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Daily Glean: Was Petters stoolie already a stoolie?

Gumshoe reporting is breaking out all over. First, the PiPress staked out the airport for Meria Carstarphen; now we have the Strib running an ad in a Massachusetts paper to see if an alleged Petters money launderer abetted while in witness protection. Sixty-seven-year-old Larry Reynolds got his Social Security card in the mid-’80s, David Phelps reports, and the feds won’t say where he is. Reynolds has turned on Petters, but being on the government’s payroll could impugn his testimony.

Budget forecast aftermath: Gov. Pawlenty still won’t raise taxes (except local property taxes); Dems again say “all options are on the table.” The PiPress’ Bill Salisbury writes that the guv still wants a 2 percent education hike; MPR’s Tom Scheck says DFL Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller may be floating ed cuts to help the tax-hike case. A Strib editorial says Dems had better get an alternative budget together quickly. The Strib’s Pat Lopez notes silent protesters bearing “Chop from the Top” signs.

KSTP tries to gin up a scandal, reporting that Minnesota’s cities collectively have $1.5 billion in reserves at a time when many are fighting Pawlenty’s local-government aid cuts. But it’s precisely because of similar massive cuts last time around that many cities banked the money. Two GOP taxophobes are interviewed; no mayor or city rep gets to respond.

Related: One reason localities hoard cash? “Breathtakingly bad” pension losses in Minneapolis, writes the Strib’s Steve Brandt. The city — which KSTP notes has $133 million squirreled away — faces a $116 million pension gap due to the market crash. Payback amounts to a double LGA cut. Other cities will face this problem, but Minneapolis’ is worse because its funds are long closed, meaning no workers now support retirees. Beneficiaries won’t give up control to help stretch gap repayment.

Also related: If you think it’s just big-city liberals who loathe Pawlenty’s LGA policies, check out this blast from the Fargo Forum columnist Mike Feely, who blasts the guv as a metrocentric climber screwing over the rest of the state’s burghs, big and small.

In Minnesota, Barack Obama’s approval rating fell 2 percent during the past month — the smallest decline among SurveyUSA’s 14 polled states, Smart Politics’ Eric Ostermeier notes. Obama’s approval is at 62 percent here; his favorables fell 10 percent in places like Wisconsin. Other polls have shown the decline largely confined to Republicans. By the way, I wrote yesterday that Ostermeier didn’t include gubernatorial party in his deficit-states analysis; he did offer a collective figure.

Via Secrets of the City’s Max Sparber, the New York Times profiles a sketchy Minneapolis company called DCM Services, which debt-collects from relatives of the dead — who often have no legal obligation to pay. The company claims it informs survivors of that fact, but the job is so grisly that workers get yoga classes, foosball tables, free snacks, and a masseuse. Call it Spa Slimeball.

St. Paul plans to have a new superintendent by fall, or perhaps sooner, the PiPress’ Doug Belden reports. Board members are still debating the primacy of local ties. Soon-to-be-ex-super Meria Carstarphen says Austin’s size, salary and union-lite environment weren’t priorities in her decision  — was it our breath? It is closer to her Southern roots, Belden notes, but that’s not completely convincing.

What will Minneapolis hillbillies do? The Strib’s Brandt reports on a move to ban upholstered sofas from the city’s yards. Advocates say the indoor furniture looks like crap outdoors, gets moldy, and becomes a vermin hotel. U-area homeowners are especially bummed. There are ordinances like this in six other college towns. Furniture advocates are unheard from.

Reckless, but still very cool: St. Paul cops arrested six “urban snowboarders” who built a 6-foot ramp to propel them off a 30-foot limestone cliff … onto railroad tracks. The PiPress’ Mara Gottfried says a witness who turned in the West Coast dudes nevertheless called the escapade “pretty cool.” The suspects work for Vermont’s Burton Snowboards, and their blog entry is here.

In a deepcession-wracked economy, which company wants to attach its name to a building everyone hates? WCCO’s James Schugel says to get the Vikes more money, Metrodome naming rights are up for grabs. Not the building per se, but the field, though there might be an ad painted on the roof. That ought to make the place lighter and cheerier!

Nort spews: Vancouver thumped the Wild 4-2; Minnesota is now in 11th place, three points out of the playoffs. On a day the Wolves cut season ticket prices, they cut their own throats with an awful 118-94 loss to Golden State. SOTC’s Britt Robson, who has a cast-iron stomach for such things, calls the performance “unprofessional.” The Strib’s John Millea profiles state wrestling contestant Elissa Reinsma, the first girl to qualify.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/04/2009 - 10:21 am.

    Dave, you’ve explained that information is often lacking, or wrong, in order to facilitate getting *something* posted here on the fabulous “Glean” as quickly as possible, so forgive me but I’m not quite clear as to what benefit we, your loyal readers, are supposed to garner from reading paragraphs (however hastily composed), that we can recognise without effort as complete bovine scat.

    For instance, while you claim that “Gov. Pawlenty still won’t raise taxes (except local property taxes)”, even many MacAllister College grads know that the Governor has no authority to levy local property taxes.

    To the contrary Dave, unless I’m mistaken (and I never am), Governor Pawlenty recently proposed legislation that would limit the ability of local governments to “lay it on” their residents to +3% a year. Seems to me that the mayors of Saint Paul and Minneapolis were quick to tell the Governor to keep his nose out of their “levity”.

    Listen.

    As one journalist to another, I’d suggest that a nice hot cup of coffee, and maybe a couple of aspirin, might be a helpful ritual to develop before you approach the keyboard in the morning.

    Just sayin’.

  2. Submitted by Lisa Kohner on 03/04/2009 - 10:57 am.

    Thomas:

    That would be spelled “Macalester” College.

    Just sayin’.

  3. Submitted by David Brauer on 03/04/2009 - 11:05 am.

    Tom – that’s a pretty cramped reading of what’s really going on. Gov. Pawlenty’s LGA cuts are of the magnitude to require property tax hikes in many locations.

    The tax-cap proposal is a gimmick to force one option out of mayors’ hands, which is why they oppose it. And as you note, even that would result in p-tax hike, making the case.

    As for the rest, I try not to get personal with you, and I’d really appreciate it if you’d leave out the insults in your last two paragraphs. If you are a professional, please keep it professional.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/04/2009 - 11:32 am.

    “Gov. Pawlenty’s LGA cuts are of the magnitude to require property tax hikes in many locations.”

    “Required”, huh? “Many locations”, you say?

    Huh.

    I wonder what the mayors of these large cities, and hundreds more, use to beat back that “requirement”?

    LGA Amount
    Cert. 2004 Cert. 2005 Cert. 2006 Cert. 2007 Cert. 2008 Cert. 2009

    Apple Valley 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Bloomington 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Burnsville 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Eagan 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Edina 0 0 0 0 0 0
    http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/lgahistout.asp?type=city&city1=191900&city1=274100&city1=191800&city1=192000&city1=270700&yr05=on&yr08=on&yr06=on&yr09=on&yr04=on&yr07=on&calc=amount&output=web

    You know, Dave, I’ve heard stories of a strange and powerful tool called “competent management”, but haven’t seen any signs of it anywhere over here in Saint Paul.

    Some might suggest that the only thing cramped when it comes to taxes, is the Democrat definition of fiduciary responsibility and common sense leadership.

  5. Submitted by Aaron Klemz on 03/04/2009 - 03:05 pm.

    I think the answer to that question is “high property tax revenues.” Yes, you’ve managed to locate suburbs with high property tax revenues, many with significant retail and commercial property values. These cities are also “donors” to the metro property tax pool as well. “Competent management” is relatively easy with high-income, high-property value suburbs. Not that any city manager has an easy job, but the idea that managing Eagan is the same as Minneapolis, St. Paul, or Duluth is simply laughable.

  6. Submitted by Martin Moen on 03/04/2009 - 04:03 pm.

    Tom– Whether we like it or not, I think the cause-and-effect relationship between Governor Pawlenty’s “no new taxes” stance and increases in local property taxes is pretty well established. So I think David’s shorthand reference that the Governor’s policies are having an undesirable outcome is fair. Is Pawlenty totally responsible for higher local property taxes, no. If you are arguing that the Governor’s policies have no effect on local property taxes, then we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    I live in St. Paul and I recognize how much easier it was for Norm Coleman as mayor to not raise city taxes during a period when LGA was uninterrupted. Now that the money train has derailed, Mayor Chris Coleman has a much more difficult task of balancing his budget.

    P.S. Notice I didn’t have to resort to attacking you to say my piece. Please leave your “attack-mode” style on the Star Tribune comments pages.

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/04/2009 - 04:50 pm.

    High property value is the answer? Think again.

    Golden Valley 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Roseville 0 0 0 0 0 0
    St. Louis Park 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Maplewood 0 0 0 0 0 0

    And, by the way, none of these cities has anywhere near the commercial or retail base that Saint Paul and Minneapolis has, although (with the exception of Maplewood) they share very similar resident demographics with them.

    I could fill this comment section with cities of all demographic descriptions, that manage without a handout from the state, but the point is made.

    No, the problem is that our largest cities are managed by people that simply cannot believe that there is a bottom to the taxpayers pocket, and all evidence to the contrary, are trying to convince the public that there is money to be had out here, and by God they’ll be having some of it.

    I attended a “town hall” meeting two weeks ago, that was called to give mayor Coleman a stage from which to squirt tears. I took the opportunity to ask him, for instance, why he just promoted one of his faithful staffers (a former lobbyist for the city) to a six figure directorship of a department that is triple redundant (the Human Rights Department) while at the same time he’s threatening to cut core city services.

    His answer, paraphrased, was that he thought it was important for the city to have it’s own HR department, even though the state and county have such offices within three blocks.

    Hey, that’s fine.

    That’s local control, and I’m all for it. So if you agree that this is an example (there are many, many more like it) of where your city’s priorities should lie, I wish you joy!

    If you think that police and fire protection miiight be a tad more important, you have the option of walking into your council critters office and letting them know. Bring some like minded friends and neighbors with you for effect!

    The bottom line is that the party is over for the foreseeable future, and standing on the street corner squirting tears isn’t going to keep the streets plowed, or the lights on.

    If you don’t have municipal leaders that are up to the task of competently managing a budget, I’d suggest you might start looking for a replacement or get happy with the idea of paying outrageous property taxes to fund their happy dance.

    It really is just that simple.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/04/2009 - 05:31 pm.

    This 2003 report from the state Auditor explains things very succinctly:

    http://www.auditor.state.mn.us/reports/gid/2003/lga_study/lga_030210_report.pdf

    As the state works to resolve its current budget crises, the Governor and Legislature are examining the effectiveness and efficiency of all state programs. One of the state programs that has been the target of much public debate due to its size, and questions about its effectiveness, is the Local Government Aid (LGA) program.

    This special study examines the effect of Local Government Aid (LGA) on city spending.

    The Office of the State Auditor (OSA) analyzed spending patterns for cities over 2,500 population (large cities) and found that those cities which received the highest levels of LGA per capita also spent significantly more per capita than those cities that received little to no LGA.

    Rather than a lifeline that allows cities with little property wealth to support a minimum level of essential services, LGA, as it is currently structured, appears to provide the means for cities to spend well above the median and average on both essential and non-essential services.

    The spending patterns of those cities that have high levels of LGA indicate that it is the ease of access to non-residential taxpayer revenues that drives spending decisions. Cities above the median in LGA per capita spend 42 percent more on
    total current expenditures than those below the median LGA per capita.

    Those cities that receive the most LGA per capita appear to have enough resources to offer both essential and non-essential services at a level significantly above those cities that receive LGA per capita below the median.

    When residents do not directly bear the full cost of programs, they are less likely to exert control of costs. Officials who do not need to go to the taxpayers to justify costs are less likely to look for more efficient ways of providing services.

    The OSA found that while it is not feasible to totally eliminate LGA, or to make across the board reductions, it is possible to make adjusted reductions that would result in an overall reduction in LGA for large cities of 51 percent (which translates to a 43 percent reduction in total city LGA) and still allow virtually all cities to provide essential services at current levels, and non-essential services at the current
    per capita median level, without raising property taxes.
    ====================

    Keep in mind, this is from 2003, which means that cities leaders have had at least *five years* in which to modify their spending priorities.

    Obviously, some have taken advantage of this opportunity to refine the efficiency with which they deliver vital city services, and others have danced in the rain.

    LGA was *never intended* to provide liberal mayors and city councils with a slush fund to finance their pie-in-the-sky programs. It was meant to help cities without a sufficient tax base provide core services; but that mission has been badly compromised.

    LGA is yet another example of what happens when liberals get their hands on the taxpayers wallets without close supervision.

  9. Submitted by Aaron Klemz on 03/04/2009 - 06:01 pm.

    Okay, let’s take the Pepsi challenge on your blatantly false assertion that suburbs like Golden Valley (I grew up there, so I know it well), Roseville, Eagan, Maplewood, St. Louis Park, etc. have “very similar resident demographics” to Minneapolis and St. Paul. Shenanigans, and you know it. Let’s use three relevant demographic criteria – median household income, families below poverty level, and percent of renter occupied housing. I took these numbers from census.gov and they are 2005-2007 numbers. Minneapolis – Median HH income 44,478, Family below poverty level 9.8%, percent of renter occupied housing 46.2% St. Paul – 45,560, 14.5% below poverty level, 42.3% renters. Golden Valley – 77,796, 2.2% below poverty level, 19.6% rental. Roseville – 49,097, 3.7% below poverty level, 30.5% rental. St. Louis Park – 54,922, 4.8% below poverty level, 36.2% rental. Maplewood – 60,654, 4.2% below poverty level, 24.3% rental. Eagan – 77,700, 2.3% below poverty level, 23.7% rental.

    You will jive your way out of this one too, in your own mind, by trying to discredit these three demographic measures, or by coming up with some set of cities, or by some other dodge. But I could NOT let you get by with simply asserting that St. Louis Park and Maplewood and Roseville are basically the same as Minneapolis and St. Paul demographically. They aren’t. Not even close.

  10. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/04/2009 - 10:15 pm.

    Say, Aaron?

    Could you provide a link to the data you’re showing here? I checked census.gov and the numbers I found didn’t match yours. Not even close.

    On the other hand, the numbers you *did* provide look pretty close to me. Especially the number of renters, which I assume you agree is important since they do not pay property taxes, which is what we’re talking about here.

    I’m also confused as to where the 2005-2007 numbers came from since the last economic census (according to census.gov) was done in 2002. Not that I’m claiming you would engage in any shenanigans, mind you; I just like to verify the facts at issue.

    Finally, if you’ll take a moment to read what I wrote, I specifically exempted Maplewood and Eagan wasn’t mentioned at all, so I wonder if you’d mind awfully if we agree to file those under “straw men” fallacies?

  11. Submitted by Aaron Klemz on 03/05/2009 - 08:08 am.

    Good lord. http://factfinder.census.gov/home/saff/main.html?_lang=en

    And no, they are not close. Except for St. Louis Park, which at least is somewhat in the same ballpark. And the poverty level numbers are 5-10x higher. C’mon.

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