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Don Davis, Published November 23 2009

Political notebook: Minnesota state park talks may resume

ST. PAUL – Talks to buy land for a Lake Vermilion state park are on hold, the state natural resources commissioner told a legislative committee, but hope remains that a deal could be completed.

Commissioner Mark Holsten said he wants $20 million set aside for land purchase to remain available.

“We are involved in a very delicate business discussion with U.S. Steel,” he said. “The timing has to be right for the two parties to be involved in a business transaction.”

Gov. Tim Pawlenty made it a priority to establish a Lake Vermilion state park in northeastern Minnesota. U.S. Steel appeared ready to sell off the land it owns for private development, but Holsten said talks may resume.

One factor in the negotiations’ suspension is that one part of the Department of Natural Resources is in the midst of making regulatory decisions on a U.S. Steel facility while another part of the department is trying to buy 2,500 acres from the company for the park.

Tax levies up

Property tax levies look like they are going up 3.5 percent across Minnesota.

The state Revenue Department says that is less than the three-year average of 6.9 percent (property taxes went up 5.6 percent last year).

Revenue Commissioner Ward Einess credits a property cap promoted by Pawlenty as the reason property tax levies are being kept “relatively modest.”

The levy limit went into law last year and caps how much counties and cities with more than 2,500 residents can raise taxes. However, there is no limit on how much property taxes may rise to support public safety and a few other needs.

Average city levy increases are reported to be 5.4 percent, followed by school districts and counties at 3.2 percent and townships at 2.1 percent.

Powers to challenge

Democrat Dan Powers plans to challenge four-term U.S. Rep. John Kline in next year’s election.

Powers lives in Burnsville and owns a small remodeling business.

“As a small-business owner I found out how hard it can be to run a business and what obstacles can be placed in your way by government,” he said. “As an independent contractor, I saw the holes and traps that can snare even the diligent. I have felt how health care costs have soared with no end in sight. It is time for a change.”

Powers faces a tough task. Kline has won his past three re-election bids with at least 56 percent of the vote in the district in the southern part of the Twin Cities and in more rural areas to the south. Kline has become the top House education Republican.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com