Pols vie over credit for surplus


The fight to take credit for the unexpected budget surplus is already veering off into the implausible and beyond parody. Tom Scheck at MPR reports: “Gov. Mark Dayton and state lawmakers are headed into the 2012 legislative session with a budget surplus, news that has a lot of elected and appointed officials taking credit for the state’s return to the black. But much of the $876 million surplus has little to do with the actions taken in the past year. Instead, state budget officials credit accounting changes and unexpected revenues from the federal government. Still, that hasn’t stopped lawmakers and state officials who closed a $5 billion budget hole in July from undertaking a little cheerleading. … ‘Now we can have some legitimate proof to say here’s what happens when you reform government,’ Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers said. ‘You can save some costs. You can reduce some of the burden on the private sector, but you can also reform the way government works. That’s how we’re going to lead the recovery.’ Zellers isn’t the only one. Many Republican lawmakers sent emails to their constituents hailing the news. Some said their efforts to hold the line on taxes and government spending worked. Others said the surplus was a direct result of the budget actions taken in July.”

Who out there will scream, “Death panels!”? Corey Mitchell’s Strib story says: “Aided by a $9.6 million grant from a Minnesota foundation, Minneapolis’ Abbott Northwestern Hospital will test a new approach to end-of-life care for hundreds of Twin Cities patients with Alzheimer’s disease, heart failure and late-stage cancer. Four hundred to 500 patients age 65 and older will participate, the hospital announced this past weekend. The study will be funded by a $9.6 million grant from the Robina Foundation. ‘This work will affect numerous lives,’ Dr. Penny Wheeler, chief clinical officer for Allina Hospitals and Clinics, said in a statement. Researchers will offer patients who have only six months to two years to live around-the-clock access to primary-care doctors, nurses, social workers and other staffers.”

Down 37% … and still slumping. That’s the Twin Cities home market vis a vis 2006. Jennifer Bjorhus of the Strib writes: “The number of homes listed for sale in the metro area last month plunged 24 percent from last year to 19,516, the lowest November inventory since 2004, according to monthly housing numbers out Monday from the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors (MAAR). The shrinkage is less about surging sales than about homeowners taking homes off the market and waiting to list properties until the situation looks more promising — a sign of the market’s long-running struggle to find the bottom of the housing crash. … Other readings were equally sober. While sale prices firmed up a bit over the summer, the median November sale price dropped 10.1 percent from a year ago to $149,250, the steepest November drop since 2008. Twin Cities prices hit their peak in June 2006 when the median was $238,000.”

The “controversial topics curriculum” appears ready to spread to Anoka-Hennepin schools. Elizabeth Dunbar reports: “At least six of Minnesota’s 15 largest school districts have policies that address how controversial topics or instructional materials should be handled: Minneapolis, St. Paul, Burnsville-Eagan-Savage, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, Wayzata and Mounds View. Each of those policies vary but carry a similar message. Officials at two of those districts confirmed their policies had not been challenged or questioned in recent years, and it doesn’t appear discussions over the policies in any of the other four districts became heated enough to make headlines. But the debate over the controversial issues policy isn’t likely to take place quietly in the Anoka-Hennepin district, where interest groups have been battling for years over how school officials should handle the topic of homosexuality.”

Wisconsin’s anti-voter fraud legislation is, as expected, making it tougher for legitimate voters to register. Andy Rathbun of the PiPress writes: “[Jennifer] Platt and her boyfriend don’t have forms of identification accepted at the polls, so they recently drove about 45 minutes to a Department of Motor Vehicles office in Hudson to each get an ID. They encountered two problems. The DMV office’s computer system was down, which meant they couldn’t get an ID processed. And they were told they didn’t have the proper identification to get a state ID card or a Wisconsin driver’s license, Platt said. ‘They said I didn’t have a certified birth certificate or a current passport,’ said Platt, who said she had asked the DMV what was needed before heading to Hudson. … Platt, of Osceola, said she is going to have to find her certified birth certificate or request a new one, take unpaid time off from work and again make the trip to the DMV. … Platt has agreed to be a plaintiff in a yet-to-be filed lawsuit challenging the law. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will be the lead plaintiff in the suit, said attorney Richard Saks. ‘We’re arguing that the photo ID requirement is an unreasonable and onerous burden on the state constitutional right to vote for Wisconsin citizens,’ said Saks, who is representing the plaintiffs. Saks said the law is tantamount to a denial of the right to vote for ‘scores of thousands of voters, if not hundreds of thousands of voters, throughout the state of Wisconsin who don’t have the types of ID’ required under the law.”  

A Tom Petters item from David Phelps at the Strib notes the players aligned against bankruptcy trustee Doug Kelley “clawback” decisions: “Deanna Coleman, the woman behind the crash of the biggest Ponzi scheme in Minnesota history, is scheduled to make her first extended public appearance in more than two years Monday when she takes the witness stand in a key bankruptcy proceeding where hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. … Those opposing the trustee’s consolidation motion — large investment funds and banks — contend they invested specifically with special-purpose entities that were separate from PCI, with their own books and records and sometimes directors and to lump them together would be prejudicial to them. … But Epsilon/Westwood Parties, one group of hedge fund investors opposing the trustee, said in a brief, ‘Substantive consolidation is an extreme remedy of last resort. It merges separate debtor entities, pooling their assets and liabilities and inevitably causing some creditors to recover significantly less than they otherwise would receive.’ The investment group also said it is clean because it made its last loan to its Petters special purpose entity in 2006 and was repaid in early 2007. ‘That was long before anyone discovered or suspected that Tom Petters was engaged in a massive fraud,’ the brief said.” So their argument is that whatever happened before the fraud was discovered is without taint and consequence?

What do you do with a molester dying from a brain tumor? Pat Pheifer of the Strib reports: “ ‘I have no consequences I can give,’ Judge Richard Spicer told James B. Vandusartz, 57, of Burnsville. The former girls’ hockey coach, who pleaded guilty in September to sexually assaulting a teenage girl at his Burnsville home, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor nearly a year ago and given 15 months to live. Spicer said it didn’t make sense to sentence Vandusartz to jail, community work service or electronic home monitoring. None of those would be appropriate or effective for a defendant as sick as Vandusartz, he said. … Defense attorney Denny Johnson told the judge that Vandusartz’s wife began noticing erratic behavior in May 2010. After the incident with the student in late November, Vandusartz’s wife told him to ‘get to a doctor, now,’ Johnson said. The tumor caused Vandusartz to have trouble with impulse control, Johnson said.”

Today in Bachmannia: Our Gal has been declared the winner in Saturday night’s GOP debate! Who declared her? Well, Our Gal herself, if you must know. Lucky Jason Noble, the Des Moines Register’s guy assigned to Our Favorite Congresswoman, reports: “Bachmann indeed delivered a strong performance in the debate, coining the phrase ‘Newt Romney’ in an extended riff that forcefully tied GOP frontrunners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney to incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama. ‘I thought she did spectacularly,’ said Brett O’Donnell, one of Bachmann’s top aides and a former college debate coach. ‘I thought this was one of her best debates if not her best debate.’ Her objective in the debate was to distinguish herself from the rest of the field as a true conservative, he said. ‘Those guys are interchangeably moderate, Washington insiders who won’t get rid of Obamacare and won’t change Washington,’ O’Donnell continued. ‘They’re big-government guys.’ Ryan Rhodes, Bachmann’s outreach director to Iowa tea parties, said her attack ‘set the premise’ for the debate.” If the “premise” is “Who among us will say anything?” isn’t that kind of a low bar?

Blogger John LaPlante at the Minnesota Free Market Institute posts on the inadvisability of progressive tax rates as a cure for state budget problems: “One problem with covering deficits by singling out the rich for tax increases is that there are not enough of them. So says Governing magazine — hardly an outlet of the so-called ‘1 percent.’ The magazine, in its December 2011 issue, also says ‘The more progressive the income tax rates, the greater the volatility is going to be.’ That’s one reason, I argue, why depending on the income tax, especially ‘soaking the rich,’ is an unwise policy. The magazine cites this volatility as one reason for the recent budget deficits of California (top rate: 10.3 percent) and New York (top rate: 8.97, introduced on January 1, 2009). While raising the taxes (only) on high-income earners is ‘a relatively palatable idea politically,’ says Governing, ‘there aren’t enough wealthy people around to make up most deficits through a 2 or 3 percentage point hike on a limited pool of individuals.’ ” Mr. LaPlante excludes a bit of the nuance of the article, including this bit: “No tax system is ever going to be recession-proof, says Jon Shure of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank. Estimates are bound to be missed when the economy is tanking. But he says that shouldn’t be used, as it often is, as an argument that tax increases on the rich have backfired. States may not collect as much as they’d hoped, but ‘every state that raised taxes on the very wealthy got more revenue than they would have if they hadn’t raised the taxes,’ Shure says.” … Albeit while crushing the dreams of the job creators.

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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Rosalind Kohls on 12/12/2011 - 03:51 pm.

    I can’t understand how Jennifer Platt and her boyfriend have been functioning in a modern world so far without photo ID. We need photo ID to cash a check, fly on an airplane, buy liquor and even rent a DVD from the local grocery/video store. Lately, we’ve had to show photo ID before we see the doctor at the medical clinic. Are we to assume that up to now, when they want to vote in Wisconsin, they haven’t done any of these normal everyday things for which we need photo ID?

  2. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 12/12/2011 - 04:38 pm.

    Weeellll… if you read the article, you will find that she has an out of state driver’s license, a utility bill from where she NOW lives, and a social security card. Shouldn’t be hard to get an ID, you would think. But, no.

    As for needing a photo ID…that’s the point. She is trying to get one. As for needing one for anything other than voting–well, if you don’t drive, you don’t need a driver’s license. If you don’t buy alcohol, you don’t have to verify your age there. If you don’t rent DVDs (I haven’t rented one in over 10 years), you don’t need one for that. If you don’t fly on an airplane–you wouldn’t BELIEVE how many people don’t do that (ever, let alone frequently)–you don’t need to worry about not having an ID for that…though an out of state driver’s license would suffice. If you don’t go to the doctor, and many people don’t more than once a year, you shouldn’t need one for that (I’ve never had to show anything other than my insurance card there, anyway). If you don’t cash a check (do you use checks? I don’t), then you don’t have to worry about an ID for that, either.

    It amazes ME how little thought people actually put into something like “I can’t understand how Jennifer Platt and her boyfriend have been functioning in a modern world so far without photo ID.” I’m not sure what modern world you live in that requires constant use of a photo ID. Other than driving (I suppose no one should live in a modern world without a car), there is nothing that you NEED a photo ID for (unless you rate alcohol and cigarettes among the necessities of life).

    But then, the POINT of the article was that it was so flipping DIFFICULT to get one, why would a person bother to try more than once? Way to make it unreasonably difficult to vote.

  3. Submitted by Pat Berg on 12/12/2011 - 05:08 pm.

    Well let’s see – I don’t cash checks since I use my check card for darn near everything and merchants virtually never ask to see ID. I don’t fly because I have neither the money nor the desire for that kind of travel. I’m not a drinker, and I content myself with watching whatever is available through my cable service provider. I’m also fortunate enough that sometimes I go for two or three years without seeing a doctor. And I’m “functioning in a modern world” just fine, thank you!

    Also considering the fact that Ms. Platt had a 45 minute drive to get to a DMV office, I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t in fact live in a rural area where cash transactions are often the norm, and folks get by just fine in their rural “modern world” with little to no need to ever show a picture ID for day-to-day activities. That’s an assumption on my part with regards to Ms. Platt, but it certainly holds true for plenty of rural folk.

    Just because these things may constitute the norm for the life that you live, Ms, Kohls – it does not necessarily follow that the same holds true for everyone else in this “modern world”.

  4. Submitted by Mike Lhotka on 12/12/2011 - 05:16 pm.

    How can anyone take credit for a surplus and call it government reform when 1.2 billion was borrowed from K-12, 750 million plus borrowed from future tabacco payments and tax money that was collected and passed through to cities and counties was kept? It is like keeping a balance in your checkbook by maxing out your credit card and defering the payments to future years.

  5. Submitted by David Greene on 12/12/2011 - 05:22 pm.

    It’s not a “voter ID” bill, it’s a Voter Suppression bill. That’s what it is meant to do – take certain elements of the population (the elderly, immigrants, people of color) out of the electorate. It is meant to extend a Republican power base that the Republican party knows can’t survive given the coming demographic changes. Rather than shift their policies and ideologies to fit the needs of our changing population, they would rather just prohibit “those people” from voting.

    All of these bills fundamentally boil down to a poll tax. Even if the ID itself is free you invariably need to pay for some piece of paper or other evidence to prove who you are in order to get that ID. Poll taxes were ruled unconstitutional a long time ago.

    @Rosalind (#1). The subjects of the story did have an ID. They didn’t have a _Wisconsin_ ID.

    The proposed MN Voter Suppression amendment is even worse. A driver’s license isn’t good enough. It requires a special ID just for the purposes of voting. That means it’s meant to target you and me for exclusion from the polls.

    We in MN have the highest voter turnout of any state. We traditionally have made it as easy as possible to vote on the theory that government works best when everyone has a voice. It’s disgusting that the Republican party wants to destroy that noble idea and history.

  6. Submitted by David Greene on 12/12/2011 - 05:24 pm.

    @Mike (#4) And the fact is that much of the surplus came from savings in health care, which could rightly be claimed as a success of Obama’s health reform efforts.

  7. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/12/2011 - 09:26 pm.

    All you people who don’t use photo IDs must be unemployed too.

    According to the article, she recently started working at the St. Croix County schools.

    For I-9 purposes an employee must supply either one document that establishes both identity and employment eligibility (such as a passport or green card), one document that establishes identity (such as a drivers license, state ID, school photo ID, or military ID), together with another document that establishes employment eligibility such as a social security card, birth certificate, U.S. citizen ID card.

    In most cases, the employee ends up having to provide two forms of photo ID to be eligible for employment in this country.

    Someone’s not telling the truth.

  8. Submitted by Ann Richards on 12/12/2011 - 10:08 pm.

    #!: Back in July this same conversation was carried on for days re needing a drivers license to conduct all kinds of business.At the time I said I rarely used mine. Since then I am doing a test. I put my ID away with a post-it date of July 2011 on it just to see how long I could go without it. I live in a community of 17,000 and am new here so much of my business is with strangers. I have not pulled it off the shelf since I put it away. Granted I don’t own a car so I am not driving. But I buy wine at the Muni, move money around, even created a new account, regularly use my cc, even made a return. If I travel by plane I have a passport to use.

    I live in a Senior building and I asked everyone if they had a current photo ID. Four out of 20 do, six have old addresses, six told me their social security and medicare card is all they care about. I confused four and gave up. Maybe it is just you young people who have to flash your card all the time, we oldsters don’t.

  9. Submitted by Pat Berg on 12/13/2011 - 08:11 am.

    #7 assumes “All you people who don’t use photo IDs must be unemployed too.”

    Um – Wrong. Continuously employed for over 32 years.

    It’s not nice to accuse people of lying when you don’t have the facts!

  10. Submitted by David Greene on 12/13/2011 - 08:16 am.


    If you read the article, you will find that Ms. Platt had plenty of paperwork to prove who she was. Wisconsin wouldn’t accept any of it to issue her a Wisconsin ID and certainly none of it is acceptable for voting purposes.

    This is outrageous. We’re talking about a fundamental civil right here.

    Look, all cases of known illegal voting (and there is only a handful in MN) would not have been prevented by requiring an ID. All of the people had proper ID. They didn’t have the right to vote, due to still being “on paper” for a felony.

    It’s so bloody clear that these Voter Suppression efforts are not aimed and solving any real problem but exist solely to disenfranchise people. It is wrong, wrong, wrong to support such efforts.

  11. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 12/13/2011 - 09:01 am.

    That someone is… Wait…you didn’t read the article or any of the comments, did you? She DOES have a photo ID. You sound like you’re going on less than half the facts, here.

    As for most cases of employment, I seriously have my doubts that they require TWO forms of photo ID to be eligible for employment in this country. The most current list of acceptable documents for employment that I have does not require a photo ID at all. It requires either a document that establishes both identity and employment authorization or a document that establishes identity and one that establishes employment authorization. Some of the documents that establish identity (e.g., voter’s registration card, Military draft record, and Native American tribal document) do not require a photo. Documents that establish employment authorization do not require a photo. Thus, it’s pretty unlikely that a person would be required to have 2 photo IDs.

  12. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/13/2011 - 10:10 am.

    #2 Weeellll… if you read the article, you will find that she has an *EXPIRED* out of state driver’s license, a utility bill from where she SAYS SHE NOW lives, and a social security card.

    Evidently Ms. Platt has been cruising around without a valid drivers license, but is being forced to do the right thing now.

    Added bonus of voter ID law: scofflaw remediation!

  13. Submitted by Pat Berg on 12/13/2011 - 10:57 am.

    #12: It’s impressive the degree of nitpickiness vote suppressors will go to in order to find grounds to claim someone has forfeited their constitutional right to vote. But on the question of Ms. Platt’s driving – I believe the article always references both her and her boyfriend whenever driving is mentioned. Which means there is certainly a strong possibility that he is the one driving, and the article makes no comment on the status of his driving privileges.

    But I suspect you won’t let this stop you from pressing on with why the vote must be suppressed . . . . .

  14. Submitted by John LaPlante on 12/13/2011 - 02:04 pm.

    Yes, Republican leaders ought to be flagged for “premature celebration.”

    As for the point of estimates, I added this:

    Update: MinnPost notes this commentary, but says that “Mr. LaPlante excludes a bit of the nuance of the article.” Well yes, I did. The fundamental point of the article is that people who expect “soak the rich” tax increases to adequately address budget deficits will be disappointed. The fact that estimates aren’t always right is a minor point. After all, you might say that another name for an estimate is a “scientific guess.” Are estimates more likely to be wrong in a recession? I don’t know. But the problem addressed in the article is more than a measurement error. As the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University points out, “those who experienced the greatest shock to their incomes [during the recession] were likely the top 1 percent of earners.” Legislators, overload your expectations on them at your peril.

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