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$1.60 more tax on cigarettes equals $220 million a year

Education Minnesota head hits vouchers; pay raises for public workers; sleepy drivers; stadium choice near; saltpeter spelunker; and more.

The greater the sin, the greater the tax. At the AP, Patrick Condon reports: “An influential Minnesota House Democrat touted her bill [Thursday] that would more than double the state’s cigarette tax, saying she’s motivated by public health concerns and not additional tax money. The proposal from Rep. Ann Lenczewski, of Bloomington, would increase the state’s tax on a 20-pack of cigarettes by $1.60, from $1.23 to $2.83. That’s projected to raise an additional $440 million for the state treasury over two years. But Lenczewski said the main argument for the tax hike centers on studies showing higher-priced cigarettes encourages habitual smokers to quit and discourages others from starting.” And if you can’t get ’em to play electronic pull-tabs …

As you might expect, Education Minnesota is still not a fan of school vouchers. President Tom Dooher writes a Strib commentary and says: “[T]he preponderance of impartial research shows that vouchers are not a good deal for students or taxpayers. Meanwhile, Minnesota has been recognized for its array of public-school choices. Our state has wisely chosen not to divert scarce tax dollars to private schools, but to invest in public-school programs open to all. … Wisconsin’s voucher program cost $150 million last year, and lawmakers want to expand it. Such expenditures in Minnesota would make it that much harder to fund the expansion of all-day kindergarten, early childhood and other public-school programs that actually improve academic achievement.”

Better than the usual stick in the eye … Tom Scheck’s MPR story on pay raises for state public employees says: “The new contracts cover seven different bargaining units including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees. Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, says it’s time for state employees to get a raise. ‘They deserve decent salaries and they do deserve an increase in their salaries and they haven’t had that for three and a half years,’ Goodwin said. ‘I’m tired of this public employee bashing. I’m tired of this teacher bashing. These are the folks who do the work, the tough work, in Minnesota.’ ”

Three out of a hundred of you have fallen asleep while driving. Becky Parker of WDAY-TV up in Fargo says: “New research shows that three percent of Minnesota drivers admit to falling asleep at the wheel in the past 30 days.
If you passed 30 cars on the road today, chances are at least one of those drivers was nodding off. … The national average for sleepy drivers is a little higher, at four percent.” And my unscientific survey says 48 percent are on the phone …

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Two companies are left in the competition to manage construction of the Vikings’ new football palace. Doug Belden of the PiPress says: “A Minneapolis firm is one of two still under consideration to become construction manager for the $975 million Minnesota Vikings stadium project. Mortenson Construction remains in the running along with Hunt Construction of Scottsdale, Ariz., the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority announced Thursday, Feb. 7. The authority had been expected to name a construction manager Friday, but instead officials narrowed the list Thursday and said they would shoot for the end of next week to announce the final selection.”

It’s the least he could do. MPR’s Curtis Gilbert says: “Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak plans to dedicate a bridge to the former mayor he unseated more than a decade ago. The mayor will dedicate the 3rd Avenue Bridge over Interstate 94 to Sharon Sayles Belton. She served two terms as mayor, starting in 1994. … The bridge connects the Stevens Square neighborhood to downtown Minneapolis near the convention center. It was built in 2000, and will undergo renovations this year.”

An update on Mr. Brodkorb … Tom Scheck of MPR reports: “The Minnesota State Patrol released a statement[Thursday] saying tests show former Minnesota Senate staffer and Republican Party official Michael Brodkorb was over the legal blood alcohol limit when he crashed his SUV last month. The state patrol statement said Brodkorb’s alcohol concentration was 0.10 percent, which is over the legal limit for impairment of 0.08 percent. … Brodkorb did not immediately return messages on Thursday. Update: Brodkorb sent an e-mail to MPR News declining comment.”

If all your kids got busted for was a fake ID, be grateful. From The Mille Lacs Messenger, we have this story: “Morgan Clarence Grams, 34, was charged with attempted 2nd degree burglary of a dwelling after officers caught him and three juveniles in the vicinity of a home that had been broken into. According to a complaint filed in Mille Lacs County, on Feb. 2, 2013, Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office responded to a reported burglary on Eyota Way in Onamia. … One of the males, Grams, stated he was traveling with the juveniles from the Twin Cities area to visit a relative of one of the girls. Grams reported they were lost and needed directions. Grams said he did not know who damaged the door window and that he ran when he heard the window break.” Yes, the former senator’s kid, again.

When was the last time you read a piece about a saltpeter spelunker? Rebecca Harrington of the Minnesota Daily writes: “Greg Brick coughed years of cave dust from his lungs, his breath condensing in the cold winter morning.
He crawled as deep into the cave as he could, inching forward on his stomach, using his forearms to pull himself farther along the dusty cave floor. … The University of Minnesota researcher was the first to rediscover caves French explorers abandoned in the 1700s. He began exploring and categorizing the caves near Lake Pepin in 2004 and is defending his doctoral thesis on the research this semester. The French explorers, including Pierre-Charles Le Sueur, mined the caves for saltpeter, the main ingredient in gunpowder until World War I. Historians have unearthed the remains of caves containing saltpeter in the southern parts of the U.S., but they never made it this far north. And the explorers never mapped the saltpeter caves in Minnesota.”