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Minneapolis weighs tougher policies on conflicts of interest

Franken looks strong in re-election poll; Dayton budget plan; Zephyr rail cars up for auction; e-bingo games coming; Walker aide sentenced; and more.

Yeah, that system might need a re-working … Curtis Gilbert of MPR says: “Minneapolis is considering changes to its conflict of interest policy, after citizens raised concerns about the city’s planning commission. Many members of the commission work in the real estate development industry and do business with the city. A report released Tuesday shows members of the commission recused themselves more than 30 times last year due to conflicts of interest. Commissioner Dan Cohen said that’s a problem. ‘The city attorney has said these conflicts of interest are justifiable, because we would not otherwise obtain the services of qualified professionals,’ Cohen said. ‘In fact the opposite is true. By tolerating these conflicts of interest, we encourage them.’ ” When it comes to judging the better argument, it isn’t even a close call.

This has to exceed the senator’s fondest dreams … Public Policy Polling reports: “Al Franken’s in good shape heading into his reelection cycle. Our newest poll finds 52% of Minnesota voters approving of him to 41% who disapprove. Those solid numbers are pretty consistent with where we’ve found him for most of the last year. One thing that may help Franken’s reelection chances, on top of his own popularity, is the weak Republican bench in the state. The top choice of GOP voters in Minnesota to take on Franken is Michele Bachmann. 45% say they would like her to be their candidate with no one else even coming close — John Kline is at 19%, Chip Cravaack at 13%, Erik Paulsen at 11%, Laura Brod at 4%, and Rich Stanek at 2%. Bachmann fares equally strongly with voters in the party who identify as ‘very conservative’ (46%), ‘somewhat conservative’ (45%), and moderate (also 45%). The problem with GOP voters in the state wanting Bachmann as their Senate standard bearer is that she does the worst of anyone we tested against Franken, trailing him 54/40, including a 50/39 deficit with independents. Only 35% of voters in the state have a positive opinion of her, compared to 59% who see her in a negative light.”

As for Gov. Dayton’s tax proposal … Rachel Stassen-Berger of the Strib writes: “High-wage earners would pay $1 billion more in income taxes, all Minnesotans would pay sales tax on pricier clothing and homeowners would see $500 yearly rebates under Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal, released Tuesday. The sweeping changes would remake the state’s tax system, taking some burden off property taxes and broadening the sales tax to more goods and services. High earners would pay more, the DFL governor said, to bring fairness to a system that favors the wealthy. Dayton said his goals are twofold: to generate needed revenue, but also to make the tax system more fair and better suited to an increasingly service-based economy. The sales tax would broaden its reach, but the statewide rate also would drop to 5.5 percent from the current 6.875 percent.”

At MPR, Martin Moylan says: “[W]ith more things taxed, Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans said the changes would bring in about $1 billion more each year. On top of the sales tax on big-buck clothing, Frans said the tax would also apply to digital goods, such as music downloads, and a wide range of services. ‘Motor vehicle repair, the lawn service,’ Frans said. ‘Most consumer services will now be taxed. What’s tax exempt? Medical supplies, prescriptions, prescription eyeglasses, burial services.’ But Frans and the governor argue the vast majority of consumers will not pay more overall in sales taxes, because of the lower tax rate. … If the Dayton’s sales tax proposal survives the inevitable efforts to scuttle or transform it, Minnesota would go from the seventh-highest sales tax rate to the 27th highest among U.S. states. It would join most states in applying sales taxes to clothes.”

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The Reuters story on Gov. Dayton’s tax plan says: “Minnesota would join other states in overhauling its tax system, including Massachusetts where the governor last week proposed an income tax rate hike and a lower sales tax rate. Nebraska’s governor proposed a plan to eliminate personal and corporate income taxes, covering the lost revenue by ending sales tax exemptions. Likewise Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal called for ending the state’s income tax and corporate taxes with sales taxes compensating for lost revenue. California voters in November approved temporary hikes in the sales tax and in the income tax rates for the wealthy.”

How about a railroad car for your sweetie on Valentine’s Day? Mary Divine of the PiPress writes: “The Andersen Corp. in Bayport agreed last summer to store six Minnesota Zephyr dinner-train cars for 15 days. Fifteen days turned into five months. Now, Andersen says it is owed $250,000 by Zephyr owner Dave Paradeau and has been forced to turn the cars over to the Washington County Sheriff’s office for public auction. The auction is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, at the rail spur area just north of the plant. ‘After five months, the cars have become an impediment to our business and must be removed,’ said Laurie Bauer, a spokeswoman for Andersen. ‘We’ve been very patient and have tried to help (Paradeau) out, but, unfortunately, it’s just been too long.’ ”

Now the money will start rolling in … Jean Hopfensberger at the Strib says: “The Minnesota Gambling Control Board approved its second license for an electronic bingo game manufacturer Tuesday as it moves to ramp up electronic gambling to fund the Minnesota Vikings stadium. St. Paul-based E-tabs Manufacturing received a license to produce electronically linked bingo games that can be played by multiple players in multiple locations. Another manufacturer, Electronic Games Solution based in St. Louis, was approved last month to produce the bingo games.”

One of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s indicted aides has drawn a two-year prison term. Steve Schultze of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says: “Timothy D. Russell, a former aide to Gov. Scott Walker, was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison and five years on probation for stealing more than $21,000 from a veterans organization Walker named him to lead. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher imposed the sentence, saying he found insincere Russell’s apology and acceptance of responsibility for stealing from a nonprofit chosen to administer Walker’s annual Operation Freedom veterans picnic at the zoo. ‘There is also no true regret, remorse or repentance,’ Hansher told Russell. ‘I find that you don’t even have any shame.’ Russell, 49, served as Walker’s deputy chief of staff, housing director and in other administrative posts while Walker was Milwaukee County executive. Prosecutors say he did political work while on county time, although he wasn’t charged with that. … Russell stole $5,000 from Operation Freedom on Dec. 31, 2009 — the first day he had control of the organization’s bank account — according to Landgraf. Russell used the cash for two cruises, a political trip to Atlanta and to purchase Internet domain names for Walker’s campaign for governor. Landgraf and Hansher criticized Russell for complaining in his presentence report that politics played a role in his prosecution through the long-standing John Doe investigation that led to charges against five others.”

So, in case you ever wondered, you can legally ride a Segway … bombed. Emily Gurnon of the PiPress reports: “Hopping on your Segway after you’ve had a few drinks is not driving drunk under Minnesota law — because a Segway is not a motor vehicle, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled. A Hennepin County man was stopped by police Feb. 4 and charged with driving while impaired after the officer saw his Segway drifting twice across the center line in the road, according to the court ruling made public Tuesday, Jan. 22. His blood alcohol level was 0.19, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08, the ruling said. … It was not the first time Greenman had been pulled over while on his Segway. The district court also dismissed DWI charges in a 2010 case against him.”