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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published January 23 2011

Minnesota Political Notebook: GOP, Dayton ‘disagree without being disagreeable’

ST. PAUL - Early indications are that Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Laborite governor and Republican legislative leaders are doing as the old saying goes: “Disagree without being disagreeable.”

There have been some strong words from both sides in recent days, but nothing like what has been seen in the past few years; and those words mainly deal with policy, not personalities.

On Friday, for instance, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said House leaders were slowing down some bills that appeared ready to pass within days so that Dayton and his commissioners can get settled in to their jobs. Still, House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, emphasized that new representatives, in particular, do not want to wait long to begin passing bills.

In the past, Dean said, January was a time when lawmakers heard general reports and got up to speed on what was happening in various state agencies. “This just isn’t that kind of year,” he said, indicating that major bills will pass earlier than usual.

Many committee chairmen have rushed major bills through in a fraction of the time it happened in previous years. Zellers said that especially happens with bills that have been debated many times in the past.

Changes advance

Bills to give professional Minnesotans an easier path to becoming teachers are advancing in the Legislature.

They easily passed their first committee hurdles but have more stops before reaching a full House or Senate vote. Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, author of one of the bills, said it could help with tough-to-fill positions, such as science and math teachers, by attracting professionals in those fields to the classroom.

At the same time, a rookie senator introduced a controversial bill that he says would save school districts money.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said his bill freezes school employee pay for two years. It also reduces the teacher’s union power.

“School boards and district administrators have their hands tied by a combination of state mandates and demands from the teacher unions,” Thompson said. “The bill I have introduced will eliminate three mandates that create financial and bureaucratic burdens for schools and taxpayers. ... We all want our teachers to prosper, but we cannot ignore economic realities.”

U ‘grossly overpaid’

The pay being given to the University of Minnesota’s new president upsets Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa.

Erik Kaler, who becomes university president this summer, will make $610,000 a year, more than current President Robert Bruininks’ $455,000 and the average Big Ten Conference salary of $350,000.

“We are in an economically challenging time, yet the University of Minnesota – who will undoubtedly visit the Capitol this year and urge lawmakers to preserve its funding – has decided to thumb its nose at the state’s financial problems and significantly overpay its next commanding officer.” Drazkowski said. “This is yet another example of government not being accountable to the people.”

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