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Don Davis and Janell Cole, Published May 04 2009

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: Nelson gives credit where credit is due

Before the House voted on a property tax relief bill last week, Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby, stood to credit two former lawmakers. Nelson said what the Legislature was approving was similar to what former Rep. Gil Herbel, R-Grafton, and Rep. C.B. “Buck” Haas, R-Taylor, had in 2005 and 2007.

Like the new plan, Herbel and Haas drew up formulas in which state tax money would be sent to school districts in return for school districts decreasing their property tax levies. Their plan was rejected outright in 2005. In 2007, the Legislature passed a two-year property tax relief bill, but it was nothing like the Haas-Herbel idea. Both men decided last year not to seek re-election.

Seeing orange

In the next few days, Minnesotans will see federal economic stimulus funds in the form of orange barrels.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has scheduled the start of many federally funded highway projects in the next week.

“MnDOT identified more than 60 projects and requested bids on enough to meet the federal requirements in about half the time required,” said Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel.

About half of the $502 million in federal stimulus funding has been obligated, Sorel said.

The federal stimulus projects are in addition to regular summer construction work.

“This is one of the largest construction years in the state’s history,” Sorel said. “All of us who are traveling on state roadways need to approach work zones with caution and be patient.”

Dorgan’s new book

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., is about to find out if he can make the New York Times’ best-seller list again when his new book goes on sale May 26.

“Reckless!: How Debt, Deregulation and Dark Money Nearly Bankrupted America (And How We Can Fix It!)” critiques the nation’s financial crisis of the past year from the angle of one of the few senators who voted against bank deregulation in 1999 and warned that the nation could be thrown into the kind of problems it now faces.

Dorgan’s first book was the 2006 “Take This Job and Ship It,” about the practice of corporate America outsourcing jobs overseas. Publisher St. Martin’s Press says the senator “speaks about the state of our nation’s financial quagmire in a prairie-populist voice peppered with incisive wit.”

In both books, Dorgan credits his “friend, editor and collaborator,” North Dakota weekly newspaperman and humorist Tony Bender of Ashley, N.D.

Wrapping up?

Minnesota legislators hope they are headed toward a smooth end to their 2009 session.

But don’t bet the farm on it.

House-Senate conference committees – those panels that write compromise legislation – are sending several budget bills for full House and Senate votes today. But as they began work late last week, there were signs of problems with Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s budget proposals and Pawlenty himself.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, was especially harsh, saying Pawlenty is just plain wrong in saying senators voted to give the State Patrol less money than he wanted.

While conference committees dealing with relatively small amounts of money had a Saturday deadline to wrap up, the big-buck committees have until Thursday.

The next major deadline is to send all money bills to Pawlenty by May 12, with lawmakers facing a May 18 constitutional deadline to adjourn.

However, many lawmakers and legislative staff members expect legislators and Pawlenty to fail to pass their $33 billion, two-year budget by the deadline, prompting the need for a special summer session.

Woof means thanks

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and his wife, Lucy Calautti, have a new dog, “Dakota.” Among Washington, D.C., officials taking notice was White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who sent gifts of a water dish and elephant-shaped squeaky toys.

Dakota “wrote” Emanuel a thank-you note consisting of several paragraphs of “WOOF, WOOF – WOOF, WOOF, WOOF” and a paw print. A P.S. says: “For translation, see Bo,” a reference to President Barack Obama’s new dog.

Minnesota State Capitol reporter Scott Wente contributed to this report

Davis and Cole work for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. Davis can be reached at (651) 290-0707 and Cole can be reached at (701) 224-0830