VIRGINA, Minn. -- DFL Gov. Mark Dayton urged iron miners to step up the fight against foreign countries illegally dumping steel in the U.S. and threatening the local mining industry.
“The story of the Iron Range is one of standing strong against exploitation and oppression, and too often of a government that will not stand with them,” Dayton said to a cheering crowd of 1,500 iron miners. “Today’s enemies are not the companies, but the countries that dump their steel in the U.S. market, depress the prices and take away your jobs.”
The Iron Range miners were rallying against alleged illegal steel dumping from Asian countries, and pressed for the federal government to impose tariffs on steel from those counties. The issue is particularly raw on the Iron Range, where the steel mining industry has been socked with more than a decade of mine closures and bankruptcies, in part due to pressure from low-cost foreign competitors.
Standing with blaze orange hard hats, the crowd chanted, “Mine it here, make it here!” and “Stand up, fight back! Stand up, fight back!”
Click the photo above to see it in 360 degrees.
In advance of President Obama’s visit to Minnesota later this week, Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, urged the president to return to Washington with a renewed commitment to ending the dumping of low-cost foreign steel.
“Iron mining has been the lifeblood of the Iron Range for four generations, and it can be the lifeblood for four more,” said Bakk, who is the Senate majority leader.
The event took broader election-year implications as Republican candidates have tried to make inroads in an area that has been a stronghold for Dayton and other Democrats.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Honour’s running mate, state Sen. Karin Housley, drove up to attend the rally.
“Scott Honour and I support the mining jobs in northern Minnesota,” Housley said. “We are all about mining jobs.”
After the rally, Housley toured the proposed copper-nickel mine in Hoyt Lakes, where PolyMet Corp. is seeking approval for a mine that could bring hundreds of jobs and millions in new investment. But the 20-year mine would also require environmental clean-up that could stretch 500 years.
Housley said she has a long connection to PolyMet. She is a member of a small group of hobbyist investors who first invested in PolyMet about eight years ago and even toured the facility.
“There is room for common-sense growing jobs and protecting the environment,” she said. “We are all over creating jobs up here.”
GOP-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson issued a statement saying Dayton is not leading on job-creation issues on the Iron Range.
“Attending rallies is not leading – it is standing,” Johnson said. “When I am governor, I am not just going to stand with people who are losing their jobs, I am going to do everything I can to ensure that mining jobs aren’t just protected, they are expanded.”
Dayton and other Democrats took direct aim at Republicans at the rally, saying that the GOP has repeatedly tried to raid special Iron Range funds whenever the budget got tight. Democrats said the Republican’s sudden interest in the Iron Range is a fleeting political ploy.
Republicans tried to raid an Iron Range fund, "and we said, ‘No way, it’s not going to happen.’ And it didn’t,” Dayton said. Dayton and other Democrats fought for projects and jobs “that would improve your quality of life on the Iron Range, across Minnesota and across the country.”
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.
Incumbent Democrats Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken both lead all their potential Republican opponents in a new poll.
Public Policy Polling released the poll Tuesday. It showed Dayton and Franken with leads of 10 points or more above the respective fields of GOP candidates vying to challenge them in November. In both races, the Republican challenger won't be set until an August 12 primary election.
In the U.S. Senate race, Franken leads Republican businessman Mike McFadden, 49 percent to 38 percent. McFadden is the GOP's endorsed candidate in the race and seen as heavy favorite in the August primary.
Franken, running for his second term, holds similar leads over the other Republicans on the primary ballot: Jim Abeler (50 to 39), David Carlson (49 to 38), Patrick Munro (50 to 35) and Ole Savior (50 to 33).
Dayton holds similar leads over his possible GOP rivals, though his support tops out slightly lower than that of Franken. In five possible matchups, Dayton is at 47 percent in all of them. Of the Republican candidates, Scott Honour is at 35 percent, Jeff Johnson at 36 percent, Marty Seifert at 36 percent, Kurt Zellers at 37 percent and Merrill Anderson at 35 percent.
Johnson is the endorsed GOP candidate, but none of the candidates has emerged as a clear frontrunner in the Republican primary.
The poll found most voters still know little about the Republican candidates in either race. In the Senate race, 71 percent of respondents said they were "not sure" when asked if they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of McFadden. That margin was even higher for the other GOP Senate candidates.
The poll showed the party's candidates for governor are similarly not well known, with between 61 percent and 80 percent of respondents holding no opinion of them.
There's much less gray area in voters' opinions of Franken and Dayton. Franken, elected by a razor-thin margin in 2008, has a 50 percent approval rating and a 40 percent disapproval rating. Dayton, who also won a close race in 2010, gets a 48 percent approval rating and a 41 percent disapproval.
President Barack Obama got a 44 percent approval rating in the poll, with 50 percent disapproving. The state's other DFL senator, Amy Klobuchar, got a 56 percent approval rating with 32 percent disapproving.
Public Policy Polling surveyed 633 registered voters in Minnesota from June 12-15. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.9 percent.
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