Enough with the letters, Gov. Mark Dayton told Republican lawmakers Thursday.
Irked by a letter calling on his chief of staff to resign over an appointment Dayton made five months ago, the governor took aim at his inbox.
"This has become a pattern with Republican legislators, who are either bored or craving attention," Dayton told reporters who also received a copy of the letter. "So they send a letter that the press gets at the same time, or often before, I do. So that tells you right away what the intent of the letter is."
Dayton receives regular missives from GOP lawmakers on issues ranging from problems with the MNsure health insurance exchange to concerns about the secretary of state's online voter registation efforts.
"It's not about constructively working on something that someone has a concern about," Dayton said "It's about getting press attention. And as long as they keep getting press attention, I expect those letters will continue to be forthcoming."
The latest letter was delivered by state Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, who raised concerns about possible conflicts of interest arising from Dayton's appointment of his chief of staff to head Mayo Clinic's Destination Medical Center Corporation board. Dayton named Tina Smith to the Mayo board in July and she was unanimously voted in as chair by the rest of the board.
Scott wrote Dayton Tuesday, asking for Smith's resignation, saying her dual roles create "an ethical conflict for the governor's office or the DMCC."
Smith, who worked to persuade the Legislature to sign off on half a billion dollars in state taxpayer support for the Destination Medical Center project in Rochester, was named to the board position by the governor and unanimously approved by the other members of the board.
Dayton spokesman Bob Hume noted that the governor's general counsel reviewed the relevant statues and requirements before Smith's appointment and concluded that there was no legal impediment. The legislative auditor, in response to another letter from Scott, also said Smith's appointment was legal.
"I've never heard anybody question Tina Smith's loyalty of duty to any of her responsibilities," Dayton said. "For anyone to impugn her integrity, the ethics of her taking that position, is just totally ludicrous and just an attempt to get some attention."
Jim Niland, who has worked on politics from all angles, will manage the DFL Party's coordinated campaign for the 2014 elections.
Niland has been the the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 political and legislative director since 2005. AFSCME Council 5 was an early supporter of Gov. Mark Dayton's 2010 campaign and has already endorsed his re-election bid.
The public employees union has also been a l
arge spender on political campaigns. According to campaign finance records, AFSCME-related groups have spent nearly $4 million on Minnesota campaigns in the last six years.
Now, Niland, a former Minneapolis City Council member who has worked in many campaigns, will take a leave from the union to work at the party.
“The coordinated campaign will help make sure DFLers vote in 2014,” Niland said in a statement. “We have to protect the gains we won in the 2012 election by keeping the majority in the State House, reelecting Gov. Dayton and Sen. Franken and making sure Democrats up and down the ticket win their races.”
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.)
State Sen. Torrey Westrom is stepping up to vie against Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson.
The Republican will hold campaign appearances to announce his bid on Thursday in Elbow Lake, his hometown, and Moorhead, according to a release.
Westrom is attorney who joined the Minnesota House in 1997 and was elected to the Senate last year. According to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, he is the first known blind member of the Legislature.
Republicans have long eyed Peterson's district.
Last year, Republican Mitt Romney picked up 54 percent of the vote in the western Seventh Congressional District Peterson has long represented. That same year, Peterson won 60 percent of the vote. In 2010, which was a very good year for Republicans, Peterson won 55 percent of the vote to Republican Lee Byberg's 38 percent.
Minnesota, a state known for clean politics, ranks among the worst for financial disclosure from the judiciary, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
"Minnesota is at the back of the pack for financial disclosure requirements, ranking 45th in the country along with Iowa," the Center found in a nationwide study of disclosure required of supreme court justices. "It has a self-policing system for enforcing the disclosure rules, in which Supreme Court justices would be asked to rule on a complaint about themselves. And the state currently does not require judges to report gifts, investments such as stocks or any financial debts on the one-page form."
The Center gave Minnesota an "F," for its judicial disclosure requirements. Minnesota's low ranking on this score is not unusual -- the state often gets below average grades from good government groups that measure transparency and disclosure required of public officials.
Earlier this year the state's campaign finance agency and some lawmakers pushed for more financial disclosure from lawmakers and other public officials. While that proposal largely fell by the wayside, Minnesota did increase the disclosure required of the judiciary.
From the Center: "Minnesota is toughening its requirements starting next year, meaning its lousy grade will undoubtedly improve. Legislation passed this year will require judges to file an additional form that other state officials already file. The form will ask judges to report investments, locally owned real estate and even involvement in horse racing starting in January 2014."