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Daily Glean: Minnesota’s tax system: more punishment for the poor

A new study shows Minnesota’s taxes are increasingly regressive. Also: Norm’s ballot universe keeps imploding.

MPR’s Tim Pugmire reports that Minnesota’s tax system has become even more regressive, meaning the poor pay a higher share of their income than the rich. The biennial report, based on 2006 earnings, shows lower- and middle-income folks pay about 12 percent of their income in state and local taxes; plus-$500,000 earners pay about 9 percent. A state official says the gap widened because the rich are becoming richer faster. Overall, the tax burden declined from 11.6 percent in 2004 to 11.2 percent, AP notes.

More study: The results will buoy those who want to raise upper-tier rates. You can check the year-by-year march of effective rates here. There’s surprisingly little change from 1990 for the richest half of the population, except for the top tenth, whose payments dropped from 12 percent of income to 10 percent. The bottom third were punished, however.

Election contest minute: Norm Coleman’s ballot “universe” is shrinking faster than my 401(k). Officials opened 1,500 previously rejected absentee envelopes to check for misplaced registration cards; only 84 potentially valid votes emerged, the PiPress’ Jason Hoppin writes. The Strib’s Pat Doyle and Kevin Duchschere say two-thirds are in Coleman counties, though that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll get the lion’s share. The Stribbers say Coleman’s 1,725-ballot pool “probably has shrunk by several hundred.”

The PiPress’ Dennis Lien says a habitat/arts council recommended spending $40 million in new sales taxes to buy 187,000 acres of Grand Rapids-area woodland. The money would be disbursed over two years and represents roughly a third of the overall sales-tax allocation. Metro legislators complain they were shortchanged and the recommedations won’t pass, the Strib’s Doug Smith writes. Others say restoration, not just acquisition, needed more dough. KSTP showcases the kvetching here.

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Nearly every Tom Petters development gets big play, but the Strib buries news that alleged co-conspirator Larry Catain was released from jail. A judge ruled that Catain took $14,000 from court-frozen funds to pay personal and company bills, not to do something nefarious. Catain’s lawyer calls it a mild rebuke for court-appointed receiver Doug Kelley, but a magistrate agreed with Kelley before the judge intervened. Petters is still in the pokey, by the way.

The Strib’s David Shaffer, working the food safety beat, says a Minnesota method for reducing pathogens should be expanded to more items. The plan, developed to keep astronauts from getting food poisoning, requires manufacturers to identify their riskiest steps and have a plan for it. Peanut Corp. didn’t. Then again, maybe we can just develop a vaccine; the Strib’s Thomas Lee says the USDA has approved a Minnesota company’s E. coli stopper. Of course, coming up with healthier procedures for killing cattle might help, too.

The Strib’s Jim Buchta says despite long waiting lists for low-income housing, developers can’t get financing. They can’t resell their tax credits at a high enough price because no one has cash and everyone is terrified of risk. Nine months ago, the credits fetched 90 cents on the dollar; today, that’s around 70 cents. One group has 5,800 people on a waiting list for its 100 projects.

Related: MPR’s Annie Baxter profiles two homebuilders who are succeeding amid the construction depression; one markets to women, and the other guarantees a purchase price for your current home. MPR’s Jessica Mador says a foreclosure-mortarium bill is again working its way through the Legislature; Gov. Pawlenty vetoed it last year. Is there any reason to suspect that will change?

No shock: Sarah Jane Olson got permission to spend her supervised parole in Minnesota, the PiPress’ Emily Gurnon reports. The former Kathleen Soliah will be released from prison March 17.

The Strib editorialists advocate a plan to let a five-judge panel come up with a 2010 redistricting plan before the Legislature weighs in. Usually, it’s the other way around. The retired jurists, appointed by the two parties, would draw up a plan the Legislature could accept or reject unamended. If it’s spiked, the panel tries again, with another up-or-down vote. The Legislature can do what it wants after two rejections. Some incumbents are fearful, and independents and third parties would be shut out (like they are now!).

Southwest Airlines just got here and already the PiPress’ John Welbes is bugging them for more routes! The airline just cut 4 percent of its total capacity despite opening here, but its CEO says a western city like Denver would complement its current Minneapolis-Chicago gateway. The CEO says the crappy economy is not a discussion-ender, but there are no plans in the works.

The PiPress’ Gita Sitaramiah says Valleyfair is for sale. The current owner, Ohio’s Cedar Fair, has had the property for 30 years, but decided to sell after a “strategic review.” Who on earth would buy in this economy? Someone who might eye the site’s 77 undeveloped acres! Zigi Wilf, I’m lookin’ at you!

Nort spews: The PiPress’ Phil Miller says Joe Mauer’s post-surgery back pain isn’t abating, putting his early season in jeopardy. The Wolves’ Death March deepens with a 110-99 home loss to the dreadful Washington Wizards. For good measure, Randy Foye sprained his ankle. Minnesota remains in line for the sixth draft pick, but is only a game-and-a-half away from fourth. Sign of the times: the PiPress’ Julie Forster says the Twins will broadcast 30 games in Spanish, up from four last season.