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Status Report: Surplus, mayor bows out, stadium flap, pot for PTSD

A $1.4B surplus forecast: The Minnesota Legislature will work with a projected $1.4 billion surplus in the 2018-19 biennial budget, according to a Minnesota Management and Budget office forecast released Friday morning.

MMB says that Minnesota’s budget and economic outlook remain stable despite continued slow economic growth. It also said that lower revenue projections are partially offset by reduced spending estimates.

The current biennium is projected to end with a balance of $678 million after a statutory allocation of $334 million is made to the budget reserve, according to MMB.

General fund revenue growth will continue into fiscal year 2018-19, according to MMB projections.

The budget forecast documents were expected to be posted online around 10:45 a.m. Friday on the MMB website.

Mayor bows out: Mayor Chris Coleman says he won’t run for St. Paul’s top job again as he considers a run for governor.

Coleman announced Thursday at a St. Paul brewery that he won’t run for a fourth term as mayor in 2017. Coleman, a Democrat, has said he’ll decide on a gubernatorial bid in the next month.

There’s expected to be a wide field of candidates from both parties jockeying for the governor’s office when Gov. Mark Dayton’s second term expires in 2018. One Democrat, Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, has already launched a campaign.

Coleman counts the Green Line light-rail line connecting St. Paul with Minneapolis, a new baseball stadium and a planned professional soccer stadium among his top accomplishments. He briefly flirted with a run for governor in 2010 before deciding against it.

Stadium flap: House members Peggy Scott, R-Andover, and Regina Barr, R-Inver Grove Heights, called Thursday for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and Gov. Mark Dayton to take action following reports about possible misuse of luxury suites in the new Vikings stadium.

The lawmakers called for greater transparency in the wake of reports that neither Michelle Kelm-Helgen, the authority’s chairwoman, nor Ted Mondale, its executive director, would identify who has used the luxury suites controlled by the authority.

Kelm-Helgen and Mondale have defended the practice as a way to woo business. Only the names of a dozen public officials who have reimbursed the state for game tickets have been released.

However, Kelm-Helgen and Mondale have said some of their friends and family members have used the suites. That has lawmakers raising questions about unseemly perks for public officials.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, who helped secure legislative approval of the stadium in 2012, has called the authority’s use of the suites “ugly government” that merits swift action from the Legislature.

Scott, chair of the House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee, said use of the two luxury suites should be immediately suspended until the matter is resolved. Scott and Barr said Thursday that they plan to introduce legislation to increase transparency, disclosure and accountability for the sports facilities authority.

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles said Wednesday that he’s investigating the matter.

Pot for PTSD: Minnesota veterans and others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder will be allowed to use medical marijuana starting in August, the state’s Health Department said Thursday.

The state is slowly expanding the slim list of conditions that qualify for the program. Thursday’s expansion could have been larger because the state reviewed eight other potential additions submitted through public petitions, including autism spectrum disorders, arthritis and depression.

But Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said there wasn’t enough evidence surrounding marijuana’s effectiveness in treating those conditions. A lack of other effective medications for post-traumatic stress disorder made it a reasonable addition to the list, he said.

The state will also loosen its restriction on how medical marijuana can be taken, allowing manufacturers to sell topical patches, creams and lotions starting in August, in addition to the oils, capsules and vapors that are currently sold.

The law passed in 2014 explicitly bans smoking or using the full plant.

What’s Ahead:  The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources will meet Tuesday, Dec. 6, in Room 5 of the State Office Building. The meeting has a broad agenda and will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a 45-minute break at noon for lunch. The committee makes legislative funding recommendations for special environment and natural resource projects.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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