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Daily Glean: Hands off the Health Care Access Fund

By David BrauerMonday, May 5, 2008
In Monday’s local news roundup, Gov. Pawlenty agrees not to use the Health Care Access Fund to balance the budget.

State Capitol budget negotiations have entered the late-night phase. According to the PiPress’s Rachel Stassen-Berger, Gov. Pawlenty has agreed not to use the Health Care Access Fund to balance the budget. In return, DFLers won’t grab as much in corporate-tax loophole-closing. Both sides agreed on a $355 million spending-cut figure, but the specifics aren’t synched. Property tax caps remain in the GOP offer, and Republicans would siphon more from the state’s reserve.

Really? According to a just-released SurveyUSA survey, 51 percent of Minnesotans polled think Al Franken should withdraw from the U.S. Senate race over tax troubles, KSTP notes. That’s an astounding, nigh-unbelievably high number, no matter what you think of the controversy/kerfuffle. However, a related poll shows Coleman’s 10-percent margin hasn’t risen since the March survey. Franken backers say the question should’ve included a note that he overpaid taxes in Minnesota. Survey results here.

More polling, should you choose to believe the 500-person survey with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.4 percent: plurality support for the Central Corridor light-rail funding (48 percent to 42 percent) and a two-to-one majority back legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes (64-30 percent).

It’s tricky to cover your own newspaper, but Matt McKinney does a good job with the Strib bankruptcy rumors. Yesterday, the New York Post broke real news — the Strib hiring a firm for a financial restructuring — but was wrong about missed debt obligations. The story also floated a creditor takeover and newshound-killing job cuts, but Strib boss Chris Harte tells McKinney lenders “absolutely do not want to run the newspaper.” My own take is that the debt bomb hits this summer.

More Strib: City Pages’ Kevin Hoffman says the Strib hired Blackstone because the paper lacks sufficient liquidity to meet its obligations. (That’s often when you restructure your finances.) Mpls.St.Paul’s Brian Lambert says the affair raises the chances of PiPress owner Dean Singleton “bottom-feeding for the Strib.” However, Singleton is on the verge of violating his own debt covenants and his financiers may not favor a bigger bet on newspapers. Who has free cash to buy a fire-sale paper or papers?

MPR notes that Delta Airlines President/CFO Ed Bastain will appear at state House and Senate hearings this morning to field NWA acquisition questions. The appearance, we hope, will provide more substance than last week’s hearings, when Minnesota Monitor’s Britt Robson reported that an NWA exec basically repeated, “You’ll have to ask Delta.”

Should Ramsey County stop electing sheriffs? The Strib’s Curt Brown says “an obscure independent group” could vote tonight to place the question on the November ballot. If the county goes there, it will be one of only 10 with appointed sheriffs. There’s much background on the current controversial occupant, Bob Fletcher, he of FBI-investigated deputies and swelling budgets. (Don’t county commissioners approve the latter?) The move could be DFL payback against the repeatedly elected Republican.

The PiPress’s Bill Salisbury offers a good rundown on competing property-tax reform efforts. House DFLers say administration’s claim that two-thirds of Minnesotans will see an income-tax hike to pay for property-tax buydowns is based on an old proposal. Ninety-five percent would see property tax refunds. The Senate DFL favors local-government aid, which the GOP says forestalls tough spending decisions. Pawlenty’s cap plan would violate the GOP principle of local control, and doesn’t really hold down taxes, DFLers assert.

The state Department of Natural Resources is facing $160,000 in cuts, but may have improperly spent nearly $400,000 on a game warden convention last year, the Strib’s David Shaffer discloses. State conservation officers also may have improperly solicited private donations. “State law … bars state employees from using their position to benefit a group they are associated with,” Shaffer writes. Because of the state subsidy, the lightly attended event made money, but the profits went to conservation-officer-affiliated groups.

Interesting Strib piece on a U researcher testing a new way to store wind energy in batteries “the size of two semitrailer trucks.” The batteries have no heavy metal and are 10 percent more efficient than traditional cells.

Minneapolis will pump 12 new officers and more mounted patrols into the Downtown bar/retail zone this summer, the Strib’s David Chanen reports. It’s part of an effort knitting together public forces and private security guards. Nice detail: Guards will get “vests that light up” when police need them to be a security presence on the street. Downtown crime is down, but complaints about drinking and other livability crimes are constant. Is Downtown still the city’s safest precinct?

No peanuts for you — and more than peanuts for him: The NWA-Delta merger deal pays ex-chairman Gary Wilson 200 grand, gives him a secretary and home office expenses for 10 years, and a $2 million charitable contribution, the Strib says. Wilson, co-helmsman of NWA’s 1989 leveraged buyout, isn’t even working for the company anymore. He stepped down last June.

Nort spews:
Big seven-run comeback gives the Twins a sweep over the Tigers and a game-and-a-half lead in the putrid A.L. Central. Sore Loser lamentations from Detroit here and here. The PiPress has a long profile of Judge David Doty, who handles tough NFL cases.