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Opposition to St. Croix bridge coalesces

MORNING EDITION ALSO: University Avenue LRT ahead of schedule; focus on Macy’s in St. Paul; farm prices on the rise; and Jesus of St. Paul can stay for now.
Read Wednesday’s Afternoon Edition


Despite a strange bedfellows coalition that includes Amy Klobuchar, Michele Bachmann, Mark Dayton, Al Franken and possibly even Barack Obama, opposition to the plus-size version of a new St. Croix bridge is growing. In the Strib, Kevin Giles writes: “Opposition to spending $360 million for Minnesota’s share of a new St. Croix River bridge is growing among some state legislators who want the money released for transportation needs that will benefit a larger number of residents. Spending that sum on top of $100 million or more to improve highways leading to a potential new Vikings stadium in Arden Hills, the legislators say, would leave the state desperately short of cash needed to fix hundreds of deteriorating roads and bridges. … with Congress mired in confrontations over taxes and spending, and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calling for a ‘working group’ to further explore the bridge issue, opponents of the bigger bridge say they now sense a window of opportunity.”

Completion! Rupa Chenoy of MPR says University Avenue LRT construction has been finished, ahead of schedule. “A large section of the Central Corridor light rail line is completed along University Avenue in St. Paul, according to the Metropolitan Council. After months of work, the western three miles of University Avenue in St. Paul will reopen this week. On Wednesday, University Avenue will go back to two lanes in both directions between Emerald Street and Hamline Avenue. … Robert Street will also reopen this week between University Avenue and 12th Street in the State Capitol area with one lane each way.”

I smell another sweetheart deal. Gita Sitamariah of the PiPress reports that St. Paul’s downtown Macy’s store is moving back out on the cusp. “Over the years, the store’s space has shrunk and its hours have been shortened. Many retail observers aren’t optimistic that Cincinnati-based Macy’s will keep the store open much beyond next year. ‘I think the handwriting is pretty much on the wall for the St. Paul store,’ said David Brennan, co-director of the Institute for Retailing Excellence at the University of St. Thomas. Asked how the location was performing, Macy’s spokesman Jim Sluzewski said in an email that the retailer doesn’t provide sales by location and that there is no news regarding a closing. … The city of St. Paul in 2001 approved a $6.3 million forgivable loan to Dayton’s, which later became Marshall Field’s, then Macy’s. Retail has struggled for years in downtown St. Paul, and city officials doled out the subsidy to then-owner Minneapolis-based Target Corp. to keep the last department store in downtown alive. Macy’s must pay back the city subsidy with interest, totaling almost $6.9 million, if the downtown St. Paul store closes before the end of 2012.” I just added “large forgivable loan” to my Christmas list.

The U of M’s plan to cut back on the number of transfer students it accepts isn’t going down well among certain parties. Mila Koumpilova’s PiPress story says: “The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System has sounded alarms over the U’s plan to trim transfer student enrollment roughly 8 percent over the next couple of years. MnSCU supplies 45 percent of U transfers. The U’s plan is ‘troubling and disappointing,’ said Larry Litecky, interim vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at MnSCU. It goes against the state’s commitment to improve access to four-year degrees for all residents, added Litecky, who noted that amid talk of closer cooperation between the U and MnSCU, he heard of the plan through the media.”

Juicy prices have farmers considering taking land out of the Conservation Reserve Program and planting corn. Josephine Marcotty of the Strib writes: “Experts say 2012 is likely to be a tipping point for conservation across the Upper Midwest. Some 300,000 acres in Minnesota — one fifth of the land now set aside through the CRP — will be up for grabs as federal contracts come up for renewal. In the following years, millions more acres in Minnesota, North and South Dakota — critical prairie and wetland habitat for a fourth of the nation’s migratory birds — may also fall to the plow as farmers choose between leaving it to nature or converting it to cash crops. Many predict that nature will be the loser. These choices loom just as concern about Minnesota’s lakes and rivers is on the rise and the state is embarked on a decades-long plan to improve water quality from Lake Pepin to the Red River. And yet all the financial incentives for farmers — who control half of Minnesota’s land — are poised to move in the opposite direction.”

Jesus of St. Paul can stay, probably at least until spring. Rochelle Olson of the Strib reports: “The St. Paul City Council in April voted for the removal of 7-foot marble statue of Jesus from a west side Mississippi River bluff with a panoramic view of the downtown, but he hasn’t budged. ‘I am here looking for democracy and freedom,’ said Tuan Pham, a Vietnamese immigrant and retired University Avenue grocery owner who erected the statue in his back yard. Under instructions from his lawyer, Pham said he has been waiting for an official letter from the city. If and when he gets one, Pham said he will file a lawsuit. Pham bought his bluff home in 2007 and planted a Lady Liberty statue out front. He added two sets of leaping dolphins, a Virgin Mary, a St. Joseph and tropical fish. The Jesus statue, however, has been the subject of the city’s attention since November 2010 when the city received an anonymous complaint about it standing too close to the bluff.”

Today in Bachmannia: If Our Gal is calling you “the most liberal GOP candidate …” on the issue of anything you gotta … well, you gotta consider the source. Lately she’s been ripping up Newt Gingrich, accusing him of promising “amnesty” to “illegals”. Except now the guy whose organization came up with the immigration pledge Gingrich signed says — shocker here — Ms. Bachmann is wrong. At Forbes, Stuart Anderson of the National Foundation for American Policy writes, “ … in 2004, President Bush at first proposed a system to incorporate those in the country working without authorization within a new legal structure. The structure proposed was a temporary visa program. Nobody who signed the statement, including Newt Gingrich, was proposing an amnesty or even specifically endorsing the President’s proposal, only noting that it held ‘great promise to reduce illegal immigration and establish a humane, orderly, and economically sensible approach to migration that will aid homeland security and free up border-security assets to focus on genuine threats.’ Indeed, the proposal to create a temporary visa program for new workers did, in fact, hold promise for reducing illegal immigration and freeing up law enforcement assets to focus on threats beyond those posed by future waiters, gardeners and busboys. Certainly it holds more promise than attacking the Mexican government as a ‘narco-terrorist state,’ as Rep. Bachmann did earlier this year.”

Ol’ Sooch served up another classic Sunday. In his column on the very little money the state lost on the shutdown, Joe Soucheray sees no good reason why we can’t just get along — permanently — without those 19,000 state employees we didn’t pay. “The way I figure it, we came out $6 million in the black. Basically, if we lost $59 million in fees, lost lottery ticket sales, unpursued tax cheats and the like, but didn’t, during the same period, pay out $65 million in salaries, there’s a $6 million spread there that looks pretty favorable to you and me. … What, in God’s name, do the 19,000 people who didn’t get paid actually do? And are they necessary? I suppose somebody didn’t go around and spray for mosquitoes, but I thought it was an unusually low mosquito year, anyway. And I suppose there were a couple of people in the Office of Enterprise and Technology who had to hold off on splitting the atom, but generally speaking, 80 percent of the government stayed open while 19,000 non-essential workers were laid off. Hello. God love them and no ill will intended, but if we have 19,000 state employees in unknown and unseen capacities who were not deemed necessary to the 80 percent of government that remained open, why do we have them?” I certainly doubt any of them do anything as valuable as grumping regularly about high taxes and useless services.

Speaking of public employeesAaron Klemz at the liberal blog “The Cucking Stool” lays into Sooch’s PiPress comrades for their story last week on separation/retirement pay-outs. “The Pioneer Press noted that between 2008 and June 30, 2011, 5600 state employees received $57 million in payment for unused sick leave. In this same timeframe, over 13,400 Minnesota state employees were separated (left their job or retired.) Only 42% of these former employees (5,600) received any sick leave payout. These payouts are concentrated at the top, and many of the recipients are management, not labor. Their assertion that ‘most take home $10,000 to $30,000’ is misleading and dishonest. And the focus on union contracts belies the reality that it’s management that’s gets the lion’s share of this benefit. According to the Pioneer Press’s database, of the top 50 recipients of sick time payouts, 46 were non-union management. Of the top 100 recipients, 75 were non-union management in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system or state agencies.” In its way I suspect the PiPress was just trying to be fair and balanced.