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No driver’s license for dropouts?

AFTERNOON EDITION ALSO: Eventual gas tax replacement? Plus: Determined GOP freshmen, another Block E closure; Wisconsin election spending; Central Corridor funding; and more.
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How effective would this be, really? The Strib’s McKenzie Martin reports: “A bipartisan bill moving through the Legislature would deliver what backers say is tough love to keep kids in school by barring young high school dropouts from getting driver’s licenses. ‘Driving is not a right, it’s a privilege, and it’s perfectly within bounds for the state government to expect a quid pro quo when it comes to extending privileges,’ said bill sponsor Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul. Although the state only requires students to stay in school until they are 16, it can look for leverage to keep them in school longer, he said. If the measure were to become law, Minnesota would join at least 20 other states, including Wisconsin and Illinois, that tie driving privileges to school attendance.”

Today in Bachmannia: Columnist Mary Sanchez of the Kanasa City Star begins her piece today by saying: “I will not poke fun at Michele Bachmann. I will not poke fun at Michele Bachmann. I will not … Always knew those elementary school chalkboard rituals would come in handy someday, a reminder not to act recklessly, to remain on task. It’s just that the Republican congresswoman from Minnesota makes it so hard.” But then she goes on to say: “She’s not a viable candidate for 2012, and I suspect she knows it. However, her star is on the rise as a leading voice of the tea party, adding to her reputation as an outspoken evangelical conservative. And she’s a savvy and charismatic politician. If she joins the Republican presidential primary race, and is not neutralized by the party establishment, she may well push the GOP message to the right, possibly at its peril. Republicans would certainly profit from her ability to energize evangelical Christians, and her impassioned calls for slashing the federal government to shreds may endear her to many libertarians. But then there are the all-important swing voters. How would they respond, say, to Bachmann’s call to shut down the U.S. Department of Education (to her, just one on a laundry list of federal agencies the nation ‘could do without’)? As she said in Iowa last week. ‘The private sector can handle that on their own.’ Seriously? Does she really believe that charter schools and private schools and home-schooling mothers will suddenly fill the massive national void of no federally guided public education in America? All those soccer moms in conservative suburbs across the nation might beg to differ.”

So much for cutting costs with that new Prius. Paul Walsh of the Strib writes: “Staring at the prospect of coming up tens of billions of dollars short, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) said Monday that it is looking for 500 Wright and Hennepin County volunteers to test technology in July that could be used to shift tax collection from gasoline purchased to miles driven. Minnesota’s highway revenues come from the gas tax, vehicle registration fees and the motor vehicle sales tax. These sources support construction and maintenance of highways. ‘We are researching alternative financing methods today that could be used 10 or 20 years from now,’ MnDOT project manager Cory Johnson said in a statement, ‘when the number of fuel-efficient and hybrid cars increase and no longer produce enough revenue from a gas tax to build and repair roads.’ ” I sense a big business in odometer tampering.

Very much like in D.C., freshmen Republican legislators have their heels dug in the deepest against compromise. Tom Scheck of MPR files a story on the situation: “This year’s freshman class is bigger and bolder than those in past legislative sessions. Perhaps it’s the frustration of the economic downturn or the support that many received from tea party groups looking to cut government. Some freshmen, like Rep. Ernie Leidiger of Mayer want to go beyond the state-living-with-the-revenue-it-has philosophy and make even deeper spending reductions. He thinks health care programs and K-12 programs should both be cut. Leidiger argued that Republicans are already compromising because the state will spend more over the next two years than it did during the current budget cycle. ‘As far as I’m concerned, we’ve already compromised in terms of the upper limit of our spending,’ he said. ‘Any additional spending that we would do would be irresponsible for us to do so.’ ”

They do have heavyweight support, of course. Scheck has another story up on the work of the Chamber of Commerce and other “job providers.” “The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Business Partnership and other business groups will start running radio ads this week encouraging state lawmakers not to raise taxes to erase the state’s $5 billion budget deficit. Minnesota Business Partnership director Charlie Weaver wouldn’t say how much the groups are spending on the ads, but he said the business community is worried any tax increases could place a burden on the state’s businesses.”

The last of burritos has died in Block E. Jennifer Bjorhus of the Strib says: “Another tenant has left Block E in downtown Minneapolis. Panchero’s Mexican Grill closed its skyway level shop Friday and confirmed Tuesday that it wasn’t allowed to stay in the retail complex because of the mall owner’s development plans. A company spokesman said the chain hopes to find another downtown spot.”

About $4.5 million. That’s the total outside groups spent on the April 5  Supreme Court race in Wisconsin. The AP reports: “The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s report notes about $2.7 million went to support incumbent Justice David Prosser. About $1.1 million of that came from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business group. The remaining $1.8 million went to support Prosser’s challenger, state attorney JoAnne Kloppenburg. Almost all of that money came from the liberal group Greater Wisconsin Committee. Much of the spending went for television ads. Outside groups spent a record $3.58 million on them, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.” No one … no one … loves hyper-partisanship more than TV stations.

Damned big government (again). The big news out of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s State of the City speech was that the feds are ready to drop $460 million on the city for the Central Corridor project. Frederick Melo of the PiPress writes: “Next Tuesday, he said, the Federal Transit Administration will sign the long-awaited ‘full funding grant agreement,’ officially committing about $460 million in federal aid toward the $957 million project. That agreement would be a jab in the eyes of the transit line’s critics, some of whom have taken the Metropolitan Council to task for proceeding with construction of the 11-mile route between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis without federal funding fully in place. State and local money will make up the other half of the project’s budget, and skeptics worried the federal match would never materialize.”

Katrina Trinko of The National Review reports on Tea Party reactions to Tim Pawlenty’s Tea Party speechifying last weekend. She says: “Despite Pawlenty’s obvious overtures to tea partiers in recent months, including a video [titled] ‘Tea Party: A New Birth of Freedom, the tea partiers present talked about other candidates for 2012, such as Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, and Donald Trump. They spoke wistfully of a Chris Christie run, enthused over Michele Bachmann, and talked about freshman House member Allen West as a possible candidate. … many of the tea partiers still hold out hope for the emergence of a new candidate, one who holds Tea Party values, generates enthusiasm, and hasn’t been a politician so long that he or she appears to be a career or professional politician. Paul Ryan was mentioned, as was Christie. One man, undeterred by Christie’s refusal to run, hopefully spoke of a primary so divided that a surprise vote by the delegates at the GOP convention could make Christie the candidate.” … “A New Birth of Freedom” … that’s what you call putting a gloss on it.