More than 70% of school levies approved


More than 70 percent of the state’s 176 proposed school levy increases passed Tuesday. Tom Weber at MPR writes: “ Voters across Minnesota approved seven of every 10 school-related referenda on Tuesday, in many cases agreeing to raise their own property taxes to provide extra dollars for their districts. In all, 123 of the 176 referenda that were on ballots across the state won approval. Those 176 questions were spread out across 126 different school districts. At least 96 of those districts, or 76%, saw at least one question pass. The districts were asking voters to approve referendum questions that either maintain or increase spending. … While voters in Austin approved nearly $30 million in borrowing for remodeling and building expansion, voters in Bemidji rejected a $13 million question for a new elementary school building. In addition, voters in Albany, Duluth, Fairmont, Milaca, Owatonna, Sauk Rapids-Rice, Sleepy Eye, Stillwater, and Waconia rejected multiple questions that each sought separate tax hikes.”

Chris Williams’ story for the AP says: “Schools have become more reliant on money raised from local property taxes over the past decade as the state’s per-pupil spending has failed to keep up with inflation, according to figures from the Minnesota Department of Education. Currently, 90 percent of Minnesota schools supplement their state support with local taxes. Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said the situation is unfair to school districts that can’t persuade local voters to pass an operating levy, but the results Tuesday also show that many Minnesotans are willing to pony up for important services. ‘I think this is a clear message that Minnesotans are willing to pay more for things they value and they believe will improve the quality of life in Minnesota,’ she said. ‘Investing in children is the best investment.’ It has been challenging for the few districts that don’t have operating levies, said John Cselovski, superintendent of the Sleepy Eye schools. His small district in central Minnesota has never had an operating levy and voters turned aside another request for one on Tuesday. ‘We’ve reached the threshold of reductions, we can’t look at cuts anymore unless there will be 40 to 50 kids in a class,’ he said.” There’s not much out there from the “throwing good money after bad” crowd.

In a jargon alert, “extreme cold” will be in vogue again this winter, at the expense of those wind chill numbers. The AP says: “The National Weather Service in the Dakotas and Minnesota will not be issuing wind chill warnings this winter, opting instead for the ‘extreme cold’ statements that debuted last winter. Wind chill is the measure of how cold it feels once the wind is factored in with the air temperature. The new warning emphasizes that dangerous cold does not necessarily depend on the wind, forecasters said. ‘When it gets really darn cold out there, it gets really darn cold,’ Greg Gust, a meteorologist in Grand Forks, told the Grand Forks Herald. ‘Extreme cold’ warnings are issued when it feels like minus-30 degrees or colder across a wide area for several hours. Extreme cold watches are issued a day or two before the conditions are expected. The weather service began using the statements midway through last winter to supplement wind child advisories and warnings. This year, the agency is dropping wind chill warnings.”

Gov. Dayton’s approval ratings are still up 9 percentage points over his election plurality. Says Rachel Stassen-Berger at the Strib: “A majority of Minnesotans say Gov. Mark Dayton is doing a good job at the state’s helm, according to a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll. A year after 43 percent of voters sent Dayton to the governor’s office, 52 percent of Minnesotans now say they approve of the way he is handling the job. Another 31 percent disapprove, while 17 percent had no opinion or declined to answer the question. Given his ongoing battles with a Republican-led House and Senate, the DFL governor pronounced himself pleased with the numbers. … The numbers show only a slight dip in Dayton’s approval rating since a May Minnesota Poll, before the early summer shutdown that shuttered government for almost three weeks. In that poll, 54 percent approved of the governor’s work.”

There is a cost to protecting the “job creators.” Brian Bakst of the AP reports: “Minnesota’s government is about to give up $1.1 billion in future payments from tobacco companies so it can get about half as much money now for a temporary budget fix. A new state authority expects to finalize a bond sale late next week that leverages a portion of Minnesota’s 1998 tobacco lawsuit settlement. The sale will free up $640 million to patch a near-term budget hole, but the payouts to bondholders, with interest, will add to the budget woes the state is projected to have for years to come. … The arrangement was a key link to a summer budget deal that ended a nearly three-week government shutdown. Both sides cast it as a default option because Republicans refused to raise income taxes and Dayton balked at deeper spending cuts. But it comes at a high price. Documents supplied to potential bond investors suggest that the state is actually selling $787 million worth of bonds. Almost $150 million of it is going toward a debt reserve fund, set-up costs and other expenses that limit the amount available for budget purposes. Similar to a home mortgage, the state receives an infusion of money but will pay bondholders between $65 million and $80 million per year for the next 20 years. The highest annual debt costs come toward the beginning, when the state’s budget is already anticipated to be in rough shape.”  And to all responsible for the deficit gridlock, may I say again, “Well done.”

This is how you husband your ammunition, I guess. Another AP story says: “It was an improbable outcome for a deer hunter in northeastern Minnesota who fired one gunshot. He bagged two deer. Bob Schuder, of Deer River, was hunting near Grand Rapids Sunday and took a shot at a doe that had wandered into a clearing with two fawns. Schuder climbed down from his tree stand and found a dead fawn. Schuder then saw a white spot in the woods and checked it out. He found his bullet initially struck the doe, passed through its body and hit the fawn. Schuder had killed both deer with a single shot.

Andy Birkey at The Minnesota Independent looks into groundwork activities for next fall’s gay marriage referendum. He says: “Minnesota for Marriage is also conducting a series of information sessions around the state to build support for the amendment. One such meeting was held in Minneapolis in late-October. A participant who asked not to be identified by name told the Minnesota Independent that the meeting had about 30 participants and was headed by former staffer for Rep. Michele Bachmann, Tim Gould, who is working for Minnesota for Marriage as the group’s grassroots organizer. Also heading up the meeting was Tim Hansen, the Minnesota Family Council’s church outreach director, and Cathy Deeds, who works as an outreach coordinator for the Minnesota Catholic Conference. Minnesota for Marriage told meeting participants that they were working on a massive voter identification effort as well as finding supportive churches in every legislative district. ‘It’s best to center on emotions, the meeting participant recalled of the meeting’s strategy, saying they were urged to talk about the effect same-sex marriage would have on children and to use people’s belief in the Bible to make their arguments.”

Despite an odd-bedfellows coalition including Michele Bachmann, Amy Klobuchar and (apparently) Barack Obama, there are at least 30 legislators opposed to the giant new $700 million St. Croix bridge. Mary Divine of the PiPress writes: “Thirty state legislators from Minnesota and Wisconsin sent a letter Tuesday to their congressional delegations urging them to vote against measures that would pave the way for a new St. Croix River bridge. Legislators — 23 from Minnesota, seven from Wisconsin — said they were ‘united in our concerns that the current design of the bridge is far too expensive, particularly in light of much more cost-effective alternatives,’ according to the letter. ‘This is an issue on which we are united,’ said state Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, in a prepared statement. ‘Both Minnesota and Wisconsin taxpayers will not be well served by a $700 million bridge that diverts already limited resources for critical bridge repairs and road safety projects.’ Wisconsin Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, said his constituents and Wisconsin taxpayers ‘are more concerned about repairing the bridges in their neighborhood rather than building a gold-plated bridge to Minnesota six miles north of an eight-lane bridge that already exists.’ “

Wisconsin Democrats are energized by Tuesday’s pro-union vote in Ohio. But Christian Schneider at The National Review cautions against misplaced optimism: “[T]he Ohio and Wisconsin laws are different. Walker wisely exempted police and firefighters from his law, fearing a backlash in the event of any kind of work stoppage. Kasich’s law included public-safety workers, allowing unions to run ads scaring people into thinking their houses were going to burn to the ground if the law were allowed to go into effect. Ironically, Walker took a lot of heat from the Left for exempting public-safety workers from his bill. Democrats accused him of paying off the police unions, some of which supported his campaign. Yet now it is clear why his move so frustrated the Left — it made him seem more reasonable, and therefore harder to beat when this inevitable recall effort got underway. They wanted the harshest possible law to hang around his neck — instead, they got one that didn’t allow them to demagogue him out of office. Also, in Ohio, people were voting against an idea, not a person. The vote was up-or-down on the law itself. In Wisconsin, Democrats actually have to run a candidate against Walker — and the names being bandied about as possible challengers feature a number of retreads and has-beens of liberal politics. A referendum can’t go out and speak for itself; Scott Walker can. And he only has to be better than the candidate they put before him.” Oddly, there’s nothing in the piece about an off-year vote (on an “idea”) that drew 3.4 million to the polls.

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