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Did budget deal jack up property taxes? Most likely, yes

AFTERNOON EDITION ALSO: Rosario on Penn State scandal; Lutsen gets water-pumping waiver; new life for Big Stone coal plant; cursive writing faces near extinction; tow truck investigation; and more.
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If you’re forced to give a “yes” or “no” answer to whether the state’s funky budget agreement last summer has driven up property taxes, the former fits better than the latter. That’s the conclusion of Dave Peters at MPR, who reports: “A caution: This is Minnesota, and when you talk property taxes, things get complicated. Taxes are not going up everywhere and not for everyone, and it looks like most increases will be in the single digits. But when you open your truth-in-taxation statement this month, chances are it will show an increase, our analysis shows. We asked local tax officials in more than two dozen places to tell us what was happening to the tax on a median value home. More than three-quarters said preliminary estimates show taxes rising in 2012, even after taking into account a decline in values in most places. These numbers have been a point of contention since July, when the state temporarily solved its budget problem. DFLers tend to say property tax increases next year will be the state’s fault: By cutting aid to local governments, the state effectively forced those already-thin governments to make up for it by raising property taxes. Republicans tend to say, no, it isn’t: Property tax decisions are in the hands of local leaders who can cut spending much as the state did to keep taxes down.” You see, it really is as easy as that.

At the PiPress, Ruben Rosario wades into the Penn State sex abuse scandal: “Victor Vieth, executive director of the National Child Protection Training Center at Winona State University, said the Penn State inaction is hardly an isolated case. ‘Twenty years of research confirms what every child protection professional already knows — that most people most of the time will not intervene to save a child,’ Vieth told me Thursday. ‘This is true even when the evidence, as in the Penn State case, is clear.’ Vieth, however, added a thought-provoking hypothetical: ‘Think of your best friend or your brother or sister,’ he said. “If you saw someone you care about, even love, raping a boy in the shower, would you protect your friend or loved one, or would you protect the child? Until all of us can say to ourselves, and actually put into practice the principle of children first, kids don’t have much of a chance.’ “

And in that same vein, Richard Chin at the PiPress gets today’s duty in the Nativity priest sex-abuse trial: “During his testimony, Wenthe, now 47, said the relationship began as priest and penitent, but it turned into a friendship that became sexual. Wenthe said that after college, he spent nine years working as an electrical engineer before he became a priest and found his first church assignment at Nativity daunting. He said the job had long hours, and he was introverted and anxious about delivering homilies and remembering names of members of the large congregation. He said he had trouble sleeping, was frequently sick and felt ‘lonely and alone.’ ‘Living a life of celibacy was much harder than I anticipated,’ he said. … He said he warned her at one point that they needed to be careful about their relationship. He said at first he thought they could be affectionate yet still chaste. ‘I believed it could be managed,’ he said. But in mid-November 2003, the two had an all-night conversation on the phone, Wenthe said, that began with a discussion related to ‘theology of the body’ but turned into ‘the type of sexual behavior that might interest one another.’ The next evening, Wenthe said, ‘We agreed to hang out that night.’ ” The woman tells a significantly different story.

The Lutsen resort will be allowed to pump water from a very low stream to make snow for skiiing. John Myers at the Duluth News Tribune writes: “Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr on Thursday said Lutsen Mountain Corp. can pump water from the drought-stricken river because the alternative, shutting off the water supply, could force the ski hill to close. The issue became public in May when the News Tribune first reported the ski hill had been in violation of its water use permit for years. It is the only commercial use of designated trout stream water in the state in winter. DNR officials last spring appeared to be moving toward requiring the company to instead pump its snowmaking water from Lake Superior — more than a mile away — a move the company said is too expensive.”

Clean coal? A judge has agreed to let Big Stone power clean up its coal plant, giving it a new lease on life. David Shaffer’s Strib story says: “A Minnesota administrative judge concluded in findings released Thursday that it makes financial sense for utilities to spend $489 million for “best available” pollution controls on the Big Stone power plant in South Dakota, rather than junk the 36-year-old generator and replace it with something else. The upgrade would reduce haze-forming pollutants by 80 to 90 percent, bringing the plant into compliance with federal air pollution regulations designed to protect wilderness areas and national parks, including the BWCA and Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. Four environmental groups fought the upgrade and pushed for replacing the plant with natural gas-fired generation and renewable energy like wind power.”

Cursive may soon be as extinct as the black rhino, but not in Wisconsin. Lindsay Fiori of the Racine Journal Times reports: “As we use typed communication over the handwritten word more and more, schools are questioning if it’s worthwhile to keep teaching cursive writing. Cursive is typically taught after students learn printing, during time some say could be better spent on reading and math; those subjects are judged on standardized tests while handwriting is not. Add to that the fact new Common Core State Standards for education eliminate cursive from the curriculum, and cursive’s fate seems sealed. A number of school systems nationwide are cutting out cursive, according to K-12 handwriting instruction expert Steve Graham. But Racine County schools are not among those dropping the flowing writing form. Taking into account technology and time, local educators have chosen to keep cursive in the classroom. ‘Our philosophy is this: Even with the oncoming level of technology that children and adults are using, handwriting still has a basic place in the way humans communicate with one another,’ said Diana Lesnjak, principal of Racine’s St. Rita School.” OMG! BTW U R so CX, ADBB.

The Christopher & Banks business model needs a serious overhaul. Thomas Lee’s Strib story says: “Struggling women’s clothing retailer Christopher & Banks Corp. said Friday that it will close 100 stores by the end of January 2012 and that it recently laid off a sizable portion of its corporate headquarters and store operations workforce. The Minneapolis-based company also said it will seek to restructure the leases of its remaining 670 stores and convert some stores to a dual format, which combines missy, petite, and plus sizes under one roof.”

There’s a lot of schadenfreude attached to this one. Matt McKinney of the Strib reports: “The largest tow-truck operator in Minneapolis is under a police investigation on allegations that it overcharged vehicle owners and improperly allowed its own employee to authorize tows from private property. The practices of Cedar Towing & Auction, at 359 Hoover St. NE., raised enough concern among city licensing staff that inspector Rich Tuffs turned the case over to the Minneapolis police. The alleged overcharges could amount to $100,000 this year alone, according to a court document. Tuffs’ findings are detailed in a search warrant filed in Hennepin County District Court by Minneapolis police Sgt. Daniel Pommerenke. Records show Pommerenke used the warrant on Oct. 18 to gather two boxes of employee records and a digital record of all tows this year from Cedar Towing. A police spokesman said the case remains under investigation. A woman at Cedar Towing’s office on Thursday said the company had no comment.” I rarely understand the “no comment” shtick. Is it too tough to say something boilerplate, like,“This is a gross miscarriage of injustice”?

But, if it were just you or me, she’d have done the same thing again, dammit! A story by Bruce Vielmetti of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says: “A driver in a hurry cut someone off Thursday on her way to southbound Interstate 43 near Locust St. and held up her middle finger as she was doing it. Too bad for Cheryl A. Smith: The driver she flipped off was Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. Clarke promptly turned on the emergency lights of his unmarked Suburban and pulled Smith over near North Ave., according to a news release from his office. Both had been headed south on N. 8th St. When Smith, 49, recognized the sheriff she said she was in a hurry, apologized and said she wouldn’t have delivered the impudent digit if she’d realized it was Clarke. He told her she shouldn’t have made the improper traffic move, or the rude gesture, to anyone. Clarke also ticketed Smith, who was driving a Ford Ranger, for operating while suspended and reckless driving.”