Major portions of the State Capitol building, including its rotunda, will close to the public next week as the years-long restoration project enters its next phase.
The Department of Administration announced Thursday that work would become much more visible after the July 4 weekend passes. Among the projects getting underway are the replacement of the roof, and prepping much of the building's interior for new mechanical and electrical system installation.
That means closing off the rotunda, every floor of the building's east wing, and the ground and first floors of the West Wing. Administration officials said those spots need to be closed off both to protect the public and architectural features.
"The interior and exterior of the Minnesota State Capitol is a live construction site," said Department of Administration Commissioner Spencer Cronk. "We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to preserve this beautiful building for the next century, but with that opportunity comes shome short-term inconveniences. There will be a lot of noise and detours."
Many of the building's most prominent tenants have already been moved off site. Gov. Mark Dayton and his staff moved to the Veterans Services Building at the south end of the Capitol campus. Attorney General Lori Swanson and her office relocated to office space in downtown St. Paul.
The only tenants remaining for now are state senators with offices in the building. They'll be moved out after the 2015 session.
Most of the building's art has been removed and is being stored by the Historical Society. Flagpoles from the top of the building have been taken off to make room for the roof replacement, and the golden chariot sculpture at the base of the dome will be enclosed to protect it during construction.
The $273 million renovation and repair of the Capitol is scheduled to finish up in 2017. It was initiated with a focus on repairing deteriorating exterior stone, addressing safety concerns in the aging building, replaced outdated systems and creating more public space.
President Obama spent the second day of his visit Minnesota visit offering a strong defense of his record and spark some energy in Democrats as they head into a high-stakes election season.
“Your cares and your concerns are my own, and your hopes for your kids and your grandkids are my own,” he told a crowd of 2,000 people gathered at Lake Harriet on Friday. “And I’m always going to be working to restore the American Dream for everybody who’s willing to work for it. And I am not going to get cynical; I’m staying hopeful, and I hope you do too.”
Obama is trying to keep the U. S. Senate in Democratic hands in the coming election. Losing the Senate would be a major blow to any accomplishments he hopes to achieve in the final two years of his term.
Republicans are trying to frame Obama as out of touch with average Americans and are highlighting new data showing sagging growth in the U.S. economy.
“Instead of coming to Minnesota to listen and consider a different approach on the struggling economy, it’s clear President Obama’s visit is all about doubling down on his failed, partisan agenda and pumping up Democrats ahead of a tough midterm election,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short.
Republicans have also tried to highlight that the Twin Cities mother who has come to embody the trip for the president had been a Democratic campaign worker in Washington state.
Obama came to Minnesota after Twin Cities’ mother Rebekah Erler wrote him a letter about the hardships of raising a family.
Obama had lunch with Erler on Thursday and sprinkled anecdotes through her life throughout her speech.
“It’s amazing what you can bounce back from when you have to,” she wrote to the president. “We’re a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”
Obama took that personal anecdote to make a larger statement about the country.
“And that describes the American people,” he said. “We, too, are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”
Minnesota and Wisconsin residents who live in one state but work in the other could soon have their income taxes dramatically simplified as part of a new tax reciprocity proposal.
Minnesota revenue officials on Thursday offered to lower Wisconsin’s annual payment by $1 million if the Badger state approves of the agreement by Sept. 30.
‘That millions dollars is part of Minnesota’s strong desire to reinstate income tax reciprocity,” said Sen. Roger Reinert, a Duluth Democrat who has worked with other border legislators for an agreement. “This really is us extending a hand and saying, ‘Work with us.’”
Wisconsin and Minnesota have not been able to broker a new arrangement since the four decade old income tax reciprocity agreement lapsed at the end of 2009. Suddenly, 80,000 residents who lived in one state but worked over the border had to file income taxes in both states.
Wisconsin revenue officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The deadlock has come down to money.
Minnesota revenue officials studied the issue and determined that about 56,000 Wisconsin residents work in Minnesota, more than double the amount of Gopher state residents who cross the border for work.
Minnesota's study concluded that Wisconsin needs to pay about $92.5 million a year due to the difference.
The problem is, that’s about $4 million more than Wisconsin officials believe they should pay.
Minnesota made similar offers in 2012 and 2013, but both offers included the $4 million gap. Wisconsin officials rejected both proposals.
This year, Minnesota legislators decided to see if an additional $1 million might sweeten the deal.
“It really is a desire on the part of border legislators who are trying to make it a little smoother,” said Minnesota Department of Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans.
Differing tax rates between the two states also aggravates the problem.
Minnesota limits the credit it offers consumers for taxes paid in another state to the amount they would pay if they lived in state. Frans said he does not believe Minnesota taxpayers should subsidize Wisconsin’s higher effective tax rate.
Wisconsin officials have said their residents already pay enough.
Reinert and other border legislators said they still routinely hear from residents frustrated with having to file two state income tax forms.
Business owners, Reinert said, are just as frustrated that they have to keep two sets of tax records for employees who live across the border.
The issue boiled over in 2009 as the economy tanked and budget officials in both states were desperate for money.
Wisconsin delayed its payments to balance the state budget, creating a deeper hole for Minnesota's budget officials.
Then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty grew frustrated and let the program expire, saying that Wisconsin’s 17-month delay was too much for Minnesota’s shaky budget.
The new agreement allows Wisconsin to make four equal payments a year, minimizing one-time blows that can be difficult in a sagging economy.
For state leaders, the issue has become a balance between protecting state money and promoting convenience for taxpayers.
Frans said the governor authorized the new $1 million dollar offer, but they refuse to make a deal unless it is fair for all Minnesota taxpayers.
Minnesota still has reciprocity agreements with Michigan and North Dakota.
Minnesota's two leading political parties are both opening campaign field offices throughout the state, as they get ready for a 2014 election cycle with statewide races and what's expected to be a hard-fought battle for control of the state House on tap.
Field offices are tasked with mobilizing volunteers and motivating voter turnout through phone calls and other organizing.
The DFL announced Thursday it has opened 18 field offices in locations throughout Minnesota. Several of the metro-area offices are hosting official openings in the next few days, including the Saturday opening of a Minneapolis office that's scheduled to include Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Al Franken and Congressman Keith Ellison.
In addition to three Twin Cities-area sites, Democrats are also opening offices in Albert Lea, Bemidji, Brainerd, Duluth, Grand Rapids, Hibbing, Mankato, Moorhead, Rochester, Shoreview, St. Cloud, St. Paul, Virginia and Willmar.
State GOP Chairman Keith Downey held a press conference on Thursday to lay out some of his party's plans for spreading its message around Minnesota. Republicans plan to open 20 field offices, or what they are calling "victory centers," throughout Minnesota.
The party already has offices set up in Rochester, Woodbury, Mankato, St. Cloud, Marshall, Eagan, Golden Valley, Blaine, Waconia and Bloomington. Downey said the party was on track to open offices in Bemidji, Grand Rapids, North Branch, Duluth and Brainerd in the coming weeks.
For Republicans, the breadth of field offices is a significant expansion. Downey said two years ago the party had just one office in each of the state's eight congressional districts.
This year, the party needs to start its fight earlier -- Republican endorsed gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson will have to survive a four-way August primary before he could face Dayton in November.
"Every single one of these victory offices will be working to make sure that Jeff Johnson will be successful in the primary and in the general election," said Republican Party Deputy Chair Chris Fields.
Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Kurt Zellers urged the state’s legislative auditor to investigate the destruction of a serial rapist's violent fantasy logs as he vies for his release from the controversial Minnesota Sex Offender Program
On the heels of a Star Tribune report that the state’s attorney general alleges a coverup surrounding the potential release of Thomas Duvall, Zellers, a former Republican state House speaker, wrote a letter to Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles urging him to investigate the destruction of Duvall's journals, written as part of his treatment plan.
"What we have seen is a series of either distortions, cover-ups, misinterpretations, or just downright failure," Zellers said Wednesday. "Last February there was a news report that this was some sort of act by Mr. Duvall. Now here we are a few months later, it wasn't Mr. Duvall but someone with DHS destroying these documents."
Nobles ackowledged that he received Zellers' letter but doesn't intend to act.
"This issue is before a state Supreme Court appeals panel and I think that's where it belongs," Nobles said. "The issue was raised by the attorney general, and I think the proper place for this issue to be addressed and resoved is the appeals panel. I don't see a role for my office."
Zellers' comments came after the most recent revelations about the destruction of the logs surrounding the closely-watched and heated debate over whether Duvall can be released from custody. A federal judge urged the state Legislature to take action, but reform efforts went nowhere last session, with both lawmakers and Gov. Dayton urging one another to take action.
Zellers said a "top to bottom" audit is necessary to determine what happened to Duvall's journals, and to address whether he should be released. He blamed Dayton for a lack of leadership on the issue, brushing off criticism that the Legislature failed to act, noting that nothing passed with a House, Senate and governorship under DFL control.
"As governor it starts from the top down," he said. "You can legislate all you want but if your commissioners aren't going to abide by the law or at least the laws that were passed, as a governor it should start and end at the top. If you're not going to do your job then step aside."
Dayton's Deputy Chief of Staff Bob Hume fired back at Zeller's in a statement, blasting Zellers for "political posturing."
"The fact remains that Mr. Duvall is not a prisoner, he is civilly-committed," Hume said. "The decision to destroy his own personal property is between him and his lawyer. Under state statute, which Rep. Zellers helped write and has not mustered the will to change, that is the law."
Nobles' office has previously been involved in audits of MSOP. A 2011 report by the office that showed Minnesota has four times the number of civilly committed sex offenders per capita than 19 other states with similar programs and urged the Legislature to develop a plan for alternate placement for some offenders housed at MSOP along with other reforms.
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