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Taxes off the table for storm relief session; MNsure board assumes authority

Mike Mullen//August 22, 2013

Taxes off the table for storm relief session; MNsure board assumes authority

Mike Mullen//August 22, 2013

EVENTS

WHAT’S COMING UP

DAYTON: Gov. Mark Dayton will appear at the DFL booth at the Minnesota State Fair at 10:30 this morning. At noon, Dayton will move on to the Star Tribune’s booth at the fair, where he will be interview by editorial writer Lori Sturdevant. At 1:40 p.m., Dayton will be interviewed by Joe Soucheray at ESPN’s State Fair booth. This evening, Dayton will give remarks at a closed-press Pheasants Forever Annual Banquet.

WHAT HAPPENED YESTERDAY

STORM SESSION AFTER ALL: After weeks of public chest-beating and private negotiations, Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders from both parties finally agreed yesterday to use a one-day special session to pass a storm relief bill — and nothing more. The agreement on a single-topic session to be held on September 9, which will mirror a similar one held in the fall of 2012, was announced after caucus leaders emerged from a meeting yesterday morning. House Speaker Paul Thissen said the parties involved had agreed to focus on roughly $6 million in storm damage relief for 18 counties, and avoid wading into the repeal of an agriculture repair tax, a warehousing services tax and other business-to-business tax provisions that total more than $300 million worth of revenue in the new budget. “We decided the most important thing was to provide relief to these communities,” Thissen said.

Dayton, who has said he dislikes at least some of the tax increases he signed off on this year, said he was “personally disappointed” that the repeals were taken off the table, but said there was no clear means of making up for the lost revenues. Senate Minority Leader David Hann disagreed, saying Republicans were prepared to find necessary spending cuts. “In a $38 billion budget, there are lots and lots of ways to find $100 million in reductions, and we are certainly willing to do that,” Hann said.

Dayton also said the leaders had discussed trying to craft legislation that would allow for storm relief appropriations without needing to call a special session in each instance. Leaders from both parties agreed that the Legislature should take up the issue during the 2014 session.

AUDIT PUBLICITY: Also yesterday, Gov. Mark Dayton said he’d support making an audit of the Minnesota Vikings stadium financing public, the Star Tribune reports. Last week,  the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) retained FTI Consulting, a forensic accounting firm that specializes in “anti-corruption inquiries,” to inspect the team’s financial dealings with the state, following revelations of financial misdeeds owners Zygi and Mark Wilf had allegedly perpetrated on business partners in a New Jersey apartment complex. Dayton, who called for the review, said his intention is to ensure the team has “the financial wherewithal to meet their obligations,” though that concern could be rendered moot if, as has been rumored, the team will rely heavily on the sale of personal seat licenses to fund much of its obligation. The audit’s availability to the public could be determined by which party pays for its completion; Dayton said yesterday that, according to MSFA chair Michele Kelm-Helgen, the team has not yet agreed to contribute to the audit fees.

MNSURE TRANSFER: With about five weeks before the beginning of the open enrollment period, the MNsure board of directors voted yesterday to assume authority over the state health insurance exchange. With the unanimous vote, the board members take over from Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB), which had been handling exchange infrastructure tasks for the previous 11 months. MMB Commissioner Jim Schowalter said he was “really pleased and impressed by the work the board has done,” referring to the board’s fulfillment of statutory requirements to craft ethical, fiscal and conflict of interest policies to govern its own conduct. The board’s next major task is winnowing down the 146 applicants who applied to serve on one of two advisory boards; evidently disappointed in the lack of low-income and minority applicants, board members requested that MNsure staff attempt to attract more applications from those populations, which are expected to have a high percentage of participation in the exchange.

FARNSWORTH INTRO: Rob Farnsworth, the most recent — and most obscure — GOP gubernatorial candidate, has begun trying to introduce himself to the state’s voters. In an interview with the Duluth News Tribune, Farnsworth, 35, touted 15 years as a member of a union during his work as an educator with the Department of Corrections. Farnsworth said he modeled his candidacy on that of former Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, who defeated Farnsworth in the 2010 8th Congressional District GOP endorsement contest. “As a former union member, [Cravaack] was able to bring conservative union members into the Republican coalition, and this propelled him to victory in 2010,” Farnsworth said. “I am the only announced candidate that brings these strengths to the campaign.” Farnsworth said he planned to seek the party endorsement, but didn’t promise to abide by the outcome.

FRANKEN, WALZ BILL: Two Minnesota Democrats who could face difficult reelection contests are trying to draw attention to legislation that might be nearly invulnerable to criticism. DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken and DFL U.S. Rep. Tim Walz announced that they would hold an event in St. Paul on Friday to promote their efforts to end the backlog of benefits claims for military veterans. With more than 500,000 claims awaiting actipon, the system can sometimes take several months to get to an individual’s benefits request; the average wait in St. Paul is six months. Under the bill, veterans could seek medical care through a local physician, rather than waiting for an opening at a veterans affairs hospital, and disabled veterans could qualify for upfront benefits while a review of their case is still pending.

TEST SCORES LEGIT: A series of technology mishaps led to a delay in statewide student testing in April, but did not affect student scores, according to the Pioneer Press. The state Department of Education commissioned a study of the testing problems, and announced yesterday that any delays or confusion in administering the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment did not “adversely affect children or schools.” In a related letter to school superintendents and parents, Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said she was working to prevent future occurrences with the state’s testing vendor, which was awarded a $61 million contract to handle the testing process. “Every student has a right to an uninterrupted testing experience,” Cassellius wrote, “which is why I am instructing [American Institutes for Research] to take all preventative measures to make sure this does not happen again.”

HIV VERDICT: The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of an HIV-positive man who was once convicted for knowingly spreading the immunodeficiency virus, according to the Associated Press. In its ruling, the court upheld a court of appeals acquittal verdict for Daniel James Rick,  who had been accused of spreading the virus through unprotected sex with another man in 2009. The ruling came partly due to a lack of clarity in the 1995 state statute intended to criminalize reckless sexual activity. In her majority opinion, Chief Justice Lori Gildea said the Legislature had the option to “re-examine the communicable disease statute and amend it accordingly.”

ROSEDAHL TO LOCKRIDGE: Leslie Rosedahl is leaving her position heading up public affairs for the Senate Republican caucus to take a new job at the Lockridge Grindal Nauen law/lobbying firm. Rosedahl had been in charge of the caucus’s messaging and outbound communications, and will take on a similar role at her new employer, where her title will be director of communications and grassroots advocacy. She is set to join the firm at the end of September; Rosedahl replaces Linden Zakula, who held the job until mid-June, when he left to become a senior communications adviser to Gov. Mark Dayton.

DAYTON FAMILY DEATH: Some sad news for the governor’s family, via DFL Party chair Ken Martin‘s Twitter account: Mary Lee Dayton, widow of Walter C. Dayton and aunt to Mark, has died. She and her husband, who left the family department store business in the 1960s, were active in philanthropy, especially as it relates to conservation and environmental causes. Mary Lee Dayton was also a chair of the board at Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, and was a frequent donor to DFL politicians and organizations.

PRETTNER SOLON GIG: Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon has been named co-chair of an energy policy committee with the National Association of Lieutenant Governors. Energy was a top priority for Prettner Solon during her time in the state Senate, and she chaired the relevant committee during her second and final term in office. Prettner Solon, who has recently acknowledged some dissatisfaction with her role and raised doubts that she wishes to run for reelection, called her appointment “a great opportunity to explore new ways to power a 21st century economy, while protecting the integrity of our environment.”

YOU WERE ALREADY JUDGING THEIR TRAMP STAMPS, ANYWAY: The state is hiring for a low-visibility position that could lead to some interesting work. The “body art licensing inspector” will travel the state to make sure tattoo parlors are meeting health and safety standards, along with some training and educational work to keep tattoo artists and local officials informed of the requirements. The full-time position, which calls for a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a related health field, comes with a salary range of $41,175 to $60,385; more information here.

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