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Federal budget cuts here help marauding wolves, criminals

MORNING EDITION ALSO: Dayton folks and GOP disagree on budget numbers; public employee pay package criticized; busy day for Pawlenty; and more.
Read Tuesday Afternoon Edition


I’ve got some trigger-happy neighbors up north who’ll be taking matters into their own hands at the news that last Friday’s federal budget deal whacked funds for wolf control in Minnesota. Sam Cook of the Duluth News Tribune writes: “The federal program that controls wolf depredation in Minnesota is operating “day by day” in the wake of Friday’s budget agreement in the U.S. Congress. That agreement effectively eliminated funding for the USDA’s Wildlife Services program, which in Minnesota is based in Grand Rapids. But the program has been ordered by its regional director to keep investigating wolf complaints and killing problem wolves while alternative sources of funding are sought, said John Hart, district supervisor in Grand Rapids for USDA’s Wildlife Services. ‘We’ve been struggling to keep our heads above water, and this is kind of the final straw,’ Hart said. ‘Beginning Oct. 1, with the new federal fiscal year, there will be no USDA money for wolf control.’ The Wildlife Services Program investigates wolf complaints and lethally traps or shoots wolves that have attacked livestock or pets. In 2010, Hart’s office investigated 272 wolf complaints and lethally trapped or shot 192 wolves.”

Likewise … MPR’s Brett Neely files a story on local impacts of Friday’s budget deal. “Minnesota will likely see a decline in federal assistance for local law enforcement. Two programs that help pay for equipment and salaries for police departments across the country will lose over $600 million in funding at a time when state and local budgets remain under pressure. … Minnesota will also probably see its high speed rail plans derailed. House Republicans managed to cut off spending for one of President Obama’s signature initiatives at a time when Gov. Mark Dayton was hoping to secure funds to connect the Twin Cities to Chicago. Staffers from Sen. Franken’s office said they hoped there would be other funding opportunities for high speed rail later this year, but they agreed the train program would be slowed down.”

Those budget numbers the GOP went to private operators for, instead of the traditional government sources, are just a tad bit short — like $1.2 billion of the goal, according to Gov. Dayton’s people. Baird Helgeson’s Strib story says: “Dayton’s revenue and budget commissioners sent a strongly worded letter to Republican leaders saying their recently passed plan to erase the state’s $5 billion deficit has come up short — despite GOP insistence the plan is balanced. ‘We are seriously concerned that the administration could be presented a budget that is predicated on incomplete information, unsubstantiated assumptions and inaccurate fiscal estimates,’ said Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter and Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans in a joint letter to legislative leaders. The two noted that previous governors — ‘of all parties’ — had relied on their departments’ nonpartisan staff as the official source for fiscal estimates on the impact of proposed bills. … Republicans say that administration analysts — many of whom served in the previous Republican administration — are so deeply tied to traditional assessments that they cannot accurately calculate savings on innovative programs. Instead, Republicans are relying on analysis from companies that say they have helped other states save money.”
The president of the Minnesota Free Market Institute is given acreage on the Strib’s commentary page to reiterate the “pro-business/job provider” argument against public employee benefit packages. Kim Crockett writes: “The state has promised state employees, on behalf of taxpayers, salaries that often exceed their private-sector counterparts, gold-plated health care and a pension that aims to ‘replace’ much of that income along with cost-of-living adjustments. Unlike with private pensions and 401(k)s, any funding shortfall must be made up by taxpayers and in the meantime, the cost of salaries and benefits keeps growing. … There is a growing consensus that taxpayers cannot afford to guarantee public pensions while struggling to provide for their own retirements. Many have not saved enough for old age a trend made worse by the perfect storm of high unemployment, sagging wages, and rising prices for housing, gas and food. These facts argue for lifting, not increasing the state tax burden and aggressively increasing incentives for personal savings so that Minnesotans can make up lost ground.”

So let’s try to understand this. You turn up at every candidate flesh-pressing event you can schedule. You form an official exploratory committee. You go on CNN and say, “I’m running for president” … but you’re upset that CNN is making it sound like … you’re running for president? T-Paw was on Piers Morgan last night and … well, here’s the transcript, from CNN:
Morgan: There was a poll out only today, a CNN poll which probably made quite the disturbing reading for you. Did you ever imagine in your wildest nightmares that you’d see a poll of potential Republican candidates which had you at 2 percent and Donald Trump at 19 percent?
Pawlenty: Well for me, I’m just getting known, Piers. So our trajectory is kind of a tortoise and hare strategy and as we get better known particularly in the early states I think you’ll see those numbers change for me. But as to Donald Trump, the Donald I think he’s funny, I think he’s exciting. He’s obviously very successful. I think he brings a lot to the debate so I welcome him to it. If hair is going to be a factor in this race, Piers, then I’m going to grow my mullet back out. I had a mullet when I played hockey in high school.
Morgan: In a hypothetical scenario governor, if someone like Donald Trump was to emerge as the Republican nominee and asked you to be vice president, would you accept that honor?
Pawlenty: I’m running for president. I’m not putting my hat in the ring rhetorically or ultimately for vice president so I’m focused on running for president.”

Afterward, as The Huffington Post reports, “The Pawlenty campaign told The Huffington Post on Tuesday evening that it was very unhappy with how CNN framed the former governor’s comments.” Particularly the way CNN failed to tell viewers where to send a check.

Simultaneously, Ben Smith at Politico files a piece suggesting that T-Paw’s health care cred might not be all so squeaky and tax-free clean as the GOP base might demand. He notes: “As governor, Pawlenty who pledged not to raise taxes implemented a ‘health impact fee’ on cigarettes, while insisting it wasn’t a tax. ‘I believe this is a user fee. Some people are going to say it’s a tax. I’m going to say it’s a compromise and a solution to move Minnesota forward,’ said Pawlenty in 2005. The fee went into a special health care fund to help defray tobacco related health costs. (Pawlenty later wrote that he regretted agreeing to the fee.) The fee was not part of his broader health care plans — it was intended to balance the budget. A similar cigarette tax idea was floated by the 2003 bipartisan commission that Pawlenty created to study health care reform ideas, even allowing them to examine the possibility of a single-payer system.” That’s old news to us, but the best part of the story is this: “UPDATE: The Pawlenty camp points out that the cigarette fee proposed in 2005 differs from the tax proposed by the 2003 panel and that it was first proposed by state Rep. Ray Cox.” Presto! Teflon fingerprints!

So … anyway … not-exactly-presidential-candidate-yet Pawlenty was also on NewsMax TV Tuesday, deep in the base’s bubble: “Pawlenty, a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, tells Newsmax that President Barack Obama ‘needs to go’ and vows to do ‘everything I can’ to make that happen. He also asserts that legislators should draw a ‘line in the sand’ against spending by refusing to raise the ceiling on federal debt, says Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s battle with public employees unions is a preview of things to come elsewhere, charges that Obama’s lukewarm support of Israel ‘invites danger,’ and says the president’s failure to support the opposition to Iran’s government is a ‘missed opportunity’ that demonstrates his lack of leadership.”

MPR’s Paul Huttner has put together a fast “reminiscence” of the wet fall and interminable winter of ’10-’11. He says: “The floods of 2011 are still in progress and have caused problems in some areas. There have been two flood related deaths, numerous roads, parks and fields remain under water, especially near the Red River. But it could have been so much worse.” Damn, that is so comforting.