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Dayton drops opposition to auditor provision

Plus: local governments unhappy with recent law change; city officials drop citation against Smitten Kitten; Strib again calls for Nienstedt to go; and more

Gov. Mark Dayton
MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach

So much for that auditor business. Don Davis of the Forum News Service says, “Gov. Mark Dayton gave up his last major must-do item for a special Minnesota legislative session, setting up the possibility that lawmakers can pass the rest of the state budget later this week. Ending his fight to retain the state auditor’s authority to audit county finances, at least for now, Dayton said Monday three less controversial issues remain to be solved. He said the work should not take long, but added that recent negotiations should teach him not to be optimistic.”

For MPR, Tom Scheck writes, “Before he calls lawmakers back, Dayton said he wants three changes to the jobs bill. He also said he’d like the Legislature to reconsider and approve more funding for rural broadband, facilities for sex offenders and rail grade crossing safety. Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt issued a statement after Dayton’s announcement saying he looked forward to working with Dayton to conclude the session.”

In the PiPress, Rachel Stassen-Berger says, “Monday, the governor said he ‘probably misstated’ it when he said that the auditor issue was the last sticking point. Now Dayton said three issues still loom large. Those three issues are:

— Adding $5 million to fund a program to help people with disabilities find jobs and one that helps mentally ill Minnesotans avoid homelessness.

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— Elimination of a cost savings measure for people who use alternative energy sources.

— Limiting an electric rate break to northeastern Minnesota mining and foresting industry, rather than offering lower costs to other large businesses.”

Also, the AP says, “Local governments are fuming over an impending Minnesota law change that will cost them $20 million in sales taxes that won’t go away as planned, an unwelcome prospect given the hundreds of millions of dollars lawmakers set aside to enable possible tax cuts next year. The Legislature is set to delay by a year a previously approved sales tax exemption for cities, counties and other government entities that team up to provide services through ‘joint powers’ arrangements. Local officials say the change, which is part of an education bill that will come up in a special session, came out of nowhere in May … .” Maybe it was tucked into that parking garage appropriation.

City Pages’ Cory Zurowski tosses up some interesting numbers in rebuttal of health insurers claims that they have to raise rates on some policies. “According to Allan Baumgarten, an analyst who’s studied the state’s health care market for the past 25 years, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is sitting on cash, investments, and real estate totaling $718 million. The most recent salary reported for Blue Cross President and CEO Michael Guyette pushed $2 million in 2013. Tax exempt records for Blue Plus show a nonprofit that was in the black by almost $360 million that same year. It also lists 14 officers, directors, and the like pocketing salaries of no less than $350,000. Among the soaring payouts: $560,000 to treasurer Pamela Sedmak and almost $1.2 million to senior vice president Patricia Riley. Another treasurer, Jamison Rice, made nearly $700,000.”

Rep. John Kline agrees with a Department of Education decision. Allison Sherry of the Strib says, “Minnesota members of Congress had mixed reactions Monday to the Department of Education’s decision to forgive some former Corinthian College federal student loans. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the Department would discharge a broader swath of former Corinthian College students’ debts. The school halted operations last year after years of state and federal probes into their operations, including charges that school officials falsified job placement rates and used unscrupulous marketing practices. Since 2010, about 350,000 students nationally took out about $3.6 billion in student aid to attend the school.  … Rep. John Kline, the chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, issued a joint statement with House Democrats saying he was pleased with the decision.”

So at the moment we have 15 times as many doctors as patients. Says Jennifer Brooks in the Strib: “As of last Friday, 104 health care practitioners had applied to the state’s Office of Medical Cannabis and 54 can now certify their patients to buy medical marijuana as soon as it’s legal, on July 1. Just eight patients have fully enrolled in the program so far, although 27 patients have been certified to participate by a doctor, nurse or other health care practitioner.”

The Smitten Kitten is still purring. Says Beatrice Dupuy in the Strib, “Minneapolis city officials have withdrawn a citation issued to Smitten Kitten after a group of Gaia Democratic School students were taken to the adult novelty store on a field trip in late May. Joel Fussy, assistant Minneapolis city attorney, said in a letter that the retailer is in compliance with all zoning requirements and the city has canceled a citation for the licensing violation. The reversal came after Smitten Kitten attorney Davis Senseman argued that the city licensing department had no jurisdiction to give the violation because the store does not have, and is not required to have, an adult business license.” Trailing back the demand to slap down “The Kitten” might make an interesting read.

This wouldn’t be too much to ask. MPR’s Curtis Gilbert says, “Minneapolis is considering tough new restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco. Supporters say the proposal is intended to keep flavored cigars and e-cigarettes from attracting younger smokers, but convenience store owners say it goes too far. With the exception of menthols, the federal government banned flavored cigarettes in 2009. But the tobacco industry was quick to adapt. It rolled out new lines of cigars in a variety of flavors.”

You do wonder what the Vatican is waiting for. In an editorial the Strib says, “[Ramsey County Attorney John] Choi’s accusations point to the entire archdiocese, not a few individuals. That sets this case apart from clergy abuse prosecutions elsewhere in the country. It’s in keeping with our view that systemic change is needed at the archdiocese, both to protect children from predatory priests and to restore the community’s trust in an institution that does so much good work in education, health care and caring for the poor. That change must begin at the top. Archbishop John Nienstedt should go. The Star Tribune Editorial Board concluded 11 months ago that Nienstedt is too much associated with the mistakes of the past to credibly function as an agent of change.”

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Walker Watch: Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast has (yet another) story of our neighbors’ Governor claiming something almost completely at odds with fact. “The Badger State governor traveled to Disney’s Magic Kingdom last week to speak at a forum hosted by Florida Governor Rick Scott for some of the 2016 presidential contenders. He spoke very highly of his own record on criminal justice. ‘I think, nationally, that’s something we need to look at,’ Walker said, discussing reform of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. ‘In our state, we have relatively few compared to the federal government.’ Then he added, ‘The challenges in terms of people being incarcerated for relatively low offenses is not a significant issue in the state of Wisconsin.’ The only problem? Criminal justice advocates argue he’s totally wrong. … The state’s prisons had 22,156 inmates at the end of April 2015 — roughly twice as many as Minnesota’s, even though the two states’ total populations are about the same. As you’d imagine, keeping all those people in prison doesn’t come cheap. The state spends more on prisons than it does on the University of Wisconsin system.” It’s to the point where if the guy says it’s night you can pretty well bet the sun is shining.