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State board takes 7 minutes to clear Tomassoni in conflict-of-interest inquiry

Plus: more on state commissioner raises; Kahn tries (again) to lower drinking age; Grand Forks is No. 1; and more.

tomassoni portrait
Sen. David Tomassoni

Uh, that was quick. Says Don Davis for the Forum News Service, “A state board took seven minutes Friday to decide state Sen. David Tomassoni did not violate conflict-of-interest laws when he became executive director of an Iron Range advocacy organization. Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board members had little to say about the Chisholm Democrat becoming executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools. Tomassoni had asked for the opinion when some people raised conflict of interest questions. On a 4-0 vote, the board accepted a previously released draft opinion.”

Raises!? I don’t see “CEO” in front of any of their names! Pat Kessler at WCCO-TV writes, “Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is giving members of his Cabinet a big payday: They’re getting double-digit raises totalling tens of thousands of dollars. … ‘There are many people who would love to have a $35,000 salary increase,’ [freshman Republican State Rep. Roz] Peterson said. ‘But these are people who are public servants, and I think it’s a little inappropriate at this time to do those kinds of jumps.’ Dayton said commissioner salaries have not been raised in ten years because of budget and political difficulties. He says state lawmakers, who haven’t had a raise since 1998, also need a pay hike.”

Speaking of public money. Frederick Melo of the PiPress says, “The city of St. Paul has posted the base salaries of its three highest-paid employees. As of Feb. 1, the chief of police earns $146,629. The deputy mayor earns $145,002. And the general manager of St. Paul Regional Water Services earns $144,884.” And why I ask are they paid more than a WalMart greeter?

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A bit more on TurboTax’s Minnesota problem from Mary Lynn Smith and Ricardo Lopez of the Strib. “TurboTax says it has temporarily stopped processing state tax returns due to the  increase in fraudulent fillings. Intuit Inc., the company behind the popular tax preparation software TurboTax, said it is working with security company Palantir to investigate the problem. So far, Intuit says there was no security breach of its systems. Instead, it believes personal information was taken elsewhere and used to file returns on TurboTax. … Utah officials said 18 other states have identified similar problems.”

At Forbes Kelly Phillips Eb writes, “The 2013 problems included errors with property tax refunds, education expenses and political contributions. The Department of Revenue warned at the time that these issues could ‘jeopardize the accuracy of your return or delay your refund’ and advised taxpayers to file using a software product other than those offered by Intuit (TurboTax, Lacerte, Intuit online, ProSeries). In 2015, the problem appears to be limited to certain individual products. The Department of Revenue emphasized on its website that ‘[w]e are still accepting returns filed with Intuit professional preparer products (Lacerte, Intuit Tax Online, and ProSeries)’.”

Phyllis Kahn’s latest move to lower the drinking age gets this coverage from Doug Belden at the PiPress, “Kahn, who has tried for years without success to lower Minnesota’s drinking age, is back with two bills that would allow people younger than 21 to drink in bars and restaurants. ‘It’s a very good way to deal with the serious problem of binge drinking, particularly on college campuses,’ said Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, who has the University of Minnesota and Augsburg College in her district. … The idea is to let young people learn to drink socially as they do in Europe, she said, so they’re not scrambling for fake IDs or stocking up on liquor illegally and then binge-drinking in their rooms. Her other bill would allow underage people to drink in bars and restaurants if accompanied by a parent or guardian or spouse who is of legal age.”

Wait a minute. What? Grand Forks is No. 1? Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald says, “Grand Forks is the best place to live in America for hockey fans according to a New York-based survey that was released this week. SmartAsset combined a quality of life score with a fan-intensity score to compile its ratings. Grand Forks, home of UND’s hockey program, finished No. 1. It was followed by Hanover, N.H. (Dartmouth), Lewiston, N.Y. (Niagara), Glens Falls, N.Y. (Adirondack Flames, American Hockey League) and Houghton, Mich., (Michigan Tech). The top NHL town listed is Pittsburgh at No. 8. Duluth came in at No. 10, Bemidji at No. 18 and St. Paul at No. 20.” I suspect voter fraud.

In their latest segment on climate change, MPR’s Elizabeth Dunbar and Dan Kraker remind listeners of the state’s shortcomings in meeting its 2015 goals. “The state’s utilities are ahead of schedule in meeting a mandate to provide 25 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025. The mandate was part of a 2007 energy initiative under former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. But the state is falling short of the promise made in a second law the same year, the Next Generation Energy Act, which Pawlenty signed after nearly unanimous legislative approval. It created a goal to reduce Minnesota’s share of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions that scientists overwhelmingly agree are driving climate change. Although efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are often the focus of international discussions, the state law in 2007 said by 2015 Minnesota should have reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent from 2005. The most recent data, from 2012, indicate the state isn’t even halfway there, and no one expects to hit the target.”

Bemidji State is going all San Francisco. Says Ben Johnson at City Pages, “Bemidji State University is considering outlawing the sale of overpriced, thin plastic bottles of water found in most vending machines and convenience stores. Instead, its Student Senate is pushing for an expanded network of free water bottle filling stations. Free metal water bottles are already given out to new students, and a proposed policy the Student Senate unanimously passed earlier this week would force students and faculty to use them instead of relying on wasteful impulse purchases to stay hydrated.”