A Scott County judge in the cross hairs: Jerome Abrams gets to rule on whether Elko’s Bullseye Saloon violates the state’s tobacco ban with its theater nights. In court Tuesday, the Bullseye’s attorney said the state can’t define art, and notes “Cheers” was about people in a bar, according to the Strib’s Mary Lynn Smith. The PiPress’s Jason Hoppin adds that bar employees say “they or their patrons often assume characters such as Garth Brooks, Julia Roberts and others.” (Maybe they should call the place “Cognitive Dissonance Tap.”) The judge referenced Shakespeare in the Park when he observed the smoking-ban exemption is not limited to places with stages. This should be fun.
More smoking adjudication: Abrams must first rule on the state’s request for a temporary injunction against the bar’s maneuver. A full trial is set for June. A similar St. Louis County case begins later this month.
An ex-U.S. senator driving a Metro Mobility van? WCCO’s Pat Kessler provides a fascinating report on Dean Barkley, the man then-Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed to fill Paul Wellstone’s seat. Barkley, who gets health benefits from the bus company, refuses to use Senate access to make big bucks lobbying (he holsters his Senate-floor access card). He again floats the notion of running for the Senate as an independent this year.
For the first time, the state House could give cops the right to stop motorists for not wearing seat belts, the PiPress’s Bill Salisbury reports. Gov. Pawlenty said he would accept two other safety provisions: Newly licensed teens can’t drive late, and kids under 8 must be belted into booster seats. Turns out Pawlenty didn’t want one provision dropped, as DFLers asserted. One House leader predicts passage of the bill containing the three safety measures.
We learned a lot more about the Strib’s financial health yesterday. First, City Pages’ Jeff Shaw demonstrated financial legerdemain by revealing that Strib debt is trading under 60 cents on the dollar. Investor disdain might not indicate looming bankruptcy — the recent credit crunch has pummeled most debt-speculators, and no one’s bullish on media investments — but it’s a meaningful datapoint.
More: After Shaw’s story broke, Strib parent Avista Capital Partners finally handed one of their reporters some inside dope; Neal St. Anthony disclosed that Avista was “forced” to write off $75 million of their $100 million investment. St. Anthony amplified Shaw’s info, noting that $96 million in subordinated debt trades for 10 cents on the dollar. Citing cost cuts and unspecified revenue-producing investments, an Avista memo states, “We view 2008 as the year to prove a recovery is possible.” So far, so bad.
Now it’s Duluth’s turn to close a steel-truss bridge. According to the hard-working Hoppin, two lanes of Duluth’s Blatnik Bridge were closed after a contractor expressed concerns about recent weight additions. State engineers will buttress 16 gusset plates. The Strib’s Jim Foti says work will be completed by mid-June. The gussets are undamaged, but 2 inches of concrete have been added in the last decade, prompting the precaution.
Medtronic will cut 350 Minnesota jobs, according to the PiPress’s Christopher Snowbeck. That’s 4 percent of its 8,000-person state workforce. (Or, for we Strib-obsessed media junkies, roughly the size of the newspaper’s newsroom.) As of last fall, total state med-device employment was 26,067 and rising, so this isn’t enormous. The growth is continuing at smaller companies, analysts say. Still, cuts like these add to the state’s overall job-growth sluggishness. Medtronic expects total employment to grow by year’s end — overseas.
The PiPress’s Dave Orrick says St. Paul Public Works “blew its 2007 budget” by $4.2 million so it’ll be making $1.33 million in cuts well into the fiscal (and pothole) year. Money quote from the council president: “This is a budget that is really important to us, and it’s screwed up.” Mayor Chris Coleman’s staff members cite their own accounting, budgeting and communications mistakes. As in Minneapolis, St. Paul will reduce seal-coating, which prevents potholes, and other cuts loom.
Whoa: a legit consumer group plans to lobby for Delta’s NWA acquisition, Cox News Service reports. The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) says airline conditions are so bad that the deal is no biggie and Congress should rely on stricter regulation. (CFA typically advocates regulation, and accepts support from unions and corporations.) Two “free-market consumer” groups are also lobbying for the deal.
MPR’s Mark Steil reports on congressional plans to roll back federal ethanol mandates. A new congressional proposal would cut U.S. production mandates in half — presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain backs it.
MPR’s Greta Cunningham says a Minnesota progressive think tank floats the idea of a farmland price bubble. Minnesota 2020 notes some land prices have doubled and tripled in the last six years and resembles residential real estate. State economist Tom Stinson isn’t alarmed; he says farmers remember the last land-value crash, and there may be better fundamentals for the farm price rise, given world food demand. Mn2020 leaders say the state should still plan for a fall.
The PiPress’s Rachel Stassen-Berger blogs on budget-gap-closing items the governor hates: a freeze on teachers’ performance pay; reduced statewide testing spending; a $10 hike in the motor vehicle transfer fee; transfers from workers’ comp funds; a hike in one welfare program budget, and elimination of a teen abstinence program. Writes Stassen-Berger: “According to one legislative staffer’s calculations, the governor lists more than $300 million worth of ‘concerns’ within the $355 million worth of spending [cuts].”
On Tuesday, the idea of a state constitutional amendment forbidding transfers from the Health Care Access Fund made news. Now, AP’s Brian Bakst says legislators may add two more constitutional questions: to let the Legislature call itself into special session (the guv has that power now) and establish a citizens’ council to set legislative pay. The special session couldn’t last more than a week, and the guv and state Supreme Court Chief Justice would appoint the pay panel.
Minnesota Monitor’s Britt Robson provides one of the better overviews of recent maneuvering over the Health Care Access Fund, and why the recent plan to use $48 million of the $250 million surplus for health care isn’t expanding access at all.
The College of St. Catherine will change its name to reflect growth, and all possibilities include “St. Catherine” and “university,” the PiPress reports. That forecloses a lot of options, and the only question seems to be whether there’s a “the” and an “of.” But we’d like to think “Catherine’s Swingin’ St. Paul University” remains a possibility. The new name emerges in August and takes effect June 1, 2009.
Do we need bigger concert halls? Yes, says St. Paul’s Ordway Center, which plans a new 1,000-seat home for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. It will cannibalize the center’s 306-seat McKnight Theater, the Strib’s Rohan Preston reports.
Wal-Mart will give the state Capitol a free energy audit, AP says. Minnesota’s edifice is one of 18 capitols reviewed nationwide, and Wal-Mart’s received good grades for tightening up its own stores. We forecast a run on window wrap; maybe the state will buy at Sam’s Club.
Longtime Star Tribune reporter Sam Newlund has died, according to a Strib obit. He was a pioneering social-issues reporter who not only elevated coverage of “welfare, homelessness, prisons, Native Americans, poverty, sex abuse and child abuse,” but he was wonderfully encouraging to at least one young journalist, and I’ll miss him.
Nort spews: Joe Mauer broke some White Sox hearts when he broke up a no-hitter, but the Twins still lost. Gopher athletes posted academic results that forestall NCAA sanctions; in fact, the school’s “Average Progress Rate” was 10 points above national norms.