With a competitive gubernatorial primary, 15 legislative primaries and a new law allowing anyone to vote absentee, more Minnesotans are voting early.
According to the Secretary of State's office, as of Thursday more than 2,000 Minnesotans had successfully cast absentee ballots for the August 12th primary.
That's more than previous years at similar points in the election cycle. In 2010, by July 18, only 1,500 Minnesotans had cast absentee ballots. That year, the first when Minnesota had an August primary rather than an election in September, featured a DFL primary for governor as well as several hot local races.
This year, for the first time, Minnesotans do not need to give an excuse for why they want to vote absentee. That change, plus encouragement from political campaigns to vote early, may explain the uptick in absentee ballots.
Minnesota tax collections surpassed expectations by $168 million over the last year, boosted largely by stronger than expected income and sales tax revenue.
Revenue collections had lagged slightly the last few months, but surging state income tax payments allowed state to take in $235 million more than state budget officials estimated for that period.
Corporate income taxes were down slightly, but higher than expected sales tax revenue helped make up for it. The corporate tax is the most volatile, and wild swings are not uncommon.
Minnesota budget officials warn that the U.S. economy hit "a deep pothole” at the beginning of 2014, resulting in the worst quarterly performance since the depths of the Great Recession in early 2009.
Economic experts attributed the drop to a sharp swing in the trade deficit, a surprise fall in health care spending and extreme winter weather. The bad weather slowed consumer spending, housing, and industrial activity.
Economists say the economy is staring to improve rapidly, with faster employment and income growth, along with improving home and vehicle sales.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz Thursday has introduced a bill to help combat veteran suicides.
Walz, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, unveiled the legislation at a news conference with the mother of former Marine Clay Hunt, who committed suicide in 2011 after serving two combat tours, one apiece in Iraq and Afghanistan.
An estimated 22 veterans killed themselves every day in 2010, up from 18 per day in 2007, according to the latest figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“One veteran lost to suicide is one too many,” Walz said in a statement. “While the wars overseas may be ending, all too often our heroes return only to face a war of their own at home.
The legislation would pave the way for more veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury to receive care from the VA. Studies found that tens of thousands of veterans were erroneously discharged and denied benefits after being misdiagnosed with other conditions.
The bill would also mandate annual independent evaluations of VA suicide and mental health programs and establish a peer support program to help service members understand what mental health care services are available to them.
Hunt enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2005 and deployed to Iraq in 2007. During the tour, a sniper shot him the wrist, and he returned to the United States for treatment. He returned to duty in 2008, serving a tour in Afghanistan.
During an oversight hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Hunt’s mother, Susan Selke, said doctors diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, which caused him to suffer from panic attacks and anxiety. But she said her son seemed to be coping relatively well before his suicide.
Walz introduced the legislation with Republican Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth. Senate Democrats proposed legislation in March to address the same issue.
The money is flowing in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race.
On Thursday, in advance of Tuesday's federal campaign finance deadline, both Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken and his chief Republican rival Mike McFadden released their most recent fundraising numbers.
In the last three months, Franken, long a prodigious cash gatherer, raised 'over $3.3 million,' according to his campaign. McFadden, who has promised he will have to resources to compete, raised 'over $1.1 million,' his campaign said.
For the cycle, Franken has brought in $18.4 million. But most of it has been spent.Franken, who has been running an aggressive cycle of television advertisements, had $5 million cash on hand as of the start of this month.
Since starting to run last year, McFadden has raised $4 million. He had about half of it left at the start of July. McFadden, who won the Republican party's endorsement in May, only began a broadcast advertising campaign last week.
McFadden will face an August primary against several other Republicans, none of whom have raised significant cash, before he could vie against Franken in November.
So far, national outside groups have largely stayed out of the state's Senate race, with just a few exceptions. If the race tightens in the coming months, they may dump millions on Minnesota to influence the outcome.
The conservative, Minnesota-based Freedom Club has started running a broadcast ad going after DFL Gov. Mark Dayton “and the Democrats.”
The ad, which targets government spending, repeatedly mentions a “luxury office building” in reference to the new Senate office building going up this year.
“Minnesota, we deserve better,” is the ad’s tagline.
According to public documents, the group has spent significant cash to run the ad. It spent nearly $160,000 to run it on KARE11 through August. That would indicate more than $500,000 in spending if it equalized its ad time across all four statewide stations.
With millions of dollars in campaign spending in recent years, the Freedom Club, supported by wealthy Minnesota conservatives, is one of the largest political action committees in the state.
Both Dayton's campaign and the pro-Democrat Alliance for a Better Minnesota sent reporters fact checks, claiming the ad takes the record out of context and gets basic things wrong.
Freedom Club officials did not return a message inquiring about the ad.
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