Any law written by men and women can and will be gamed by men and women. Elizabeth Stawicki of MPR reports: “One of the key questions in the health care overhaul is whether this new option for securing health coverage will convince employers to stop offering insurance altogether, knowing employees can resort to the exchanges. ‘We didn’t think it would be as simple as that,’ said Amy Monahan, a U of M expert on health law. Monahan and her colleague Dan Schwarcz, an expert on insurance regulation, tried to anticipate how companies would respond to the law given the harsh economic environment and soaring health insurance costs. They discovered the law gives many large employers an opportunity to squeeze the most expensive workers out of their health plans. The loophole applies to companies that self-insure; that is, design and cover the cost of their own plans. Those companies account for six in 10 workers who get insurance through work. Monahan doubts that many large companies would stop insuring their employees entirely because they’d face a penalty under the health care law. But self-insured employers ‘can exclude things and essentially structure their plans to be attractive to low-risk, healthy employees and not attractive to people who are going to have significant health needs,’ Monahan said.”
That financing plan floated by the Vikings over the weekend, the “but for” plan, which would redirect team and player taxes to debt service for the new stadium (instead of the general fund), isn’t playing all that well. At Finance & Commerce, Brian Johnson writes: “John Pollard, a spokesman for the Minnesota Management & Budget office, said the annual debt service on stadium bonds depends on a number of factors, including the type of bond and the interest rate that can be garnered. Earlier this month, state Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, a ‘racino’ supporter, told Finance & Commerce that the state debt service estimate for a proposed Arden Hills stadium would be about $55 million a year. State Rep. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, a critic of public subsidies for pro sports stadiums, says that the debt service would be about $50 million a year and that the team’s financing plan falls short of covering the cost. ‘Bottom line, it’s not an economics plan; it’s a PR gimmick’ to make people feel better about the ‘huge subsidies’ the team is seeking,’ Marty said in an interview. … Art Rolnick, a senior fellow with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and a former director of research with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said any business in the Twin Cities could make the ‘but for’ argument that the Vikings are using. ‘They all pay taxes … and that money is used for public goods; we need that money to provide government services,’ Rolnick said.”
Among several very good reasons why the NFL doesn’t want the Vikings to leave is that (even as miserable as they are this year) they have remarkable fan support. As the Strib’s Mike Kaszuba writes: “Television ratings for the Vikings in recent years have been among the best in the league, according to the NFL and Scarborough Sports Marketing, a New York-based subsidiary of the Nielsen Company and Arbitron Inc., the media and advertising ratings giants. Even with a losing record in 2010, the Vikings boasted the fifth best television ratings in the 32-team NFL, exceeding ratings in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. Of the league’s top five ratings giants last year — New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Indianapolis and Minnesota — only the Vikings have not been to a Super Bowl in the past three years. As the Minnesota Senate begins hearings Tuesday on a Vikings stadium, both the team and stadium critics have repeatedly pointed to the Vikings television ratings to bolster their case.”
Stephanie Hemphill of MPR takes another look at North Dakota’s legal action against Minnesota for not buying more of their coal. “The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce sides with North Dakota on the coal lawsuit. Bill Blazar, the chamber’s senior vice president of public affairs and business development, said businesses want reliable energy sources and all options — including coal — should be available for long-term planning. ‘Just because we don’t need it today doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing the analysis, looking at all the technologies and thinking ahead,’ he said. J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at the non-profit energy policy group Fresh Energy, said instead of putting all its eggs in the coal basket, North Dakota should be promoting cheaper and cleaner options. Hamilton said North Dakota has better energy options than goal and should focus on them. ‘The natural gas that they’re currently flaring off the Bakken oil fields, and especially wind power,’ she said, are good examples. North Dakota could create export markets for those commodities.”
The Strib consents to a moral scolding in a guest editorial from Elissa Hulin Peterson, a Minneapolis psychologist. Responding to the paper’s “stop whining and be grateful you have a job” editorial bashing employees opposed to Thanksgiving shopping hours, she says, “The business of America may be business, but we need to listen carefully to those telling us it should not be our only business. There is more at stake here than the opportunity to shop at midnight. I am writing this article because in my work as a therapist I see the effects of dysfunctional families — drug and alcohol dependency, domestic and child abuse, emotional disorders. The United States has the highest divorce rate, the highest incarceration rate and the highest rate of depression in the world. This kind of widespread psychological distress can often be lessened when the culture offers sustenance, especially meaning and purpose deeper than consumption and personal gratification. There is an old proverb about how the best way to fit rocks, pebbles and sand into a bag is to put the rocks in first and fit the pebbles and sand around them. It is interesting that even the thoughtful editors of a newspaper in a family-friendly state say that the corporations’ needs are the rocks, and families will just have to fit around them, rather than vice versa.”
In an MPR commentary, mathemetician and former Republican State Central Committee member Bruce Morlan advises his fellow GOPers to get over their infatuation with the flat tax. “The complex nature and blatant cronyism of [the present tax system is] easily used to generate support for the simple flat taxes, whether 9 percent (a la Cain’s proposal) or 20 percent (Perry’s) or other proposed rates (28 percent is sometimes quoted). These simplifications are popular not because they are flat, but because they eliminate all of those special-interest loopholes. This makes them appealing to all those taxpayers who, at the end of their very long tax preparation day, find that they do not qualify for those gifts. But the simple flat tax is unfair. Consider a flat tax of 20 percent. The person earning $20,000 per year will miss much more from the tax of $4,000 than the person making $100,000 will miss from his tax of $20,000. The former may miss some meals, the latter may miss some trips to restaurants.” But those business lunches at Manny’s would still be deductible, right?
According to one survey, holiday shopping volume in downtown Minneapolis is on a par with … Northtown … and 10 times less than Rosedale. Eric Wieffering of the Strib writes: “Every year, University of St. Thomas professor Dave Brennan, co-director of the school’s Institute for Retailing Excellence, asks Twin Cities area consumers how much they plan to spend during the holidays, and where they will do most of their shopping. This year, more than 21 percent chose Rosedale, followed closely by Mall of America. The market share for downtown Minneapolis: about 2 percent. ‘That puts it on a par with Northtown and some of the weaker or older shopping centers in our survey,’ Brennan said. Ouch.”
Today in Bachmannia: Deport ‘em all. All 11 million of ‘em. Appearing on … Laura Ingraham’s radio show. (You thought I was going to say NPR, right?), Our Gal explained her thinking on that funky immigration problem. Josh Lederman of The Hill reports: “Asked by radio host Laura Ingraham on Monday about an earlier statement she made differentiating between immigrants who had recently entered the country illegally from those with longstanding ties to the United States, Bachmann said she was never referring to legalization. ‘What I’m talking about is the order of deportation, the sequence of deportation,’ Bachmann replied. ‘It is almost impossible to move 11 million illegal immigrants overnight. You do it in steps.’ Bachmann said deporting those convicted of crimes would be the first step. She also said that while she hadn’t seen any polls detailing her level of support among Hispanic voters, she believes they are seeking the same answers from government as everyone else: a chance to pursue a prosperous life.” Oh, please, please, someone get me those Hispanics-for-Bachmann numbers.
Good God! Talk about a menace to society … the AP reports from Huron, South Dakota: “A bar owner already charged with raping three girls, including a 12-year-old, after plying them with drinks last month, faces fresh charges, after police said they found 11 minors at the bar during a weekend compliance check. Werner Fajardo, of Sioux Falls, had been out on $10,000 bond on the rape charges that were filed earlier this month. Police then arrested him Saturday night following a check on his bar in Huron, a town about 120 miles northwest of Sioux Falls. During a brief court hearing Monday on the new charges, furnishing alcohol to minors and maintaining an alcohol nuisance, Circuit Judge Jon R. Erickson of Huron set a new bond of $150,000. … In an affidavit that accompanied the Nov. 18 criminal complaint filed in the rape case, police said Fajardo drove the girls to his bar in the early morning hours of Oct. 30. ‘The bar was closed, but the defendant started mixing drinks for the girls,’ police said. The girls told an officer they passed out or became incapacitated and felt as if they could not move.”