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House and Senate a long way apart on taxes

Plus: House passes higher ed bill; the FDA files a court order against Medtronic; emerald ash borers hit another county; and more.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt
MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach

Tax relief. Says Bill Salisbury in the PiPress, “Minnesota Senate DFLers are offering state taxpayers just over one-tenth of the tax relief that House Republicans have proposed. Senate Tax Committee Chairman Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, outlined a plan Monday that would provide $260 million in overall tax reductions over the next two years, including a cut in the state property tax levy on businesses and a new tax credit for businesses that hire veterans. Last week, House Tax Committee Chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston, unveiled a bill to provide $2 billion in income and business tax breaks. ‘There is a gap to close,’ Skoe said.” A wee one, yes.

MPR’s Tom Scheck says, “House Republicans have proposed a transportation bill that relies on borrowing and dedicating sales taxes on auto parts, leased vehicles and rental cars to pay for road and bridge projects. Senate Republicans objected to the Democrats’ bill on the grounds that transportation taxes would hit lower income Minnesotans the hardest. ‘Those folks who are trying to get to school or their first job or there are folks who are unemployed who are trying to pay for that tank of gas to get to that job interview,’ said State Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen. ‘This is going to hit the poorest of the poor.’”

The GOP-led House floated its higher-ed bill yesterday. Christopher Magan of the PiPress says, “Minnesota House Republicans approved a higher education funding bill with $57 million in new spending to hold down tuition at some state schools, but not enough to continue a statewide freeze. … The legislation passed on a 72-55 vote that was mostly along party lines. The bill provides money for a tuition freeze next year and then a 1 percent decrease the following year at two-year Minnesota State Colleges and Universities schools. Students at four-year MnSCU schools would see tuition rise up to 3 percent next year and tuition would be frozen the second year.”

Meanwhile, the Strib editorializes that “we” need both tax (cuts) and transportation spending. “As previous Legislatures have shown time and again, transportation improvements can be postponed. But this year, they should not be. Transportation deficiencies are taking too great a toll. Neither should the opportunity to improve the state’s tax code be allowed to slip away. Legislators should go into conference committees knowing that Minnesotans expect them to do more than avoid a special session or shutdown. They should be on notice: Failure to compromise on taxes and transportation represents a failure to govern. This newspaper prefers a tax bill closer in size to the Senate’s than the House’s because we favor more spending on both education and human services and a beefier reserve than the House budget affords.”

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The FDA v. Medtronic. According to the AP, “The Food and Drug Administration says Medtronic must stop most sales of its implantable drug pumps after years of uncorrected problems. The FDA has filed a court order against Medtronic that says the medical device giant must halt most production and distribution of its Synchromed II drug pumps, which are implanted devices used to treat patients with cancer, chronic pain and severe muscle spasms. Among other defects, some Synchromed pumps had to be recalled because they could lose battery power and fail, endangering patients. In other cases, the devices could cause patients to receive too much or too little medication. Medtronic generally did not recommend that patients have the devices removed, unless they were proven to be failing.” They wouldn’t have to go to Ireland if they wanted them taken out, would they?

I think we need a response from Rep. John Kline here. Stribber Mark Brunswick writes, “A group of 20 U.S. senators, including Minnesota’s Al Franken, sent a letter to Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan last week asking him to assist in closing a loophole that allows for-profit colleges to count GI Bill benefits as non-federal funding in their revenue breakdowns. It’s called the 90/10 rule. It’s intended to cap federal funding for for-profit colleges at 90 percent of their revenue. The other 10 percent needs to come from sources other than the federal government. But right now, tuition assistance for service members and the GI Bill are not included in the calculation. The letter raises concerns that active-duty service members and veterans have been targeted by some for-profit colleges because of the attractiveness of access to their GI Bill funding.” Yeah, there could be concerns.

It was kind of a tough weekend for PowerLine’s John Hinderaker, not that he’s conceding any point, you understand. Brendan James at Talking Points Memo covers how Hinderaker and several of the usual suspects in the same echo chamber all swallowed a pranker‘s story on how Sen. Harry Reid got those terrible bruises on his face. “John Hinderaker, the man behind the rightwing blog Power Line, woke up to a nasty surprise on Sunday morning. In the pages of the Las Vegas Sun, a man named Larry Pfeifer announced that he had successfully duped a conservative blogger into running a story that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s recent injuries to his eyes and face were the result of a dustup with his own family. … Initially sporting the alias ‘Easton Elliott,’ Pfeifer had approached Hinderaker claiming that he witnessed Reid’s brother, Larry, talk about pummeling a family member while sharing at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. (Eventually, Pfeifer told Hinderaker his real name.) Hinderaker published the story on Power Line on April 3. … on Sunday, Pfeifer told the Sun that it was all a ruse meant to reveal ‘the lack of credibility and journalistic standards among partisan media figures.’” 

Looking for a review on Minnesota Opera’s new production of “Carmen”? For the Strib, Michael Anthony says, “It would be nice to report that the company’s new ‘Carmen,’ unveiled at the Ordway Center on Saturday as the season’s final production, moves forward, offering a compelling vision for the next 20 years. It doesn’t. It does have an illuminating performance by Nora Sourouzian in the title role, and that’s no small accomplishment. And the Escamillo, Kyle Ketelsen, is terrific. But our Don José, Rafael Davila, while displaying a powerful tenor and impressive stamina, doesn’t have the acting chops to bring this complicated character to life and to give the final murder scene the thrust it needs.” Dude! Spoiler alert!

And over at the PiPress, Rob Hubbard writes, “Any significant flaws can be attributed to the opera itself, which tests your capacity for compassion with its opportunistic heroine, abusive hero and no real romance to speak of, just libidos run amok. But the music is so sublime that audiences have been forgiving of that for 140 years now, and Minnesota Opera’s production deserves kudos for developing such an original approach to the work and throwing so much talent and energy into it.”

The borers are springing back to life. Says Paul Walsh in the Strib: “The spread of the destructive emerald ash borer marches on, with Fillmore County, to the south of Rochester, the latest county to be hit by the pest, the state Department of Agriculture reported late last week. Once federal agriculture officials confirm the infestation, as soon as this week, Fillmore will join other counties in its part of the state (Houston, Olmsted and Winona) and four in the Twin Cities area (Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin and Ramsey) subjected to a quarantine.”

Walsh also has a story of a conviction. “A one-time bookkeeper was convicted Monday of stealing more than $315,000 from a Bloomington customer service consulting company, an amount the owner said put a huge dent in his business. Jurors found guilty Laura Lee Scholz, 47, of Burnsville, in Hennepin County District Court of four counts of theft by swindle for siphoning the money from Service Quality Institute (SQI) from August 2011 to July 2013. … ‘I’m willing to be used to help other businesses avoid embezzlements,’ he said. ‘There are six or seven things you can do that I didn’t do.’ On the list, he said, ‘Never trust anybody.’” Which I believe is a direct quote from Popeye Doyle in “The French Connection.”