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$65 million spent lobbying Legislature

Democracy in action … . Bill Salisbury of the PiPress reports: “Businesses, unions, trade groups and gambling and stadium interests spent $65.2 million to influence the Minnesota Legislature and state agencies in 2011, state regulators said in a report released Monday, March 4. That was 10 percent more than the $59.2 million that interest groups spent on lobbying in 2010, according to the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. Businesses were the biggest spenders, shelling out $17.4 million — more than one-fourth of the total spent — to influence state policy-makers. Health groups were the second-highest spenders at $7.8 million, followed by education interests at $5.3 million, environmental groups at $4.3 million and agricultural organizations at $3.8 million.” Who do you and I thank for representing us in electronic pull tabs?

The owner of seven Twin Cities restaurants says he can’t handle an increase in the minimum wage. Writes David Burley in the Strib: “State legislators are considering increasing Minnesota’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to as high as $10.55 an hour. For those well-meaning lawmakers who want to see working men and women earn more than $7.25 an hour, I have good news — we’re already there. At Blue Plate, with tips included, our servers are making an average of more than $24 an hour. Statewide, the average is around $18 an hour. Both are well above the $10.55 proposal. A mandated base-wage increase on top of mandated health care is too much for most restaurants to handle. The economy continues to struggle; consumer spending has not fully rebounded from the Great Recession.”

Duluth, the next … Boulder? Dan Kraker of MPR says: “[Mayor Don] Ness said Duluth is poised to join mid-sized cities that have used their natural beauty to attract a talented workforce, like Boulder, Colo. ‘But only if we’re prepared to seize the opportunity to promote and enhance our unique advantages, and ensure that Duluth will be able to offer the talent and skills that have become the driving force in job creation,’ Ness said. Ness points to new construction projects and hundreds of new jobs created as early signs of what he says may be Duluth’s greatest economic expansion since the 1950s. He also highlighted challenges, including a need to restructure the city’s budget, and a large unfunded retiree health care liability, as well as the continued flood recovery. He said while public infrastructure is getting repaired, there are many homeowners still in need of help.”

A purse-dog snatcher is still at large! Says Paul Walsh in the Strib: “A longhair Chihuahua worth $2,500 was snatched from a Shakopee pet store Monday morning by a man who carried the 9-month-old pup like a football and fled in a waiting car, the shop’s owner said. There is much for authorities to go on, including video surveillance from Petland Shakopee of the man with the puppy, a tracking microchip in the dog and a description of the vehicle — license plate included — that took him away, said store owner Heather Latko.” Just another thing you don’t try with a Great Dane.

You can already hear the howls from the usual suspects. Mary Jo Webster of the PiPress writes: “Minnesota lawmakers are considering a $5 surcharge to all homeowners and vehicle insurance policies to bolster struggling police and fire pension plans. The surcharge, which would generate an expected $23 million per year, is intended to make up for recent drops in revenue from long-standing taxes on auto and homeowners insurance policies, and to pay down past funding shortfalls. Half of the money would go directly to two pension funds to help pay down existing unfunded liabilities. The remainder would be divvied up among the various city, county and state entities to help pay their portion of pension contributions for police, fire, state patrol and other state public safety workers.”

Not dealing with the state’s sex offender problem could get … expensive. Brad Schrade of the Strib says: “In an interview Monday, [former Supreme Court justice Eric] Magnuson took pains to say he is not advocating a position. But his decision to schedule a series of interviews this week is a signal he is seeking more attention for the issue at a time when legislators have shown few signs they want to touch the thorny issue of how to deal with sex offenders once they have completed prison terms and court-ordered treatment. … If the federal court were to take on direct oversight, it could force the state to make costly changes to bring it into compliance with the U.S. Constitution.”

A new group wants to convince the Legislature to incentivize Hollywood. Also in the Strib, Kristin Tillotson says: “A newly formed group plans to ask the Legislature to invest Legacy funds in movies that are filmed in Minnesota, the goal being returns on those investments. The four partners in the Association of Minnesota Motion Pictures (AMMP), including two seasoned Hollywood producers, want to use their connections to act as fiscal agents for major studios seeking public money from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund allocated by the state’s Legacy Amendment. Unlike rebates or tax incentives, the investment would involve part ownership of a film. A hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday before a joint session of the House and Senate Legacy committee.”

First Yahoo!, now Best Buy … . Martin Moylan of MPR writes: “Best Buy wants employees working more at the office, rather than telecommuting. The company is ending its results-oriented work environment policy, which basically allowed employees to work anywhere, anytime, as long as they got the job done. But with the struggling consumer electronics retailer trying to turn around its performance, Best Buy wants employees to put in more time at the office or store. ‘Now what matters is not just the result but how you get it done,’ said Matt Furman, company spokesman. ‘The notion of collaboration and colleagues working together, being physically present around one another, matters a great deal, particularly when you’re in a transformation.’” I guess in “a transformation” the office whiner’s 30-minute analysis of why so-and-so is always giving her the stink eye is a lot more productive.

Despite the, uh, enlightened leadership of Gov. Scott Walker, quite a few Wisconsin businesses stand to make money off the build-up to high-speed train service. Steve Elbow of the Wisconsin State Journal writes: “In a report last month, the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, a group that boosts eco-business innovation, lists hundreds of high-speed rail service and supply companies that could become part of the supply chain for the rail initiative, 73 of them in Wisconsin. … After his election in 2010, Republican Gov. Scott Walker opted out of the Midwest high-speed rail network, turning away $810 million in stimulus funds for a high-speed train from Milwaukee to Madison that was eventually slated to extend to the Twin Cities. But despite Walker’s decision, improvements are still being made to the existing Empire Builder line, which provides Amtrak service from the Twin Cities to Milwaukee. ‘Political winds do change, and if they do we’ll have all the engineering ready to go,’ says Dan Krom, Minnesota’s passenger rail project manager.”

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Tim Walker on 03/05/2013 - 08:02 am.

    It IS the law of the land, you know

    “If the federal court were to take on direct oversight, it could force the state to make costly changes to bring it into compliance with the U.S. Constitution.”

    One would think that the state would have to be in compliance in its treatment of sex offenders, regardless of whether the federal court becomes involved.

    Can anyone explain why this is not the case?

    Or are we just a rogue state and nobody cares?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/05/2013 - 09:46 am.

      Politics

      You are correct–there should be no need for federal court oversight of the sex offender program. Ideally, that would be a no-brainer.

      Now try convincing some member of the legislature to introduce the bill to make the necessary changes. Imagine the firestorm that a proposal to ease up on the “lock ’em up and forget ’em” model would provoke. The fear of this firestorm generally is why the criminal justice system in this country is such a mess. Poorly thought out and simplistic “get tough” measures have left us with a system that is almost good enough to be called dysfunctional.

      • Submitted by Tim Walker on 03/05/2013 - 10:27 am.

        A possible remedy?

        Okay, I’ve read the STrib article now, and RB’s explanation on the difficult politics involved.

        Would a possible solution be to impose sentencing guidelines that would mandate life terms for the offenders that are at a high risk of re-offending? These are the people who we really, really want to keep out of circulation until they die in prison.

        Life sentences are constitutional.

        But don’t make the sentences without the possibility of parole. So, give offenders the chance to redeem themselves, and if they truly do, they get released on parole after serving a set number of years.

        That way the state is not keeping offenders past the end of their sentences, but has the ability, and duty, to keep the worst of the worst behind bars forever.

        • Submitted by James Hamilton on 03/05/2013 - 01:31 pm.

          One difficulty

          with your proposal is that it is based on speculation as to the risk of future conduct. Basing criminal punishment on the likelihood of future conduct likely runs afoul of the Constitution. We can make penalties for certain crimes more severe, and allow courts some level of discretion in sentencing for those crimes. However, that brings us back to the problems we encountered in the past with indeterminate sentencing: abuses of discretion in both sentencing and parole and disparate treatment of white and non-white offenders.

          There are no easy answers to complex problems.

  2. Submitted by Pat Berg on 03/05/2013 - 08:46 am.

    A pet shop puppy?

    A commercially-bred pet shop puppy worth $2500?

    I don’t think so.

    That’s like all those “MSRP” prices they pop on late night TV infomercials to try to convince people that the “Promotional price” being offered is so awesome.

    Hopefully the guy who took the puppy will provide a better home than he had in his Petland cage. Or at least sell him to someone who will.

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/05/2013 - 09:02 am.

    If So Many of Us Didn’t Believe

    that young people go directly from innocence, purity and blessedness,…

    to guilt, filthiness, and damnation,…

    as soon as they have their first feelings of sexual attraction, the first stirring in their loins, let alone their first experience of sexual contact,

    we would have a far easier time dealing with inappropriate sexual contact.

    I’m convinced that the reaction of those around them to people who have been sexually abused, and the internalized response that we program into all young people, especially those who are victims;

    that they have been irreparably harmed and soiled beyond cleansing,…

    and that an experience they may actually have enjoyed has done HORRIBLE, NASTY, UNFORGIVABLY DIRTY things to them,…

    does far more damage to victims than the abuse many of them have suffered (especially in cases where no coercion or emotional or physical violence occurred).

    Those same attitudes are responsible for fostering the damage which creates the dysfunctional behaviors that lead some people to become sex offenders.

    The fact that far too many of us regard the victims of sexual abuse as being eternally and irreparably damaged and the perpetrators, many of whom are victims, themselves, as the very incarnation of vicious, unpredictable, lurking evil,…

    makes it almost impossible for our politicians to deal with this issue in ways that will help either victims or perpetrators to move into healthier lives.

    Unless and until our therapists and clergy come to regard sexual attraction and involvement as a normal, healthy part of life and learn to comfort and reaffirm the eternal worth of those who have been led into sexual involvement which wasn’t age appropriate or over which they were given no choice, sweeping such involvement aside as a bump in the road some of us travel rather than an eternally-inescapable blot and stain,…

    and unless and until our therapists and clergy come to recognize the types of experiences, sometimes very early experiences, that force the psyches of children to lock up in internal exile substantial parts of their own personalities,…

    leaving them wounded and in pain,…

    and causing them to seek to replace those missing pieces of themselves by relating in sometimes inappropriate ways to a child or to children who become a stand in for their own missing pieces,…

    and until we begin to use appropriate healing techniques to release those internally-exiled pieces,…

    therapy for abusers will generally fail to erase the urges and desires that arise from those lonely, internally-exiled children, locked away within themselves…

    and thus some abusers, despite their most earnest, most sincere efforts to limit their lives within very carefully-controlled boundaries, will still unconsciously create for themselves the circumstances wherein they can repeat the inappropriate behaviors acted out with children which allow those abusers, for a few brief moments to feel whole and have their continuous loneliness and heartache relieved.

    In other words, there are solutions to this problem, but “conservative” attitudes about sex, and the lack of education required for the general population to understand the working of their own psyches and their own internal defense mechanisms, and how those defense mechanisms, born as they were, in our most primitive pre-verbal ancestors, so often misfire,…

    means that just about any attempt the legislature makes to address this problem will invoke the extreme paranoia and fear of those who do not understand how their own minds and emotions work, nor how to make sure they and their family members remain as healthy, emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually as it’s possible for us humans to be,…

    and find the help they need to heal previous experiences which are making such health difficult if not impossible to accomplish.

    It is my hope and prayer that the day may yet come when the average Minnesotan is sufficiently healthy and self aware enough regarding the care and feeding of their own psyches to allow the legislature to address this issue in more useful and effective ways, but until that time comes, I suspect we will continue to pursue the most politically-safe strategy,…

    lock ’em up and throw away the keys (even though that approach is costing us multiple fortunes).

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 03/05/2013 - 09:55 am.

    You can do better

    than to cherry-pick your source material. Burley makes an important point that you’ve omitted: the costs that will soon be imposed on employers by the Affordable Care Act make an increase in the minimum wage particularly onerous for some employers.

    If what Burley writes regarding his employees’ earnings is true (which, based on his restaurants’ pricing and clientele, I’m willing to accept), then where’s the harm in a tip credit for his employees? Many servers aren’t as fortunate as his, however.

    More generally, I support a minimum wage, in part because without one we (taxpayers) end up subsidizing law-wage employers by providing nutritional support (‘food stamps’), health care (e.g., Minnesota Care),cash (Earned Income Credit), etc.

    Some say government shouldn’t interfere with the free market. But we already do, by means of these subsidies. If we, as consumers, don’t value a service or product highly enough to pay what it costs for those who deliver or manufacture it to make a living, then perhaps the business should fail. Isn’t that the free market at its core?

  5. Submitted by David Wintheiser on 03/05/2013 - 10:56 am.

    Disingenuous on wages and tips

    Mr. Burley’s editorial is highly disingenuous when he claims that employees at his restaurants are already earning well above the proposed new minimum wage. For starters, if his employees were already receiving an average ‘wage’ of $18-24 per hour, then any increase in the minimum wage would have zero impact on his labor costs, as they would already be higher than any new minimum. Much of what Mr. Burley’s servers earn is in tips, which is not paid by the restaurant.

    And although upscale restaurants do tend to pay higher wages, restaurants in general are not required to offer tipped employees the standard minimum wage. Minnesota (as well as many other states) allows a reduced minimum wage for tipped employees — currently that wage stands at $2.13 per hour. An employer is only required to increase a tipped employees wages if that employee’s tips do not bring the effective rate of pay above the standard state minimum (which is why Mr. Burley can be so confident that he knows what his workers are earning on average). And while fine-dining restaurants tend to pay more than the minimum $2.13 tipped wage, that’s not the same as saying that fine-dining restaurants actually pay a living wage — as many servers who work second jobs to make rent and raise a family can attest.

    It’s good that Mr. Burley will be providing his employees with health coverage as mandated by the new health care law — I only wish he wasn’t so crass as to refer to such coverage as a ‘hefty raise’. After all, $1600 per year works out to about 77 cents an hour, ‘hefty’ enough when your wage is $2.13, but hardly earth-shaking.

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 03/05/2013 - 01:49 pm.

      Do servers

      choose to serve because it’s a job they can get or because it’s a job in which they can make a substantial hourly wage? Many work solely for the tips, don’t they? The $24 an hour Burley cites for his employees is certainly a respectable hourly wage, although I suspect it can’t be annualized because most servers don’t get 40 hours a week. Those that do stand to earn $48,000 a year, with two unpaid weeks off.

      If they’re working part time jobs (50%) then they really can’t expect to survive on a part-time income, can they? I can’t think of any other field in which that would be considered a reasonable expectation.

      I don’t know where Burley got his $1600 a year insurance cost, but I’m pretty confident that it’s for minimal coverage and a younger workforce. A decent but far from generous health insurance program at my last place of business cost at least three times that much per employee, with an average age in the 40s. Also, if his employees work less than 40 hours per week, then the cost per hour is proportionately higher. As I recall, the ACA trigger is 30 hours per week. (Too lazy to look it up.) In that case, a $1600 annual cost works out to just over $1.00 an hour. At $10 an hour, that’s a 10% increase in payroll costs. 10% is indeed a hefty increase in today’s economy. Even at $24 an hour, that’s a 4% increase – double what state employees are looking at for the current biennium.

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