Archive for the ‘Government Spending’ Category

Why Procedural Motions Sometimes Matter

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

When making a judgment on legislators, most individuals and interest groups focus on the “big votes”. In other words, the vote on an entire bill rather than an obscure amendment, or a vote to override a veto rather than a procedural motion. Most often, votes on procedural motions are split down party lines, and usually ignored by parties and interest groups. However, when Minnesota’s version of the debt laden porkulus bill was considered this past week, there were very important procedural motions in the House and Senate that should speak very loudly and clearly about how the Democrat majority in both Houses of the Legislature are playing games with the taxpayers’ credit card.

On Monday, February 22, 2010, the debt bill came back to the House from the House-Senate conference committee for repassage. Republican Leader Kurt Zellers moved to reject the conference repoert and return the bill to conference committe. The motion failed, mostly along party lines, and the conference committee report was adopted and the bill was repassed and sent to the Senate. In the Senate, Sen. Warren Limmer (R – Maple Grove) made the motion to reject the conference report and return the bill to the conference committee. Again, the motion was defeated mostly along party lines. The conference committee report was adopted and the bill was repassed and sent to the Governor. 

Or so we thought. That’s what usually happens to a bill that passes both bodies of the Legislature. However, the Democrat leadership, re-thinking the prospect of a borrowing bill at the Sham-wow price of $999,999,000 getting vetoed in its entirety by the Governor, then hung onto the bill and put the conference committee, now known as a “working group” back to work.

Capitol insiders don’t remember this kind of maneuvering happening since early statehood days when a bill to move the capitol to St. Peter mysterously disappeared.

Democrat leadership could have just listened to the minority concerns that the bill was too large and would be vetoed by the Governor. But they instead opted to defeat the motions by Republicans to reject the conference report. Rather than admit that Republicans are right, Democrat leadership chose to be the ones in control and use a procedure rarely, if ever, used to keep their debt bill from getting vetoed.

This cannot be good for House Speaker Margaret Anderson-Kelliher’s (DFL – Minneapolis) reputation as a leader as she seeks her party’s endorsement for Governor.

Representatives from the East Central Minnesota area voting with Democrat leadership were Tim Faust, Jeremy Kalin, and Gail Kulick Jackson.

Rep. Bill Hilty joined Republicans in voting to send the bill back to conference committee and voting against final passage of the bill. Let’s not kid ourselves. Rep. Hilty didn’t suddenly become a fiscal conservative. He voted ageinst final passage because the bill did not contain the tens of millions of dollars for the Moose Lake Sexual Offender Program expansion in his district.

Rob Eastlund (R – Isanti) was excused from this late evening session and did not vote.

In the Senate, Sen. Lisa Fobbe and Sen. Rick Olseen, both Democrats, sided with their leadership on these votes. Sen. Tony Lourey (D – Kerrick) sided with Republicans, presumably for the same reasons as Rep. Hilty.

Democrat leadership can talk bipartisanship all they want, but if they continue to stonewall the minority, even when they know they’re right, their talk of bipartisanship will fall on deaf ears.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of the Minnesota House of Representatives with the Republican Caucus. This website is not paid for nor operated by any legislator, legislative caucus, candidate or political party. Opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the website administrator, and not necessarily those of any legislator, legislative caucus, candidate or political party.

Dayton Proposes to Raise Taxes; No Spending Cuts

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

Former U. S. Senator Mark Dayton

When former U. S. Senator Mark Dayton announced his intention to run for Governor of Minnesota last month, he proposed to raise taxes on the top 10 percent of income earners, which he claims will bring in an additional $3.8 billion in a two-year biennium. At the same time, he claims, according to this Minneapolis Star Tribune article, that he “whatever I can, whenever I can, wherever I can to bring new jobs to our state.” Maybe someone should tell him that taxing job proviers more is not the way to attract them to our state.

The Truth Detector gives Dayton some credit for his honesty in his complete love of government bureaucracy, as he gives no indication that he would cut or streamline government at all. He only wants to raise taxes and spend more.

Dayton, like many other tax-and-spend advocates, cite the Tax Incidence Study to claim that wealthy Minnesotans pay a smaller percentage of their disposable income in taxes than middle income or lower income folks. This is where the Truth Detector has to give Dayton a “half-truth”, because every time Dayton and his taax-and-spend allies bring this up, they fail to tell the whole story.

Yes it’s true that high income earners pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes, according to the Tax Incidence Study. This is because the study takes into account regressive taxes (those that fall most heavily on the poor and middle class), such as gas taxes, property taxes, sales taxes and alcohol and tobacco taxes. The income tax (which is very progressive in Minnesota) hits high income earners very hard.

The part of the story that is not told is the part that makes the most sense, if one takes a few seconds to think about it. High income earners pay a smaller percentage on almost everything, when compared to folks who make a more modest income. Think about it! Utility bills, food, clothing, car payments, groceries. It may not seem fair to a lot of people, but high income earners have more money at thier disposal for life’s necessities than middle-or-low income earners. Of course, their tax burden will be a smaller percentage, when factoring in all taxes.

The other part of the story that the tax-and-spend crowd will refuse to tell is that liberals in the Legislature have been effective at raising regressive taxes in recent years, such as the gas tax, and the additional sales tax for the arts and outdoors. These are regressive taxes that are disproportionately paid by low and middle income folks. So they made that tax system in Minnsota more regressive, and now they cry about how unfair it is that the rich aren’t paying their fair share, so let’s sock it to them by raising the income tax!

And politicians like Dayton, who probably never had a private sector job, have virtually no capacity to make government smaller.  Heaven help us if he or one of his ilk become our governor for the next four years.

Update on potential sale of old jail to Pine City

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Pine City’s City Council met this evening to discus space issues and the potential of purchasing the former sheriff’s offices and jail from Pine County (asking price of $200,000).

Although the council as a whole seemed less than enthusiastic about purchasing the old jail, they asked for further details in terms of potential renovation costs. No decision was made by the council, but the goal is to form an answer for the county at the August 5th city council meeting.

Other options were discussed such as leasing space for city offices, at least temporarily, until more permanent property could be purchased, or the current city hall could be expanded. Why wait when construction bids are at bargain basement prices in the current economy? It goes back to money. Or lack thereof. Pine City has no money set aside for purchase of property or construction on property the city owns. On the other hand, no money is budgeted for leasing office space, either.

Potential lease options includes Evergreen Square property owned by Jim and Candy Koppen, and various downtown buildings that are currently vacant, as well as the space at the former Jubilee Foods (by the new post office location).

Going back to one of the reasons this is being discussed is that the library is purportedly bursting at the seems and needs more space. An anonymous donation for library expansion is pending if a plan is soon put in place. Rumor has it that the donation amount is in the neighborhood of $200,000. However, Councilmember Paul Janssen rightly pointed out that forcing the city out of city hall to make room for the library is not right. After all, the likely recipient of the $200,000 donation is the library foundation, not the city.  Janssen also stated that he feels that city hall belongs downtown, but the library’s locatoin is not as important.

Councilmember Brian Scholin, who also sits on the library board, stated that other locations were considered for the library, none of which were deemed feasible by the board, and besides, its easier to move city offices than it is to move a library. Additionally, the city would have more options available, Sholin stated, because nearly anything can be adapted to make city offices. 

Councilmember Scholin also stated that he had heard a rough estimate (not an official bid) that renovating the former jail could cost in excess of $1 million. Hence the reason the council seemed less excited than expected about purchasing the property. The perspective from business-minded people on the council and in the audience was that city hall belongs downtown and it would be more feasible to expand city hall at its current location than to purchase other property, especially if that property has significant renovation costs.  However Rick Herzog, (owner of the Pizza Pub who was in attendance) stated that the library attracts much more traffic than city government offices. They felt that if the city has to lease space until expansion is more palatable to the taxpayers, that would be OK.

Councilmember Paul Miller kept talking about planning for the future, and how the city should plan for more than the projected minimum 7,500 square feet of city office space that city staff thinks it needs.

Of course, no one on the city staff will look at it from the perspective that I mentioned in my previous post.  Rather than conforming space needs to growing staff, bureaucracy and paperwork, maybe the city should conform staff with existing space. Pine City is a city with a population of 3,200. Yet the city has an administrator, an assistant administrator, a planner, a treasurer, billing clerk, receptionist and public works administrative assistant. And that’s just the administrative staff. Staff was larger for a while, until the city did away with the failed experiment of having a full-time paid fire chief  overseeing a volunteer fire department. Business owners and people working in the private sector (aka taxpayers are doing with less. Maybe the city should also consider doing with less, at least until the economy recovers. That could eliminate the immediate need to buy, lease or expand at this point in time. As for the library, for the most part it is not a creature of the city. I’m not sure why the city should give up city hall for the library’s perceived space needs.

Legitimate offer by Pine County, or Bait and Switch?

Monday, July 13th, 2009

The City Council in Pine City convenes a special meeting this Wednesday eventing to discuss the possibility of purchasing the old Pine County jail from the county for possible use of city hall offices. The county is asking $200,000 for the former sheriff’s office and jail.

“Wait a minute,” I hear readers asking, “I thought the asking price was $50,000! What happened?”

Well, in case you aren’t keeping up, the asking price for the former courthousewas $50,000. That was before the present county board determined that the new courthouse facility, which if memory serves me correctly was built at a cost of $28 million, is not big enough for all the county’s space needs. Yes, I’m talking about the courthouse facility that the county has been in less than two years. So rather than offering the former courthouse, which at one time the county board determined was uninhabitable and too far gone to fix up, to the City of Pine City, the county is now keeping the facility for its own use.

Although there is only one county board member who is still on the board from the entire episode of the county split issues and the attempt to move the county seat to Hinckley, my cynical side says the county board saw an opportunity to extract more money from the Pine City taxpayers than originally planned.

From Pine City’s perspective, or at least from the perspective of a Pine City resident, there is one issue that remains constant. Money. Or lack thereof. PIne City does not have in its 2009 budget any money for the purchase of the old courthouse or the old jail. In the era of reduced Local Government Aid (LGA), it makes one wonder where the money will come from. The old jail is reportedly valued at over $1 million, making the $200,000 asking price appear to be a good deal. But if the money isn’t budgeted, a “good deal” is still a burden on the city taxpayers.

A secondary issue is priorities. Pine City needs a new fire hall. Nearly everyone in the city is in agreement that the need is there. The only question that remains is what are Pine City taxpayers willing to pay for one? Yet not one dime has been put away for the construction of a new fire hall.

But back to the city hall/courthouse issue. The issue that is driving this whole thing is space. Or lack thereof. Or, should I say a perceived lack thereof.

You see, the library in Pine City is bursting at the seems, or so it seems. The Pine City Library Foundation is expecting a sizable and generous donation for library expansion if they get the plans put together and move forward. Well, guess what? the most obvious place for the library to expand is in the building that it shares with city hall. So that means city hall will have to move somewhere. The old courthouse for $50,000 would have been a good deal, assuming the city had any money set aside for it, in spite of the fact the old courthouse is three times bigger than the city needs for its offices.

But the county has space issues. So the county needs the old courthouse building that a few years ago was uninhabitable and too far gone to save. So in its generous offer to resolve the city space isues, it offered the old jail, which is one-third the size for four times the money. Maybe this is all legitimate, but is sounds like a classic “bait and switch” to me.

Amongst the library’s space needs, the city outgrowing its offices at their current location, and the county outgrowing its new facility before its “new” smell has disapated, I’m wondering whether anyone considered looking at it from a different perspective. Rather than expanding space to facilitate growing government bureaucracy, why not streamline staff and paperwork to fit current space? I know it sounds crazy, but I can’t be alone in this thought. You see that big chunk of “free money” for the library expansion isn’t free after all if the city ends up having to pay $200,000 it doesn’t have to move its offices a couple blocks over. By the way $200,000 is only the beginning, as major renovations will be necessary to make the old jail habitable for city offices.

Cities and counties are cash strapped, and taxpayers are resistant to the idea of giving up more of their money for government facilities as evidenced by the struggle to get a new firehall in Pine City.

Maybe I’m all wet. But I hope to make it to the city council meeting Wednesday night and report back here on the East Central Truth Detector if I can make any sense of the whole situation.

Unallotments and Predictable Reaction

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Yesterday Governor Tim Pawlenty announced his “unallotment” decisions – his unilateral budget cuts because the Democrat-controlled legislature couldn’t figure out how (or more accurately refused)  to reform, streamline and reduce the size and scope of state government. The unallotments included $100 million in cuts to higher education, several hundred million to various health and human services programs, a billion and a half of delayed payments to K-12 schools, and a suspension of the political contribution refund (PCR) program (get those checks in by June 30th!).

The one reduction that was less than the Governor’s original recommendation was the reduction in Local Government Aid (LGA). However, that didn’t stop the usual and predictable reactionfrom city officials, particularly, cities of the first class (Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth), specifically Minneapolis.

Mayor R. T. Ryback, who recently returned from a trip to China, wasted no time in wailing and gnashing his teeth over Governor Pawlenty’s decision. With the city council president singing backup, here is what was reported by Politics in Minnesota:

“I deeply disagree with the governor, because his choices will hurt many people,” Rybak said. “The governor has offered no plan for putting people to work, only for cutting jobs during a tough economy, and has offered no strategy for fixing a broken state budget that continues to lurch from deficit to deficit.”

Rybak’s sentiments were echoed by Barb Johnson, president of the Minneapolis City Council. “Unlike the state, the city of Minneapolis has addressed its financial challenges head on by paying down debt, doing long-term financial planning and delivering services more efficiently,” Johnson said. “If the state had been as disciplined about managing its finances as we have been, they wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Does Councilwoman Johnson really want the public to look into how disciplined Minneapolis has been in managing its finances? Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson has already begun, as evidenced by his blog about the $50,000 drinking fountains that Minneapolis city officials thought were a priority. The swanky drinking fountains have been in the news in the past year, as has been the story that Minneapolis spent the majority of its federal stimulus money on fixing up the Shubert Theater. Other examples of misguided priorities, such as carbon footprint reduction grants to community organizations, lobbying (yes – using taxpayer money to lobby the Legislature for more taxpayer money) and artistic manhole covers can be uncovered by a casual web search or combing through the city’s budget.

While Mayor Rybak & Co. may claim they will have to lay off cops and firefighters because of the big, bad Governor, here’s an idea. The reduction to Minneapolis for 2009 is somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 million. The pseudo autonomous Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board gets a cut of Minneapolis’ LGA to the tune of $10,000,000+ annually. Looks like an easy solution to me.

Trust me, the wasteful spending is almost as egregious in St. Paul. And I can only imagine what Duluth blows its butdet on. Hopefully, you’ll hear more from other sources on how things aren’t as dire in Minnesota’s biggest cities and their officials may want you to believe.

This article is also posted at East Central Taxpayers.

Of Cocoa Bean Mulch, Indigenous Earthkeepers and Composting Grants

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Little more than a week from now, politicians in St. Paul will be pointing their fingers of blame at others in their explanations as to why a special session is needed to complete the state’s budget. But keep this in mind. Legislative leaders have known since February how big the deficit is, and they have known how difficult it would be to make the tough decisions. This, however, did not prevent the Democrat leadership from wasting time debating ridiculous proposals, frivolously spending money and sending bills to Governor Tim Pawlenty that they know he will veto.

This past week the Minnesota House spent a half hour debating a bill that would require retailers who sell cocoa bean mulch to put up a sign, in 36-point type, warning consumers that their dog might die if they eat it. Apparently someone’s dog died and now we need legislation that forces retailers to put up signs (as if they don’t have enough signage requirements already). The bill eked out of the House with enough votes to make it to the Governor’s desk, where it died under his veto pen.

The Jobs and Economic Development Bill, if one could call it that, had a $250,000 provision for an “Indigenous Earthkeepers” program to American Indian youth for environmental educaiton and training. This bill also had a $34 million loan forgiveness to the City of St. Paul for some hockey rink that the state has already forgiven $17 million on. Thankfully, the Governor vetoed this bill.

Another item that the Democrats thought was a high priority showed up in the Omnibus Environment and Energy Bill is $500,000 for composting grants.

Probably the biggest waste of time are the tax increase bills the Democrats are passing, knowing these bills will die a quick death once they meet up with Governor Pawlenty’s veto pen. Rather than making tough spending choices and reforming government, the Democrats are choosing to play a losing game of “chicken” with the Governor.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of the Minnesota House of Representatives in the Republican Caucus. This blog is not paid for or sponsored in any way by any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee. Opinions expressed herein are those of the administrator of this website and not necessarily that of any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee.

Unwanted Publicity for Attorney General Lori Swanson

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

First, the WCCO I-Team. Then the Legislative Auditor. Then the I-Team again. That $6,000 carpet and those $15,000 oak doors in the Attorney General’s office are causing the AG Lori Swanson a lot of unwanted publicity.

The I-Team reported on March 31st that sound-proof oak doors (that the Governor across the hall at the Capitol does not have) were installed in the AG’s office, presumably as a result of a security recommendations. A specially-made carped with the Minnesota Seal stitched in was also installed as part of hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on renovations in the AG’s office in the last few years. To be fair, it sounds like Lori Swanson is not completely responsible for ordering these renovations. It began at the end of former AG Mike Hatch’s term. Hatch is Swanson’s immediate predecessor and mentor.

At the request of State Sen. David Hann (R – Eden Prairie), a regularly scheduled audit of the AG;s office by the Legislative Auditor will include and investigation of these expenditures (confirmed by a letter to Sen. Hann from Legislative Auditor James Nobles). This caused the I-Team to follow up with another report on April 20th on more discontent by former employees in the AG’s office.

Beginning early in Swanson’s term, employees and former employees have expressed their discontent regarding the way the office is run. Going back to Hatch’s tenure in the office, employees have said that cases were prioritized on how much positive publicity they would bring to the office rather than their merits or representing the people of Minnesota or bringing justice to a situation. (The old joke is that AG stands for Aspiring Governor.)

One of the incicents that came ot light early in Swanson’s term was her alleged actions to squelch efforts among employees to unionize. Imagine that, a high profile Democrat acting in an anti-union way. I love it when unions and DFL politicians are at odds.

Anyway back to the $15,000 sound-proof doors and $6,000 custom made carpet that were ordered, likely at a time when Swanson knew about a looming budget deficit. It’s not much money in the grand scheme of things. But the bigger issue is the apparent attitude that public money is there for the taking. This, and the politicization of the AG’s office has been standard operating procedure for quite some time. This office has been run by Democrats since the 1960’s. Republicans aren’t immune from corruption, but it looks like a changing of the guard in the AG’s office is long overdue.

This post is also posted at East Central Taxpayers.