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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published December 16 2012

Minnesota Political Notebook: Dayton, legislative leaders disagree about the facts

ST. PAUL - The only time Gov. Mark Dayton and the four legislative leaders sat down together before the 2013 legislative session produced few specifics but gave a good indication about the mood to expect when the session begins Jan. 8.

In a traditional pre-session briefing with Minnesota reporters, Senate Minority Leader-elect David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said a recent state budget report indicated that many Minnesota jobs would disappear if the taxes are increased.

Even without increasing tax rates, “we have more tax money coming in to state government,” he said.

But Democrat Dayton shot back that he has read the budget report “cover to cover” and the only thing it predicts about job losses is if the federal government fails to fix its budget problems this year.

“I just hope we can deal with the facts in this whole debate,” Dayton said without looking at Hann. “We can’t agree on what we should do about them, but I hope we can agree on the facts.”

House Speaker-designate Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, also had a reply to the tax discussion: “We just had an election dealing with just what Sen. Hann is talking about and we know how that got resolved.”

Jobs are lost when taxes rise on middle class, Thissen said. “The Republicans take the approach that a tax is a tax is a tax. That simply is not the case.”

Thissen said Dayton’s idea of raising taxes on the richest 2 percent of Minnesotans would not hurt the economy.

The exchange previews debate that can be expected in the session that begins Jan. 8, and echoes debate that long has gone on in the Minnesota Capitol. The difference next year, however, is that Democrats will control the governor’s office as well as the House and Senate for the first time in 22 years.

The forum may be seen at www.senate.mn/media.

’Net work short

Minnesota has work to do to make Internet access balanced between urban areas and the rest of the state.

Thief River Falls’ Digi-Key employs 2,600 people as one of the largest and fastest-growing electronic components distributors in the world, former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher wrote in an introduction to a report on the spread of high-speed broadband Internet connections. But not all rural areas are as lucky, she added: “We are not on track to meet” speed goals set for 2015.

“The private sector is continuing to expand service and new technology is improving the quality of the service across the state,” said Kelliher, chairwoman of a task force looking into broadband. “But without partnership from the public sector, it will be incredibly challenging to ensure that all Minnesotans have access to high-speed broadband.”

Getting broadband to rural areas is important, she said. “We have witnessed how broadband can be an incredible equalizer between the more densely populated metropolitan area and greater Minnesota, enable business growth and provide opportunities for Minnesotans to lead healthier lives.”

The report showed that 62 percent of Minnesotans can access the Web at a speed state officials set as the acceptable minimum. But many rural counties fall far short of the goal.

The task force recommended that tax credits or state grants be given to offer Internet to areas now not served, to extend existing sales tax breaks for equipment used to expand the Internet, and provide aid to poor students who need Internet access.

Dayton takes credit

Gov. Mark Dayton’s complaints about the Vikings football team’s hints that it might sell seat licenses for $60,000 helped to sway the discussion to smaller figures, he says.

Dayton rushed a letter to Vikings owners when he learned the team was asking season ticket holders their opinions about buying licenses, which would give them better seats and give the Vikings money to help fund a new stadium. The governor said at the time that he supported a “people’s stadium, not a rich people’s stadium.”

He said that the attention he brought to the issue will convince the team and a governmental body that controls the stadium to lower the price tag.

“That will save Minnesotans a lot of money,” he told reporters.

The attention should take care of the situation, he said, so the Legislature will not need to get involved. “I don’t have any interest in reopening the stadium bill,” he said.

Split on Zelle

Republicans questioned and Democrats applauded Gov. Mark Dayton’s pick for a new transportation commissioner.

Jefferson Lines President Charlie Zeller takes over next month from Tom Sorel, who left to become leader of AAA Minneapolis.

Zelle has received lots of praise for reviving the bus company, which serves 13 Midwestern states and makes stops in 60 Minnesota communities. At a time when other bus companies struggled or folded, Jefferson thrived.

Republicans appear skeptical of Zelle because a commission he headed recommended tax changes, and some increases, to support transportation.

One of the suggestions from the commission was to look at the idea of taxing people based on the miles they drive. State GOP Chairman Pat Shortridge decried the suggestion, but former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty often mentioned the per-mile tax as a replacement to the gasoline tax, which would bring in less money as vehicles get better mileage.

Democrats like the businessman.

“Mr. Zelle has been at the helm of a major private-sector turnaround at Jefferson Lines and is a longtime Minnesotan who has led the business community’s efforts to support important advances for transportation,” Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

‘Keep wind credit’

A coalition of Minnesota business leaders, elected officials, sportsmen and environmental groups are asking Congress to extend tax credits for renewable energy development such as wind.

Minnesota gets almost 13 percent of its electricity from wind power, but supporters fear that if tax credits are rescinded, the industry’s growth will slow. Many blame Republicans for wanting to eliminate the tax breaks.

“We are aware that the fossil fuel lobby would like to see us disappear, but we think if fossil fuels are going to enjoy preferential tax credit policy, then the whole energy sector should be at the table to decide on future tax reform,” said former state Rep. Aaron Peterson, juwi Wind’s community relations and regulatory affairs manager. “Wind is a bipartisan issue: 80 percent of America’s wind farms are in Republican-held congressional districts.”

Dayton campaign?

Two years remain in Gov. Mark Dayton’s term, but it appears his re-election campaign is under way.

His state staff sent reporters emails in recent days outlining what were described as his major accomplishments so far.

“Two years into his administration, Gov. Mark Dayton is making important progress toward building a better Minnesota,” said a news release written by a state staffer. “Measuring that progress by the improvements Minnesotans have seen in their lives, families, communities and economy, the Dayton administration is taking inventory of what has been accomplished thus far, and considering the work that still remains to be done.”

Releases included discussions about a variety of topics, including education, health care and economic development.

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Don Davis reports for Forum Communications