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Minneapolis council members: Stadium plan is an ‘end run’ around voters

Legislators prep for early exit; groups already ponder Voter ID lawsuit; Klobuchar, Franken look at gas price speculation; Saints reach out to area artists on ballpark; OxyContin thefts increase; and more.

A couple of Minneapolis City Council members respond to the Strib’s most recent burst of editorial cheerleading for a taxpayer-subsidized Vikings stadium. Betsy Hodges and Elizabeth Glidden say the idea was pretty much DOA. They list seven points of failure. Among them: “Sixth, like it or not, the voters of Minneapolis were overwhelmingly clear in their desire to have a referendum on any sports facility expenditure over $10 million. No matter how state leaders downplay that or spin it with legalese, this proposal requires an end run around the voters of Minneapolis. Predictably, that decision lost votes among legislators who care about local decisionmaking and the voice of the electorate. Seventh, and worst, state leaders accepted the premise that the public was obligated to come up with more than $600 million, by far the largest subsidy in state history. They never demanded more from those who will benefit most from this public subsidy: the private sector, including the Wilfs and the NFL. That decision lost votes from legislators who care about the missed opportunity from spending more than $600 million on a private business rather than investing in neglected public goods like schools or roads.” If the end result is the state and city telling the NFL, quite honestly, “If you want this so bad, you’re going to have to carry the ball,” that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, would it?

Other bad news for the Vikings is that the Legislature wants to get out of Dodge by Easter. Briana Bierschbach’s Politics in Minnesota story says, “[W]ord began circulating recently that many Republican senators were interested in accelerating their already ambitious adjournment date by nearly a month, from April 30 — the agreed-upon target of both GOP caucuses — to April 5, a day currently scheduled as the start of lawmakers’ long Easter/Passover break. Signs of a sudden push toward adjournment are everywhere, according to Capitol lobbyists. Major fiscal packages generally reserved for the final weeks of the session were dropped ahead of schedule into both chambers last week. House and Senate Republicans pushed through omnibus tax bills, and the House bonding package is now in the mix while the ink dries on the Senate’s version. By lobbyist Tom Hanson’s account, what was supposed to be a policy deadline on Friday was suddenly being treated like the finance deadline. Policy bills also got a boost. A constitutional amendment to require photo identification at the polls passed through both chambers a week earlier than originally anticipated. … It’s not hard to see why. The Republican Senate caucus has faced an onslaught of bad press in recent weeks, the most visible being a looming gender discrimination lawsuit against the Senate from former staffer Michael Brodkorb.”

Voter ID legislation may appear to have everything it needs to make the November ballot, but opponents have a couple of cards left to play. Alexandra Tempus of the AP writes: “Mike Dean, executive director of the liberal group Common Cause of Minnesota, said his organization has been working with state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters to coordinate efforts on a lawsuit that goes after the ballot question’s wording. ‘The language being provided to voters is extremely confusing and it’s unclear what it really means,’ Dean said. Laura Fredrick-Wang, executive director of the League of Women Voters Minnesota, said they are concerned with the ‘wording of the amendment not necessarily addressing the scope of what the law could do.’ Fredrick-Wang said that the amendment question doesn’t address what types of photo IDs would be permissible at the polls. She said it also doesn’t mention the use of provisional ballots, which a voter without ID could cast, though it wouldn’t count until the voter returned to prove his or her identity.”

Bruce Bjorgum, a reader of the Rochester Post-Bulletin, asks:
“• Does ‘government-issued photo ID’ mean only IDs issued by Minnesota? Or would it include passports or photo IDs issued by other states?
• Would student photo IDs issued by Minnesota Universities and Technical Colleges be valid?
• How/where would a voter obtain a photo ID free of charge, and what would be the Minnesota government’s cost for this?
• If required, what documents would be valid to verify a voter’s local address? Would a ‘provisional ballot’ issued to voters without a photo ID become a valid ballot once the ID was verified?
• Would the process of issuing a ‘provisional ballot’ also serve as an application for a Minnesota  photo ID?”

The speculation end of gas prices gets comparatively little examination during these cyclical hysterias. But Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken are on record as wanting something done about it. The Strib story, by Kevin Diaz and Jim Spencer, says: “Klobuchar and Franken have just introduced a long-shot bill to limit “excessive speculation.” The term, which has so far eluded a precise definition, re-opens a volatile election-year debate about the true causes of rising gas prices. Energy traders, analysts and oil industry lobbyists all are pushing back against the notion that speculation is to blame. They say there is no proof that speculative investment is driving up prices on the global oil market, which has been rocked by rising Middle East tensions, economic sanctions against Iran, and the threat of another Israeli war. But Klobuchar and Franken, joining with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the lead author of the legislation, say oil speculators now make up more than 80 percent of the energy futures market, allowing them to influence the global price. They cite recently published estimates that suggest speculation adds roughly 56 cents per gallon at the pump.” There was, of course, this “60 Minutes” story … which left very little doubt.  

If the St. Paul Saints can squeeze a new stadium out of the Legislature, owner Mike Veeck is promising a unique partnership with Lowertown artists. Rachel Wedlund of the PiPress writes: “Saints president and co-owner Mike Veeck met with about 40 Lowertown residents, most of them artists, to talk about opportunities for local artisans to show and sell their work at the new Saints’ stadium. Plans for a new baseball facility at the foot of the Lafayette Bridge where the Diamond Products/Gillette building now stands have upset many Lowertown residents who fear that crowds, noise and parking would kill the character and viability of the artists’ quaint neighborhood. Rhea Pappas, a photographer whose home and studio overlooks the ballpark site, said the proposal is interesting but she worries about how it could affect her livelihood. ‘Maybe it could be great … But a lot of artists who live and work here in Lowertown do not think that a baseball stadium is conducive to our continued residency here,’ she said. Pappas is concerned noise from the park would affect photography classes she teaches, and crowds and traffic might hinder her ability to get large artwork in and out of the neighborhood for art shows. Veeck and architect Julie Snow said the Saints would try to address these issues in the design of the site, and also that the team hopes to support local artists by providing outdoor kiosk space on the site.”                                      
Chip Cravaack’s re-election problems get a big boost with a Kevin Diaz story in the Strib saying: “Even without the pressures of young children and a modern, two-income family, Cravaack’s hold on the traditional DFL enclaves of Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region would be put to the test. He comes to this year’s Eighth District race as a prime Democratic ‘pickup’ opportunity, having knocked off 35-year Democratic incumbent Jim Oberstar two years ago in a squeaker election. Cravaack won’t be coming out of nowhere like he did when he was elected in the wave of Tea Party anger that swept the nation and brought 84 GOP freshmen to Congress. This year, Democrats must recapture 25 seats to win back control of the House. Cravaack occupies one of those seats. And his family’s move to New Hampshire is at the forefront of the Democrats’ talking points. … Democrats have taken note of the Cravaack family’s new upscale home in New Hampshire. Now they are trying to raise similar questions about the freshman member of Congress, who announced last summer that he would split most weekends between district work time in Minnesota and family time in New Hampshire. ‘We simply don’t understand how he can represent Minnesota 52 days a year,’ said Michael Madden, a union activist who took part in last month’s protest in North Branch. Cravaack, who sleeps during the week on an air mattress in his D.C. office, says he has adjusted his schedule so he spends an average of 15 or 16 days a month in his district. Nevertheless, he declined a request for travel records from the Duluth News Tribune, the largest newspaper in his district.”

OxyContin, aka “Hillybilly Heroin,” is one of the prime incentives behind a string of “aggressive” pharmacy robberies in Minneapolis. Dave Chanen of the Strib reports: “Mask-wearing robbers are targeting small drugstores throughout the Twin Cities, often threatening employees and forcing customers to the floor at gunpoint to feed their OxyContin habits or sell the narcotic to a demanding market. The brazen crooks are going after these ‘ma and pa’ operations instead of chain pharmacies because they have less security, fewer customers and are easier to scope out, police say. ‘These are seasoned criminals using firearms and scaring the heck out of people,’ said Lt. Mike Fossum, head of the Minneapolis Police Department’s robbery and assault unit. ‘One time somebody will resist, and they could be shot accidentally or on purpose.’ Most of the robberies have been in Minneapolis, but a drugstore near St. Louis Park’s Excelsior and Grand shopping district was robbed twice, most recently on March 15. Some drugstore owners are fighting back by adding security guards or dropping OxyContin, a prescription narcotic used to treat moderate to severe pain, altogether.”

Someone at the PiPress should tape this to Joe Soucheray’s typewriter. Frederick Melo files an explainer on … why property taxes are going up in Ramsey County. He notes: “Shifts in how property taxes are calculated have brought a dose of tax relief to owners of lower-end homes, forcing higher-end homes and homes that have mostly retained their value to make up the difference. In other words: While average home values have gone down in recent years, taxes are going up for many. Some homeowners will see tax increases of 10 percent or more. More than a few may see as much as a 40 percent increase on their bills. Ramsey County Assessor Stephen Baker said a St. Paul home valued at $155,500 in 2010 would likely be valued at $149,300 in 2011, a 4 percent decrease. In 2011, that homeowner paid out about $2,076 in taxes. This year, the same homeowner will pay $2,151, a nearly 4 percent increase. County and city officials say they’ve done their best to rein in spending, but some of the biggest changes affecting city and county property taxes stem from decisions made by state lawmakers. The Legislature last year voted to replace the ‘market value homestead credit’ — a state-funded credit on local property taxes — with an exclusion that automatically deducts a percentage of home value as property taxes are calculated. The exclusion is larger for homes with less value, and becomes smaller and smaller as you go up the scale.”