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.