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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published February 01 2010

Political notebook: Gov. Pawlenty goes after local government aid

ST. PAUL – Gov. Tim Pawlenty made some of his strongest statements yet against local government aid when he blasted Bemidji for raising its property tax levy.

On his weekly radio show, Pawlenty used that as an example of cities improperly blaming property tax increases on state aid cuts.

The Republican governor, often attacked by Democrats for forcing up property taxes, called Bemidji “a government town in a lot of respects.”

He said the city’s tax levy rose $2.4 million in 2009, but state aid fell just $189.

Brian McClung, Pawlenty’s deputy chief of staff, said state aid was designed to help cities lacking enough property to tax to provide adequate services.

“How did the program get so far away from its original intent?” McClung asked.

Pawlenty was critical of Bemidji’s contract talks, as he has been with other governments and schools. “They gave away significant wage increases and benefit increases as well at a time when those in the private sector are not doing so well.”

Cities have lobbied hard to maintain local government aid and other programs, saying that as the state cuts those payments, local governments have no choice but to raise property taxes. City leaders say they have trimmed everything they can and in order to maintain adequate services, especially police and fire protection, they either need continued state support or to raise local taxes.

Pawlenty’s comment could hint at more local cuts this year as he and legislators debate how to fix a badly out of balance state budget.

Debate grumbling

A Minnesota News Council-League of Women Voters debate with 20 governor candidates produced one point of agreement among most hopefuls: They did not like the format.

The sponsors allowed just one-minute answers to questions, and candidates such as Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook said that was not enough time to discuss any issues.

Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner refused to answer some questions, especially ones that were supposed to be only “yes” or “no” answers, because of the tight time restrictions.

One of the campaign’s most colorful candidates, and one not likely to win, produced some laughs. Minneapolis artist Ole Savior, who runs for some office every two years, promoted building a new Vikings football stadium, while most candidates said there should be no state money given to a stadium.

Savior wore a Vikings shirt, while most male candidates wore suits and ties.

Molnau picks Emmer

Tom Emmer picked up support from one of the two statewide Republican office holders.

Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau gave her blessing to the Delano state representative’s GOP governor campaign.

Molnau’s boss, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, has not endorsed a candidate.

Dayton opens up

Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton tried to make amends to the Capitol press corps by meeting with reporters for 45 minutes, answering every question they had.

That came a week after Dayton announced he was running for the DFL governor nomination, a year after he began campaigning for office, and only took questions from two reporters.

While he made no big announcement at the second meeting, he did reveal something about the man making his eighth statewide run (he has won five).

Dayton told reporters that he was open and would respond to their questions. In fact, he went beyond most politicians and gave out his home telephone number.

“There are only three of us there,” and the two dogs have not learned how to answer the phone, Dayton deadpanned.

As if to prove he is open, Dayton gave away the secret about why he won the 2000 U.S. Senate race.

While Dayton and other Democrats were locked in a primary election battle, incumbent GOP Sen. Rod Grams did little campaigning, Dayton said, which meant that the two candidates started on close to equal footing after the primary vote.

The lesson for Republicans: Start campaigning right after the April state convention, and let Democrats beat up on each other in a fall primary election.

“I shouldn’t be giving campaign advice,” Dayton admitted.

Restrictions sought

A coalition of consumer, union and health care-related groups wants to tighten rules dealing with prescription drugs.

The coalition calls for laws such as one that would prohibit drug companies from buying records from doctors, a marketing tool that few people know about. Favored laws also would ban gifts from drug companies to doctors and would provide a method of giving unbiased medicine information to doctors.

“Frustration about the pharmaceutical industry’s marketing practices is at an all-time high,” said Pete Wyckoff of Community Catalyst, who directs the work of the coalition. “Minnesota’s consumers, doctors, health care providers and policymakers believe that there must be something done to curb the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on the health care system. No one should come between decisions made between doctors and patients – certainly not the pharmaceutical industry.”

Bills taking actions the coalition wants are being heard in the Minnesota Legislature.

Big drug companies oppose the proposals.

“Taken as a whole, the package of legislative proposals could have a chilling effect on Minnesota’s life sciences at a time when state leaders aim to expand this vital sector,” said Marjorie Powell of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Don Davis is a reporter for Forum Communications Co.