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Cuts and increases in St. Paul, financial shenanigans elsewhere

Mayor Coleman outlines Capital City budget. Also: guilty pleas, airplane saga’s new chapter and a dose of health care news.

Doing a 180 from Gov. Pawlenty’s style of fiscal management, St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman announced both layoffs and tax increases to continue providing essential services in his city. Laura Yuen’s MPR story makes reference to the 34 new cops coming aboard, and Coleman’s appreciation of President Obama’s stimulus money for that small bit of good news. “Coleman also promised to work on finding money for parking solutions along University Ave. The mayor is a big backer of the planned Central Corridor light rail line that will link St. Paul and Minneapolis, despite the objections of small business owners who would lose much of their street parking to the transit project.” His Republican opponent in this fall’s campaign took about a nanosecond to criticize the tax increases.

Everyone who has a problem with false imprisonment will be gratified to see that the federal level is getting all indignant about last Friday night’s entombed-on-an-airplane saga in Rochester. As the Strib’s Paul Walsh follows, Amy Klobuchar and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood are demanding better answers from Continental and ExpressJet airlines and trying to goose that Airline Passenger Bill of Rights along a bit faster. (Just a thought here. But if Rush Limbaugh said this was the federal government taking over the airlines, would pitchfork mobs show up in front of the FAA chanting “What’s wrong with false imprisonment and the smell of backed-up toilets?”)

Says Klobuchar in Walsh’s story, “While the reported events of Flight 2816 are disconcerting in their own right, further troubling is that they come after repeated commitments by the airline industry to take action to [prevent] such occurences.” Aren’t we at the point where someone has to get hit with a big fat fine or lawsuit, you know, just to get their attention?

Allison Kaplan of the PiPress files a story on PGA lodgings with only a faint whiff of Tiger-stalking. She writes, “The last time Woods was in town for the PGA Championship in 2002, he stayed at former Minnesota Twins catcher Greg Olson’s home in Bearpath in Eden Prairie. Now a real estate broker for the gated community, Olson worked through a contact instead of the traditional route and offered Woods use of his home for expenses only. This time, Olson’s home wasn’t large enough, because Woods has added two children and a wife to his entourage.” That group now usually includes a manager, an assistant, his caddie and a chef. The Chambers is also pleased with its bookings this week.

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Nancy Ngo’s PiPress story details the small-town bankers — a father-son combo — who lived the high life off a collection of highly questionable loans. The two were going to develop yet another sprawling chunk of farm land into 2,800 homes and a real downtown (think Maple Grove) for ex-urban Ramsey. But … “The original indictment accuses the men of inappropriately using money from the $35 million loan from banks, meant to go toward Ramsey Town Center. They are accused of spending some of that money for personal use, including meals, entertainment and home landscaping. The Sandisons may have personally benefited as much as $600,000, according to the indictment.” The two negotiated a plea deal Tuesday on one set of legal problems.

And while this sounds awfully familiar, it really is a different story. Paul Walsh — again — reports on the Minnetonka man pleading guilty Tuesday to bank fraud and money laundering. “From March 2003 to September 2003, as president and sole owner of U.S. Equities of Minnesota, he entered into 21 real estate loans with Associated Bank. Co-defendant Eric Richard Krahnke, 51, of Ramsey, a construction loan officer at the bank, processed and approved the loans totaling more than $4 million.” The guy, Michael Striker, “admitted that those loans were approved based on bogus information that he supplied. He also admitted giving his co-defendant a Rolex watch, worth several thousand dollars, for his services.”

Sam Black of the Minneapolis-St.Paul Business Journal has the brief report on Judge James Rosenbaum’s ruling — his final approval — on that $895 million class-action settlement from our local fabulously profitable health insurance provider, UnitedHealth, to its shareholders. This is related to the notorious back-dating scandal that won the Wall Street Journal a Pulitzer Prize (and was apparently wholly unimaginable to local media outlets). In addition to the $895 million, “the suit also calls for [former CEO Bill] McGuire to pay $30 million and former general counsel David Lubben to pay $500,000.” At current rates of profitability, it’ll take a half hour for them to earn it back. The Reuters story on the matter includes a comment from McGuire saying he’s pleased the matter is now behind him and he now intends to focus on “business and philanthropic interests.” Perhaps we’ll see him soon at a town hall forum.

The Bloomberg story on this includes a comment from the law firm handling the case, reminding anyone interested that the decision represents a “record-shattering recovery in which shareholders will receive the largest ever backdated-options settlement.” The firm thinks it’s the largest amount of money “ever obtained from an individual defendant in a securities class action.”  UnitedHealth’s stock price rose on the news.

Kudos to MPR for continuing to provide long-form information on health care reform — as opposed to quick-hit “reporting” on “anger” at “town hall meetings.” If you missed Monday’s “Midmorning,” Kerri Miller’s guest, Larry Minnix, president and CEO of American Association of Housing and Services for the Aging, was particularly good at explaining the Long Term Care provision in the current reform plans. Amid the shrieking and mob hysteria, very little has been said about this feature, which, like so many other facets of the, uh, “industry,” is quite profitable for the private companies currently involved, quite expensive for consumers and utterly unintelligible to most.

And as a bonus, again in case you missed it a few days ago. Here is activist filmmaker Robert Greenwald’s most recent shot at our own Stephen Hemsley, current CEO of UnitedHealth. Hemsley’s $121,000/hour income sticks in one’s mind.

As an incentive to get drivers to buy into the new MnPASS system up I-35 from Burnsville, MnDOT is offering $25 in credits for people who jump in now. Brian Johnson at Finance and Commerce notes that, “MnPASS technology is included in the Crosstown/Interstate 35W improvement project, which is scheduled for completion next year. Other improvements along I-35W include converting a shoulder to a MnPASS lane and adding MnPASS technology to an existing HOV lane.” He also presents comments arguing against the “Lexus lanes” sterotypes.

The Timberwolves — you remember them, right? — formally introduced their new coach, ex-Lakers semi-star Kurt Rambis, at a Target Center press conference. Turning the Wolves into something worth paying — NBA ticket prices — to watch play might not be quite as daunting a task as pushing health care reform past insurance lobbyists, media demagogues and mad-dog town-hall ranters — but its darn close. Rambis, who never played like a guy for whom things came easy, is quoted in Jerry Zgoda’s Strib piece saying, “when an opportunity like this comes along — to build a team like I envision this team playing a style of ball I would like to teach, to work with quality individuals we already have — it could not be passed up.” Get back to us in February, Coach, and tell us how much “quality” you’re seeing on the court.