussion? We may never know. The appearance is not open to the public.
Things go better with Coke at the University of Minnesota. The Strib’s Jeff Shelman reports that next week the University’s board of regents will vote to keep Coca-Cola as the exclusive vendor on its campuses for the next decade. In return, the system will receive a super-sized check for $143.7 million from Coke. There’s a little (perhaps meaningless) caveat in the deal, which requires Coke to clean up its unethical business practices in Latin America. Because of alleged abusive labor practices, there are no Coke vending machines at the Carleton College campus in Northfield and several other campuses across the country.
Ramsey County residents who are scratching their heads over why their property value went down but their property tax went up can ask questions today from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at an “open book” meeting at the County’s Property Records and Revenue office at 90 W. Plato Blvd. in St. Paul, the PiPress reports.
In hard times, who do we turn to? Volunteers, of course. The DNR is training volunteers to hit state trails at the end of May. Wearing yellow vests and smiles, the volunteers will “interact” with ATV riders and spot such things as erosion and invasive plant species along state trails. They won’t try to act as ATV traffic cops. Instead, they’ll try to just chat with ATV scofflaws. Cheryle Young told MPR’s Tom Robertson that the volunteers, who are called ambassadors, will just try to inform those who might be violators of trail laws. “We’ll say, ‘I noticed that you went off the trail. You really aren’t supposed to do that. Here’s the regulations that show you the laws in case you weren’t aware of that.”’ Hmmm.
More hard times news: Izaty’s Resort has been sold at a bankruptcy auction for $3.08 million to Tod Christenson, owner of Mille Lacs Golf Resort. Izaty’s, a 500-acre resort near Onamia with two 18-hole golf courses, filed for Chapter 11 at the end of the last summer season. Poor summer weather and fishing restrictions on Lake Mille Lacs were reasons given for its economic decline and fall.
Remember how the kids of Lake Wobegon were all above average? Well, maybe so — but just barely. Latest writing scores released by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that Minnesota posted better scores than 18 states, similar scores to 17 states and lower scores than 10 states.