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Dayton’s latest idea: mediation

AFTERNOON EDITION ALSO: Rep. Downey gets Edina earful; CenterPoint complaints; Methodist clergy group goes rogue; PolyMet finances; Wisconsin ‘Walkerville’ in works; and more.
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Dayton’s latest idea: mediation

And if this doesn’t work, we can always flip a coin. Gov. Dayton is suggesting a mediator for the state’s budget stare-down. Rachel Stassen-Berger of the Strib writes,:“Saying Republican legislators were engaged in distractions and political stunts, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said he wanted to bring an impartial, third-party mediator to their budget negotiations to clear the air. Dayton said Thursday that he asked his finance and tax commissioners to stay away from a Thursday afternoon hearing where Republican lawmakers could simply ‘berate’ them over the same issues that have bedeviled the Capitol for weeks. ‘I won’t negotiate against myself,’ Dayton said. ‘They might not like the answer, but that’s the answer.’ The governor said he didn’t know if any political officials had called in a mediator to solve budget crises but he said that didn’t matter.”

Interesting piece by Tim Pugmire of MPR on (very) pro-business, “no news taxes” GOP Rep. Keith Downey’s town hall in upscale Edina Wednesday. “Republican Rep. Keith Downey of Edina got an earful Wednesday night when he spoke to a roomful of public employees who could soon be out of work if lawmakers can’t reach an agreement on erasing a projected $5 billion deficit. Organized labor already had a bone to pick with Downey, who sponsored several measures this year to trim government spending, including a 15 percent reduction in the state workforce over four years. He also stood firm against Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal to raise income taxes on top earners to balance the state’s budget. … But for state workers like Jason Wiley of Edina, the main beef with Downey was his attempt to thin their ranks. ‘You and I both know that payroll and benefits make up such a small percentage of the state’s expenditures that they don’t have a material effect on the current budget crisis,’ Wiley said. ‘Consequently, I have to conclude that your legislation — thankfully vetoed by Gov. Dayton — was a mean-spirited attempt to scapegoat state labor unions.’ … some of Downey’s constituents pushed back when he blamed Dayton for no end-of-session budget agreement. ‘My perspective is that the governor really was not interested in negotiating,’ Downey told this audience. When some laughed in response, he added, ‘I’m telling you what happened on the ground. I was there.’ “

Here’s another story, from Paul Walsh and Dan Browning at the Strib, on that flare-up over CenterPoint’s pricing strategies: “[Minnesota AG Lori] Swanson introduced several disgruntled consumers at her news conference, and her 36-page comment to the commission contained vignettes from many others. Jack Ross, 84, of Lakeland, Minn., said he and his wife of 45 years, Marjorie, each have cancer, and he also has arthritis. The World War II veteran lives on a fixed income and said he ‘complained bitterly’ to CenterPoint when he heard about the program. His December gas bill covered 39 days, and his energy usage pushed him into the top pricing tier, meaning he paid nearly double what those in the lowest tier paid per unit of energy. Swanson estimated that the Rosses paid $164 more for gas last winter than they would have paid under old flat-rate structure.”

The Methodists have come a long way since I was a kid. Jim Maurice of WJON-TV reports: “During their annual conference in St. Cloud, about 40 Minnesota United Methodist clergy have signed a statement saying they would marry any couple who came to them, including same-sex couples. Reverend Bruce Robbins of the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis read the statement yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon.  He said he initially had about a dozen of his colleagues sign the statement, by last night that number had grown to 40. The statement was a voluntary action and not a part of the annual conference. Meanwhile, Bishop Sally Dyck says the statement itself does not break church rules. However, she says the church discipline does forbid same-sex marriage, and clergy who perform them could lose their conference membership, or clergy credentials.” Which reminds me … has anyone checked “The Reverend” Bradlee Dean’s “clergy credentials”?

As accustomed as I am to perfection, I do occasionally miss a good one … or one that is at least as good as the other. In this case, it’s John Welbes’ PiPress version of the flagrantly over-the-top insurance scam run by Travis Magdalena Scott of Eden Prairie. (He should sue his parents for that middle name.) Scott is the guy who claimed a lightning strike devastated his business…  but not so much that he didn’t have a poor man’s Denny Hecker’s worth of toys. Says Welbes: “After the 2008 lightning strike, Zurich paid out the $9.5 million to Scott for new computers, and $1.9 million for the interruption to his business. The $1.9 million was based on his company’s profits, as detailed in a 2007 tax return. But the tax return Scott gave to Zurich, prosecutors say, was falsified. Documents filed with the November search warrants say Scott spent $400,000 in 2009 to build the airplane hangar at Flying Cloud Airport. Scott did use some of the insurance money from Zurich to purchase property for his business in another state and to buy what he needed to write new computer programs — but not to buy new supercomputers, said Marsh Halberg, Scott’s defense attorney. Halberg stressed that Scott has willingly forfeited a long list of property including two Piper airplanes and a Beech airplane, a BMW, a GMC Sierra and a 46-foot yacht. Scott also handed over more than $5 million from various bank accounts. Prosecutors say Scott ultimately cheated Zurich out of at least $7 million. Scott previously was known as Travis Scott Olson, but changed his name in November 2008, according to court records.” Wait a minute! Don’t bury the lead, man. This guy chose “Magdalena” for his bogus name?

PolyMet, the mining firm looking at ramping up to dig for copper up north, has blown through $16 million in cash and is in pretty desperate need of new revenue. The AP story says: “Chartered Accountants of Vancouver, British Columbia, looked at three years of PolyMet’s financial statements and found that the company had $779,000 in working capital and net current assets as of Jan. 31, 2011, the Duluth News Tribune reported Wednesday. PolyMet, a publicly traded company incorporated in Canada, had $16.3 million on Jan. 31, 2010. PolyMet disclosed the audit report on Tuesday. The report concluded the cash shortage could ‘cast significant doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.’ The accountants wrote PolyMet would need additional financing in order to meet its obligations by Jan. 31, 2012.”

With so much gas-bagging on the deficit, Tom Scheck of MPR injects a clarifying reminder today: “Technically, Republicans are right when they say the state is spending $30 billion in the current budget cycle, but they’re also leaving something out. They’re careful to use the term ‘state spending’ because that’s the amount of spending coming from state coffers, but that’s not the total that’s being spent on state operations and programs.The federal government kicked in $2.3 billion from the stimulus law that is funding state programs, and the state delayed paying schools $1.9 billion. Factor in those numbers and spending this biennium just about equals the $34 billion Republicans are proposing for the next biennium, but expenses are going up faster than revenues. ‘Our revenues didn’t increase enough to allow us to make up the federal subsidy plus the one-time savings that we got from the K-12 shift,’ said State Economist Tom Stinson. ‘On an apples-to-apples comparison, you’re going from $34 billion to $39 billion.’ Stinson said the main reasons for the increase are higher health care costs, more people needing subsidized health insurance and more children enrolled in K-12 schools, he said. Holding back the money for schools would keep the budget at $37.6 billion, he said.” “Shifting” money for health care will drop that number even more.

National Spelling Bee watch: The two Minnesota kids did us proud on their first words today. Paul Walsh (give this guy a raise) reports in the Strib: “Anja Beth Swoap, 14, from Valley View Middle School in Edina, quickly and correctly spelled her first word of the day, ‘fissipedal.’ It means having toes separated to the base: cloven-footed. Nisswa’s Connor Gunsbury, 13, who attends Forestview Middle School in Baxter, was the other Minnesotan among the 41 youngsters who made the semis in National Harbor, Md. Gunsbury got ‘rhinorrhagia’ right. That’s a nosebleed, by the way. After Thursday’s first round, the field was trimmed by six to 35. The semifinals are scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon (CDT), with the finals starting at 7:30 p.m. At Valley View, each classroom in the school of 1,300 is receiving a live feed from ESPN.”

Have I mentioned how entertaining Wisconsin is? A spring version of last winter’s mass protests is setting up — in what they’re calling “Walkerville” — as the legislature prepares to vote on CheeseLand’s version of an “all-cuts budget solution.” Sandy Cullen and Mary Picuzza of the State Journal write: “We Are Wisconsin, an alliance of community groups, labor unions and others, has asked the city for a permit to set up the camp across from the Capitol to provide information about Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposals and efforts to recall Republican legislators who voted to eliminate bargaining rights for most public employees. The city’s Street Use Staff Commission will have a special meeting Friday to consider the permit application for a state budget rally that would begin Saturday and continue through June 20. David Boetcher, who is helping to organize the event, said an information station would be accompanied by overnight campers, who could number in the thousands on weekends.” Dang, who has the beer concession on that one?