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Strib: Time for a universal motorcycle helmet law

Back taxes owed in Hennepin County; Minnesota losing “battleground state” standing; no settlement in dead-trees case; short-sellers on Best Buy going private; and more.

The Strib has seen and heard enough about motorcycle deaths and helmetless riders. In an editorial it says, “the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new report detailing how universal helmet laws save lives and provide economic benefits by, for example, preventing expensive and often taxpayer-provided medical care for injured motorcyclists. The report, which compiled evidence from multiple sources, said that helmet use in 2010 ‘saved the lives of 1,544 motorcyclists, and an additional 709 lives might have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets.’ The report estimated $3billion in economic savings from helmet use in 2010. Minnesota Department of Public Safety statistics show that the majority of motorcyclists killed in Minnesota over the past decade were not wearing helmets. A total of 574 Minnesotans have died in motorcycle accidents over the past 10 years. … It’s time for Minnesota to bring its helmet laws into the present. A universal helmet requirement should get a high-priority airing during the next legislative session. So should a proposal from state Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, that would require increased insurance coverage for helmet-less motorcyclists. Minnesota should be a leader, not a laggard, on this critical public health issue.” At this point curmudgeonly columnists and talk show hosts dig out their “nanny state” files.

The $43 million in back taxes owed by some Hennepin County property owners is putting a burden on the (more) solid citizens. Kevin Duchschere and Jane Friedmann of the Strib write: “While the number of delinquent taxpayers has dropped as the economy improves, more and more taxpayers are facing the seizure of their properties to pay off their tax bills. Last year the county sent out a record 931 notices warning owners that the deadline to redeem their properties was about to expire, a sign that yet another price to pay for the economic downturn of 2007 to 2009 is coming due. The good news is that the current number of properties behind on taxes is dropping, said Scott Loomer, Hennepin’s property tax manager. The county sent out 16,674 penalty notices this month to owners who failed to pay their spring taxes by the May 15 deadline. That’s a 25 percent drop from the 22,251 notices the county sent in June 2009.” Unless they can prove they’re job creators, I say they better pay up.

At the PiPress, Bill Salisbury looks at recent history and says Minnesota’s standing as a “battleground” state in presidential contests is on the wane. “This year, [Mitt] Romney has made just one brief stop in Minnesota before the Feb. 7 precinct caucuses, and his campaign is only now getting off the ground in the state. President Barack Obama, by contrast, gave a major policy address here June 1, and his campaign in the state has been up and running for 15 months with four campaign offices and more than 30 paid organizers building a large grass-roots operation across the state. ‘We are more blue than red, and I think all the campaigns know that now,’ Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier said last week. While the two candidates are running neck and neck in national surveys, state polls show Obama has a double-digit lead over Romney in Minnesota. The president led the GOP challenger 54 percent to 39 percent in the most recent survey released last week by Public Policy Polling. Those polls suggest Minnesota won’t be a swing state this year, Schier said.”

There is still no settlement in the case of the trees killed off by DuPont’s Imprelis. Mary Jane Smetanka of the Strib reports: “Landscape firms sprayed it on thousands of Minnesota properties last spring with disastrous results for white spruce, white pine and Norway spruce trees. Other trees and shrubs also were damaged. Most of the dead trees are left standing as Imprelis manufacturer DuPont settles financial claims. ‘They have to stay there as evidence,’ said David Berry, a member of Hidden Lakes Condominiums’ master board. ‘It really is ugly. … People are especially upset about what looks like totally dead sticks’.”

Did you catch Stribber Thomas Lee’s story over the weekend on who’ll be most upset if Best Buy is taken private? “Should Best Buy Co. Inc. founder Richard Schulze try to take the company private for $9 billion or more, institutional investors say they would be more than happy to take the money and run. But there is at least one class of investors who won’t be so pleased: the people who bet this precise event would not happen. Known as ‘short sellers’ or ‘shorts,’ these reverse type of shareholders have wagered that Best Buy’s stock price will continue to fall for the foreseeable future. However, if Schulze offers investors a price that’s considerably more than the company’s current market valuation of $6.6 billion, an act that would surely boost Best Buy’s shares, the shorts stand to lose quite a bit of money.” Those poor, naive people … .

Somewhat related, there was Mike Hughlett and Jennifer Bjorhus’s Strib story about the farmland bubble. “Across Minnesota and the Midwest, concerns are rising that farm values are climbing too high. Farmers, bankers and investors have put huge sums of money on the line, in the hope that boom times for agriculture will last. Land prices have reached levels not seen in a century, even adjusted for inflation, mainly because historically high prices for commodities such as corn and soybeans have enabled farmers to generate strong profits. Good times are spurring farmers to expand their holdings and newcomers to buy in. … Some of the state’s largest farm lenders, such as Wells Fargo, AgStar, Rabo Agrifinance and Bremer Bank, said they generally lend up to 60 to 65 percent of the land’s value — although that limit is coming down, some said. The farmer has to provide the rest with cash, or with a combination of cash and mortgaging land the farmer already owns outright. In some cases, pledging already-owned land as collateral enables farmers to buy land with zero cash down, bankers said, although that’s not common. … at Wells Fargo … the bank likes to have 10 to 20 percent in cash.”

I tell you what. I’ll protest petroleum-based products and NOT ride my bike naked. Judy Newman of The Wisconsin Journal reports: “Some wore cowboy hats or bathing suits, others were decked out in body paint, and some wore only smiles as Madison’s third annual Naked Bike Ride snaked through the city Saturday. … They rode through Brittingham Park at the beginning, then headed Downtown, winding up State Street and around the Capitol Square. Farmers Market shoppers and State Street strollers paused briefly from perusing the produce and sipping cool beverages to watch the parade. ‘It’s hilarious,’ said Sherie McGowan, of St. Charles, Ill. ‘This is what Madison’s all about.’ Others were not so pleased by the display. …  ‘I’m shy, [and] there’s kids everywhere,’ added his wife, Rachel Barta, with the couple’s 8-year-old son, Brady, in tow. ‘It was OK for me as an adult, but not for my child.’” Educational, though.

The state DFL chairman’s description of job growth in Massachusetts under Mitt Romney gets an “Accurate” rating from Catharine Richert at MPR’s PoliGraph: “When DFL Party Chair Ken Martin and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak got together this week for a conference call with reporters, they stressed several points the Obama campaign has been using to attack Republican candidate Mitt Romney on his jobs record as governor of Massachusetts. Among them was this one: ‘Massachusetts dropped from 36th all the way down to 47th in job creation when he was governor,’ said Martin. Martin’s numbers are right, but the claim deserves some context. … [a director at the Massachusetts Taxpayer’s Foundation, Andy] Bagley also said that a governor shouldn’t be blamed completely for job losses — or completely take credit for job gains. Jeannette Wicks-Lim, a labor economist at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst agreed and pointed out that the same dynamic is playing out on a national level. Efforts by the Obama administration can affect job growth, but those efforts can be derailed by international forces. ‘The economic and political turmoil in Europe over the future of the Eurozone and the slowdown in China’s economic growth, for example, legitimately fuel anxiety over the future growth in the U.S. Downturns overseas will have a negative impact on our national economy,’ Wicks-Lim said.”

Nick Coleman rips into Gov. Dayton for his choice of leadership on the Vikings stadium project, saying  “… Dayton chose one of his junior staffers as chair of the new stadium authority that will be in charge of building a $1.1 billion football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. Michele Kelm-Helgen, a deputy staffer, DFL insider and former school board member brings one important quality to the job: Loyalty to Mark Dayton. If you believe loyalty to Mark Dayton should be the paramount quality in the search for someone to supervise a giant outlay of public funds, then Kelm-Helgen is the perfect person for the job. If, however, you believe that the largest public project in Minnesota history should be directed by a non-partisan person of exceptional accomplishment and independent judgment, you may view her appointment as one more piece of evidence that Dayton surrounds himself with yes-men (mostly women, actually) who rarely challenge his viewpoint or offer contrary assessments. You be the decider. Kelm-Helgen’s performance remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: The DFL and Minnesota’s DFL governor are the ones who put together this dubious project and the ones who jammed it through the Legislature by twisting arms behind closed doors and giving away the farm, genuflecting to the NFL and kissing Zygi Wilf’s ring while stiff-arming opponents and blowing off all criticism, even criticism from fellow travelers in progressive political circles such as Ralph Nader, who called the deal ‘a reverse Robin Hood.’”