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Stronger economy gives Minnesota $300M tax windfall

Downtown deer plunges to death; sex offender program faces court action; cool-weather trend; McCollum says NFL’s Redskins is a racist name; demolitions a new MnSCU cost-cutting strategy; and more.

All that balanced-budget legislation is getting an unexpected boost … Baird Helgeson of the Strib says: “Minnesota’s strengthening economy is pulling in extra money even before a $2.1 billion tax increase kicks in. Stronger-than-expected tax collections have left the state with an extra $300 million that could even grow before the fiscal period closes June 30. That is allowing the state to fully replenish its reserves and pay down money it still owes local school districts. Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said Monday that many of the key economic indicators are good, and that the state is on its best financial footing in years.” Even with our millionaires decorating new homes in Rapid City.

Watch that first step, Bambi … Mara Gottfried of the PiPress reports: “A deer in downtown St. Paul jumped over an overlook rail near Kellogg Boulevard and fell seven stories to its death, according to police and the Science Museum of Minnesota. The deer, which was seen running on Kellogg Boulevard, jumped over the overlook rail next to the museum and landed near an exit for the museum’s parking garage about 8:30 a.m. Saturday, the museum said. It was not the main garage entry on Chestnut Street. In June 2004, two deer died under similar circumstances downtown when they tried to escape from the RiverCentre parking ramp on Kellogg Boulevard. One jumped over a railing on the Mississippi River side of the ramp, fell about 80 feet and died. The other deer jumped 15 to 20 feet, broke its leg and was put down by police under department policy.”

The AP puts up a story about likely court action on the state’s sex offender program: “The program is meant to provide treatment, but it has released only one of about 700 people who are being indefinitely detained after they’ve completed their prison sentences. The program costs the state $326 a day to hold and treat each offender, triple the average cost of keeping an offender in prison. … Former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson has been warning that the court could impose a solution that lawmakers might not like. ‘The judge is going to bring out a broadsword and he’s going to … simply chop it into small bits and then say, ‘Fix it,’  Magnuson said.”

On his Updraft blog, MPR’s Paul Huttner puts up a map showing the northwestern quadrant of North America as the coolest area of the globe thus far this year. But he ads, “May was the 4th straight month of cooler than average weather in Minnesota. In fact, we’re running about -3.7F vs. average in the Twin Cities and most of Minnesota since February 1st. … This run of cool weather is the first in a long time for Minnesota. It turns out Minnesota has been one of the coolest places vs. average on earth so far in 2013. Take a look at NOAA’s global temps vs. average for April. Minnesota and the Upper Midwest were near ground zero for cold this spring. … It seems hard to believe sitting in Minnesota, but globally 2013 is the 8th warmest year on record so far.

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WCCO-TV’s Pat Kessler reports on Betty McCollum’s campaign … “[T]he bi-partisan Native American Caucus in the US House — co-chaired by Minnesota’s U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum — says the name [of the NFL’s Washington team] is not only racist, it might violate the law. … McCollum, who co-chairs the Caucus with Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, sent a letter signed by 10 members of Congress to the NFL and all 32 NFL franchises including the Redskins. ‘Native Americans throughout the country consider the ‘R-word’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word’ among African Americans or the ‘W-word’ among Latinos,’ reads the letter. ‘Such offensive epithets would no doubt draw wide-spread disapproval among the NFL’s fan base.’ ”

The Strib’s Dee DePass has a piece on the U of M’s new center for medical devices: “Once criticized for taking too long to get products to market, the U will use the center to connect with corporate partners, engineers and scientists from around the world. In fact, the center will be used by 100 students and serve as a think tank for eight full-time ‘innovation fellows.’ Their job will be to help move prototypes through the commercialization process and into the hands of patients who need them. The original Medical Devices Center helped the U develop 58 patents in the last five years.”

The GleanThe Strib editorial board gets points for vigilance … on business taxes. Today they’re saying: “DFL senators proposed a sales tax on two business services — warehousing, and repairs of commercial, electronic and telecommunications equipment. A month later, those provisions appeared in the session’s final tax bill. … legislators exhibited enough uncertainty to delay the implementation date for one of the two targeted business services — warehousing — until April 1, 2014. That means there’s time for Minnesota to follow the pattern of four other states — Maryland, Massachusetts, Florida and Michigan — that tried in recent years to apply their sales taxes to what is called ‘third-party logistics’ in modern business parlance. Those states discovered that the tax is a job-killer and repealed it soon thereafter.”

For MPR, Alex Friedrich reports:Demolishing new buildings appears to be a new cost-cutting strategy at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system. CFO Laura King told trustees this morning she had a ‘very aggressive strategy’ for demolition to address the ‘surplus of space’ that MnSCU has on various campuses. Up till now, MnSCU has demolished buildings only as part of larger construction projects. But MnSCU officials say this new proposal would save millions of dollars in operation and maintenance costs normally wasted on the old buildings. … Brian Yolitz, MnSCU’s associate vice chancellor for facilities, says MnSCU is drafting a list that so far contains up to a dozen buildings. Many of the buildings were built in the 1950s and ’60s, are mothballed or underused.” Job creation … for the demo industry.

In Midwest Energy News, Dan Haugen writes: “For all the theoretical promise of pairing wind energy with hydrogen production, no U.S. project has ever made it to full commercial scale. In Minnesota, that may be about to change. Hydrogen has long been studied as a potential solution to wind’s timing problem, which is that wind generation tends to be highest at night when demand for electricity is low. Through electrolysis, … surplus wind power at night could be converted to hydrogen, which could then be used in a fuel cell to generate electricity the next day during peak demand. A handful of pilot projects have demonstrated the technology works, but no one in this country has succeeded in making it economically viable. A Minnesota project developer believes it may have the answer: Supplementing hydrogen energy storage with sales of ‘carbon-free’ hydrogen for industrial uses.”