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State draws big fine for bond purchases

Plus: scammers using St. Paul law firm to target victims; putting a number on the bee decline; Rochester rail line attracts opposition; and more.

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Who exactly screwed this up? Says Ricardo Lopez for the Strib, “Minnesota budget officials quietly paid a $537,000 penalty to the Internal Revenue Service in September of last year, after the board that handles state investments accidentally purchased the state’s own debt and then resold it. Under federal tax rules, the state is prohibited from buying its own bonds, which generally is low-interest debt sold to investors to pay for roads, bridges and state buildings. … The infractions occurred during the tenure of former investment board director Howard Bicker, who retired in 2013 after 32 years in that job. A phone message left for him Monday was not immediately returned.”

Terrific national publicity. For NBC News, M. Alex Johnson says: “An 89-year-old Minnesota woman’s only child is charged with killing her by suffocating her in a garbage bag after beating her with a sculpture and choking her didn’t work — all because their home was infested with bedbugs, authorities said Monday. Michael Theodore Gallagher, 62, was being held without bail pending a hearing scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in Hennepin County District Court on a single count of second-degree unpremeditated murder.”

If seniors are this session’s outstate, they couldn’t possibly deliver any less. Says Don Davis for the Forum News Service, “Minnesota House Republicans say they are putting a priority on aiding the state’s elderly, but when they announced that Monday they said much of the package is yet to be written. A highlight of the GOP plan is eliminating state income taxes on Social Security, which would cost the state $237 million in 2016-2017 and $641 million in the following two-year budget.”

Today’s top scam: The Pioneer Press reports, “Scammers are using a prominent St. Paul law firm to target their potential victims, the state warned Monday. The scammers pretend to be debt collectors with Jeff Anderson & Associates, a firm known nationally for representing people who say they have been victims of sexual abuse. Targets nationwide are contacted in a variety of ways, from phone calls and text messages to Facebook posts, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The messages insist the victim has a debt due immediately, or is subject of a lawsuit related to financial fraud.”

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A 23 percent decline in pollinators. Says Josephine Marcotty in the Strib, “It’s not just honeybees that are in trouble. Wild bees are disappearing from much of the nation’s farmland — especially in Minnesota and much of the Upper Midwest. Overall, wild bees declined across nearly one-fourth of the country between 2008 and 2013. But some areas are now so inhospitable to wild bees that the nation’s crops, including soybeans in western Minnesota, are probably not getting the pollination they need for peak production, researchers at the University of Vermont found in the first nationwide study to map the abundance of wild bees.”  

You know they would have told a completely different story when they got back home. WCCO-TV says, “Two Minnesota men were fined more than $9,000 for illegally shooting a swimming moose from a boat in Canada this fall. Mark Greninger, of Palisade, and Paul Greninger, of Maple Grove, each face various fines in connection to killing the moose in September, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said. Both men were fined for shooting the moose and discharging a firearm from a motorboat. Mark Greninger, who pulled the trigger, was additionally fined for allowing moose meat to spoil and for making a false statement to conservation officers.” As in what? “It dragged us into the water, officer!?”

What have you got in wheatgrass futures? At Jonathan Knutson says, “Richard Magnusson is all too familiar with difficult planting conditions. So the Roseau, Minn., farmer is intrigued by Kernza, an obscure-for-now wheatgrass that could cut input costs, help the environment and make planting a little easier. ‘We’ve historically had our problems getting in the crop in wet springs,’ Magnusson says. ‘This reduces the risk of that,’ He was one of three Roseau County farmers who grew Kernza in 2015. The crop, a trade name for intermediate wheatgrass, is a perennial. Unlike regular wheat — an annual plant that must be planted every year — Kernza is planted just once, and comes back year after year.

Cool. Says Renee Richardson of the Forum News Service, “Dark, cold water flowing from the Nokasippi River into Upper South Long Lake near Brainerd created an unexpected form this weekend — a rotating circle of ice. The ice disc forms as flowing water creates an eddy where ice is forming. The water is more still in the middle of the eddy. ‘So you get ice forming and it gets bigger as it gets colder and then the water that is moving faster is not freezing up, so what you get in the end is this big pancake of ice that is moving slowly around in a circle,’ said Peter Boulay, DNR climatologist.” There’s video at the link.

“Narrowed,” you say. The AP tells us, “The lawsuit brought by a fired Minnesota Lottery leader has been narrowed. A Ramsey County District Court judge signed an order Monday changing the defendants in Johnene Canfield’s case against her former employer. Canfield was assistant director when she was fired over alcohol-related infractions. Canfield argues the spring 2015 dismissal was mishandled and discriminatory. She is suing for reinstatement and monetary damages.”

In the Strib, an editorial opposed to fat tuition hikes for out-of-state students. “Now and for the foreseeable future, Minnesota needs all of the talent-drawing power the University of Minnesota can muster. That’s why the Board of Regents should be hesitant about going down the tuition path President Eric Kaler recommended this month. Kaler asked the board to boost nonresident tuition for out-of-state students from places other than Wisconsin, the Dakotas and Manitoba (where tuition reciprocity agreements prevail) by 60 percent over the next four years, starting with a 15 percent jump for new students in 2016-17. That move would erode a competitive advantage in student recruitment that has served both the university and this state well.”

And not in my front yard, either. At MPR, Elizabeth Baier reports, “For years, Rochester civic leaders have sought a high-speed rail line connecting their city to Minneapolis, viewing rail as a way to draw thousands of new workers and grow the region’s biggest employers, especially Mayo Clinic. But even now as two plans move slowly forward, opposition against high-speed rail is mounting from the people who live in between. Rural residents living along the U.S. Highway 52 corridor see only the potential problems and costs the project, known as Zip Rail, might deliver as trains speed past them at more than 150 miles per hour.”