By Baird Helgeson
The Minnesota Senate is about to spend another $77,500 in legal fees to conclude the wrongful termination lawsuit brought by former staffer Michael Brodkorb.
The Senate received a nine-page bill from their lawyers for September through December, ending after Brodkorb agreed to drop the suit for $30,000.
Both sides agreed to pay their own legal fees, as part of the settlement. The Senate Rules Committee is scheduled to approve the bill Monday.
Taxpayers have already spent about $320,000 defending the Senate against the lawsuit.
Brodkorb was fired in December 2011 after it was revealed he had an affair with then Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, a Republican from Buffalo. Koch resigned her leadership position and did not seek re-election.
Brodkorb had served as the Senate GOP’s communications chief and, with Koch, was instrumental in helping Republicans win control of the state Senate in 2010. Democrats won back control in the next election.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison is among a group of Senate and House Democrats teaming with the White House on a campaign to tout benefits of the Affordable Care Act.
The White House and Democratic allies will highlight a potential benefit of President Obama's health care law each day, aiming to remind voters of elements that Democrats say would disappear if Republican repeal efforts are successful.
The Obama administration is hoping the strategy will help shift public opinion after the law's rocky rollout.
Though a majority of Democratic and independent voters don’t support Republican efforts to repeal or defund the law, national polls show the electorate isn’t happy with the Affordable Care Act’s problems.
Millions of Americans, including an estimated 140,000 Minnesotans, have received cancellation notices from their health insurance companies, violating a key promise from the president that if “you like your plan you can keep it.”
Democrats acknowledge the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect. During an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Ellison predicted that people will turn their attention to the law's benefits as the healthcare.gov website's troubles diminish.
“I’m working to make sure Minnesotans and working families around the country have the facts about health care reform,” Ellison said in a statement. “Now individuals and families will have free preventive care, no more lifetime cost limits, and an end to the days when insurance companies could take away your health care when you got sick.”
The messaging will continue until December 23, the deadline for people to enroll for January coverage.
Thus far, Republicans have mocked the effort, saying they’re ready to train the spotlight on the law’s shortcomings. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of U.S. House Republicans, said the “strike team” that Ellison belongs to is “Congress’ liberal all-star team.”
“We look forward to talking about the law even more than Democrats do,” said Matt Gorman, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Baird Helgeson and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
Minnesota's rebounding economy has brought the state a $1.08 billion surplus for the remainder of the two year budget cycle, according to a new state economic forecast.
That's good news for state leaders, who had pinned their hopes on the state steadily pulling itself out of the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression.
Gov. Mark Dayton said that he will not make any final decisions until he sees an updated forecast next year but if the state has extra money, he wants to cut new business to business taxes and give the middle class a tax break.
Some of the money is already out the door. The first $246 million must be used to complete repayment of the K-12 school property tax recognition shift. Additionally, $15 million will be transferred to the state airports fund, restoring money originally borrowed in 2008. This forecast completes repayment of all accounting shifts from prior budget solutions. That leaves a bottom line surplus of $825 million, budget officials said.
House Speaker Paul Thissen, asked about Dayton's idea of tax cuts if the surplus holds, says "we have to look at the whole totality" of the choices in front of them.Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said the DFL controlled House will consider the tax cut proposals but did not immediately embrace the idea.
"What's going to be better for growing Minnesota's middle class," Thissen said.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, said "it's too early to say" whether the DFL Senate would support ending the business-to-business taxes as Dayton proposed.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that if Dayton follows through on the idea of tax cuts he would find a willing partner in the Senate Republicans.
Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said the forecast highlights the state’s recovery compared to the rest of the nation. On the national level, economists are seeing slower growth than expected and more uncertainty caused by continued political budget and spending showdowns.
Minnesota is “one of the leading states in the country in terms of economic performance,” Schowalter said.
Dayton says he would only follow through with his tax cut proposal if the state has a surplus in the forecast that will come out in February. Budget forecasts tend to shift significantly between those two economic predictions. (See history of those shifts here.)
Gov. Mark Dayton and other Democratic state officeholders picked up a new union endorsement.
The Minnesota Association of Professional Employees endorsed Dayton, along with Lori Swanson for Attorney General and Rebecca Otto for State Auditor.
“Mark Dayton has shown tremendous political courage to get our state’s economy growing again,” said Carrie Wasley, chairman of MAPE’s political action committee. “Throughout his first term, governor Dayton made tough decisions that benefit all Minnesotans, preserve our middle class, and get our economy moving in the right direction.”
Wasley said Swanson “has a proven track record of fairness and leadership on consumer issues facing Minnesotans.”
Of Otto, Wasley added: “Whether it’s providing oversight of state employee pension investments, identifying ways to make government more efficient or finding innovative budget saving solutions, Auditor Otto does not shy away from making the right choice for taxpayers – she has earned another four year term.”
The Minnesota Association of Professional Employees is a 13,000-member union of state employees.
U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum are among the House Democrats who plan to fast today in support of activists pushing the House to take up comprehensive immigration reform.
The lawmakers took over for three activists who had camped on the National Mall without food for three weeks to raise awareness and make the case for reform.
The U.S. Senate passed an immigration bill this year, but work on legislation has stalled in the Republican-led House.
“It is imperative that the House of Representatives follow the bipartisan lead of the United States Senate and pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation before the end of this year,” McCollum said in a statement.
“Immigration reform is one of the most pressing issues facing our country today and it has the support of the business community, faith leaders, law enforcement, labor, and families throughout Minnesota.”