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Local government units spent $8.3M on legislative lobbying last year

Duluth damage assessments; Minnesota picks up high-speed rail planning; Easyriders contract dispute; Target Field tax revenue slumps; and more.

Again, a pittance compared to Wall Sreet and your average giant drug company. But Jennifer Brooks of the Strib reports on serious money spent lobbying the Minnesota Legislature: “Minnesota communities spent more than $8.3 million on lobbying last year, according to a new report from the state auditor’s office. The 2011 Local Government Lobbying Services Report found a slight uptick in lobbying last year — both in the number of communities that were actively lobbying the state legislature, and in the money they spent to do it. Minneapolis led the charge, spending almost half a million dollars — $467,139 — on lobbying in 2011; a year when issues like a new Vikings stadium still hung in the balance. And that doesn’t count all the other metro-area governments and sub-units of government also lobbying the Legislature. In all, 82 local governments directly employed or contracted with lobbyists last year. Eleven of them racked up six-figure lobbying bills, including Hennepin County ($246,214), the Metropolitan Airport Commission ($172,105), Anoka County ($170,320), the city of Saint Paul ($161,098), Ramsey County ($148,375), the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board ($127,527), Metro Sports Facilities Commission ($120,338).”

Conrad Wilson of MPR says Duluth is getting a better read on damage from last week’s storm: “Officials and homeowners in the flood zone spent much of the weekend trying to grasp the scope of the damage. A preliminary estimate shows at least 770 homes in parts of Duluth and towns to the southwest have some degree of flooding beyond a wet basement. Sewer systems and roads also need repair. Over the weekend, the City of Duluth turned its attention to its badly damaged Fond-du-Lac neighborhood. About 200 homes there sit near the banks of the St. Louis River. And about 80 have been damaged by the flooding. … Homeowners in towns southwest of Duluth also got a glimpse of the damage. About 40 miles away, water levels in Moose Lake were down and more roads were opening. In many places people returned to their homes, finding them unlivable. In the city of Thompson, near Jay Cooke State Park, parts of the town looked more like an earthquake hit than a flood.”

Officially … Andy Rathbun of the PiPress says the feds will have their teams on the ground this week: “Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Minnesota Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and local governments will tour 13 counties and the Fond du Lac tribal nation to determine the costs of recent storms that caused significant damage from flooding. ‘It’s important for the water to have receded and enough debris cleared away for the teams to access the areas they need to see,’ Kris Eide, director of HSEM, said in a statement. Teams will view the damage and collect cost estimates. The process of seeking a presidential declaration will continue if the damage statewide exceeds the federally determined threshold of $7.2 million. In Duluth alone, Mayor Don Ness has estimated public property repairs will cost between $50 million and $80 million.”

The GleanOn the upside …. if they can figure out how to pay for it Bill McAuliffe of the Strib writes: “One of the biggest tasks facing Duluth in the aftermath of last week’s historic flash flooding will be repairing the city’s 400-mile storm-water removal system. The northern Minnesota city’s network of sewers, culverts, ditches and basins, in some places more than 100 years old, suffered ‘extensive damage all over the city,’ said Eric Shaffer, Duluth’s chief engineer of utilities. But building and rebuilding a sewer system these days means making an educated and possibly expensive guess on a changing climate. Many communities are studying what steps they might take to accommodate increasing precipitation, but for Duluth, it will be a full-immersion process. ‘Duluth is maybe in the first wave of cities to adapt to climate change,’ said University of Minnesota Extension climatologist Mark Seeley.” But if, as we hear from some quarters, climate change is a hoax, maybe Duluth can get by with fake sewers.

In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Larry Sandler reports that the feds have reimbursed Wisconsin $14 million for costs relating to the high-speed rail idea Gov. Scott Walker shut down immediately upon taking office. But … “that didn’t end all plans for high-speed rail through this state. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has been leading the planning for a high-speed route from Chicago to Minneapolis-St. Paul. Planners had expected the extended Hiawatha line [from Milwaukee to Madison] would be part of that route, leaving them to focus on the Madison-to-St. Paul segment. Wisconsin and Minnesota each put up $240,000 for the study’s first phase. But then Wisconsin pulled out, with Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb saying this state would focus on improving the Hiawatha and the Empire Builder, the other Amtrak line through Wisconsin. Minnesota finished the first part of the study, calling for gradually phasing in high-speed service by upgrading the Empire Builder’s current route between Chicago and the Twin Cities. The Empire Builder stops in Milwaukee and other Wisconsin communities — but not Madison — on its daily round trip between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. For the next phase of the study, a $600,000 federal grant was to be matched by $300,000 each from Wisconsin and Minnesota. After Wisconsin pulled out, Minnesota increased its share to $600,000 for the study, which is to be completed by late 2013, said Dan Krom, Minnesota passenger rail director.”

Back in the day when most bikers weren’t retired dentists, this sort of thing could get a guy in some serious trouble. Dirk Lammers of the AP writes: “The publisher of Easyriders magazine has filed a breach-of-contract suit against the owner of a Sturgis bar, saying the saloon has stopped using the Easyriders mark in violation of vendor and licensing agreements. Paisano Publications LLC is suing Fargo, N.D.-based KSLB&D Inc. in Los Angeles County Superior Court for more than $2 million. Agoura Hills, Calif.-based Paisano said it is entitled to a royalty of sales of food, beverage and merchandise and is the exclusive agent to sell vendor space adjacent to Easyriders Saloon & Steakhouse, which is at the intersection of Main Street and Junction Avenue in the Black Hills biker town. … Paisano accuses the bar owners of breaching the contract by covering up the Easyriders logos with tarps, acting as their own sales agent for vendor space and improperly trying to terminate the vendor agreement. The removal of all Easyriders affiliation ‘was a transparent attempt to avoid its royalty and commission obligations,’ the magazine company said.”

Not to worry … the Vikings’ Super Bowl victory will more than cover the fall-off. Mike Kaszuba of the Strib notes slumping tax revenues from Target Field: “The economic impact of Target Field is showing signs of tailing off, and its role in boosting the vitality of downtown Minneapolis remains unclear. But the $555 million, publicly subsidized Twins stadium and the millions of fans visiting it are producing state and local sales tax money — one measure of economic activity — far ahead of what was generated in the Metrodome’s final season. Figures provided by both the Twins and the public ballpark authority show that sales and use taxes collected at the stadium fell last year by $1.5 million from the 2010 inaugural season total of $18.6 million, and will likely drop again this year as the team expects 300,000 fewer people from a year ago.”  

Why suburbanites don’t go downtown … Tim Nelson of MPR reports: “Four people are recovering after they were struck by gunfire in downtown Minneapolis early Monday morning — including a suspect shot by police. Three people were shot as they were standing outside near the Gay 90s bar on Hennepin Avenue shortly after 2 a.m. Minneapolis police spokesman Stephen McCarty said the three were in a crowd of bystanders when someone opened fire in an apparently unrelated incident nearby.”

The Twin Cities Daily Planet picks up Minnesota 2020 fellow Lee Egerstrom’s piece about local corporations stepping up to oppose the GOP’s gay marriage amendment: “As with all contentious social issues served up by political strategists to divert attention from pressing economic, health and education issues, concerned Minnesotans should wonder if the current progressive stances from the business community will end with just one issue. Recent stories in both the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minneapolis Star Tribune have pointed out courageous leadership on the anti-marriage amendment from executives at General Mills, St. Jude Medical, Carlson Cos., Medtronic, Target, Best Buy, the Minnesota Twins, Ecolab and RBC Wealth Management, for starters. … In a bizarre twist on First Amendment rights, campaign laws can still require public reporting of individual contributions to candidates’ campaigns but corporate funds can seed superpacs that attack candidates or public policies as long as they are loosely distanced from the candidates the negative actions would help. Millions of dollars of unaccounted and unreported funds largely raised from business interests are fueling attacks on the GLBT community, immigrants, public servants, unions, and, indirectly, children who need education and public services.