With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, Baird Helgeson, Patricia Lopez, Jim Ragsdale, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Corey Mitchell and Jim Spencer.

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State tourism officials launch 'Only in Minnesota'

Posted by: Baird Helgeson Updated: April 17, 2014 - 4:56 PM

Gov. Mark Dayton and the state’s top tourism official are making a dramatic push to increase tourism with a new campaign to showcase things visitors can do only in Minnesota.

“We are going much more aggressively trying to reach the out-of-state travelers,” Explore Minnesota Tourism director John Edman said.

An additional $11 million in state funding is allowing tourism officials to reach outside the immediate market, spreading for the first time into Missouri, Kansas and western states.

The campaign features new television commercials and showcase local music along and an aggressive social media effort that officials hope will allow them to engage with people thinking about visiting Minnesota.

“This new campaign is a movement that will highlight unique Minnesota attractions and engage consumers in conversation about Minnesota travel,” Edman said. “This cutting-edge campaign allows our state to be more competitive, and grow tourism across Minnesota.”

Tourism officials are trying to get an edge locally as states like Wyoming, Michigan and Wisconsin are spending millions to lure Minnesotans to their states.

Without an aggressive campaign, Edman said, Minnesota would lose out to other states, many of which still have higher tourism budgets.

Edman said the new campaign is designed to help Minnesota hold and grow what is already a $12.5 billion tourism industry, which employs more than 245,000 workers.

“We want to make it a preferred destination,” he said.

Tourism officials are paying for the new campaign from a 65 percent increase in their funding authorized in Dayton's budget.

"We have a great state and so much to offer," Dayton said.

Tourism officials said research shows that travelers want to experience something new when they travel, which is why they created the theme, “Only in Minnesota.” The ads showcase Minnesota’s outdoor adventures, cultural amenities and landmarks.

Tourism officials are encouraging visitors share photos and Minnesota travel experiences on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media by using the official campaign hashtag #OnlyinMN. Some of the images will be featured in future billboards or sent out via social media.

Tourism officials have also revamped their website making it more user-friendly and functional for smart phones. The website features vivid images and a live-chat function where visitors can ask questions about Minnesota destinations.

The website overhaul was part of Dayton’s initiative to have state agencies revamp communication with the public to make it in plainer language and more easy to understand.

“We have seen tremendous growth in visitor site traffic through mobile devices,” Edman said. “We need to meet travelers where they are, and that means being accessible on mobile devices and social media.”

Dayton signs historic minimum wage increase into law

Posted by: Baird Helgeson Updated: April 14, 2014 - 2:32 PM

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law a dramatic increase in the state’s minimum wage Monday, giving raises to more than 325,000 Minnesotans.

The new $9.50 base hourly wage takes the state from having one of the lowest minimum wages to one of the highest when it fully kicks in by 2016.

“Minnesotans who work full-time should be able to earn enough money to lift their families out of poverty, and through hard work and additional training, achieve the middle-class American Dream,” said Dayton, surrounded by legislators, labor and labor leaders at a ceremonial bill signing in the State Capitol rotunda. “Raising the minimum wage to $9.50, and indexing it to inflation, will improve the lives of over 325,000 hard-working Minnesotans. I thank the Legislature for recognizing the need to make work pay in Minnesota.”

Minnesota’s dramatic wage increase puts the state at the forefront of a major initiative of President Obama, who has failed to persuade Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 and instead focused on pressing his case state by state.

The state’s higher minimum wage has angered Republicans and business leaders, who say the higher wage will force them to lay off workers and become a drag on the fragile economic recovery.

“We believe that all Minnesotans deserve the dignity of supporting themselves and their families through hard work,” said state Rep. Ryan Winkler, a Golden Valley DFLer who was a chief negotiator of the minimum wage effort. “Raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation is an important step to create a rising floor for all wages that will benefit hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who work hard and deserve to get ahead.”

At $6.15 per hour, Minnesota has one of the lowest minimum wages in the nation, lower than neighboring Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota. Minnesota is one of only four states with a minimum wage below the national rate of $7.25 per hour.

State officials estimate that the $9.50 base wage will put an additional $472 million in the pockets of Minnesota’s lowest-wage workers each year. Supporters say the increase in consumer spending is expected to help local businesses in communities across our state, and provide another boost to Minnesota’s growing economy.

“Today represents a big step forward for low-wage workers in our community,” said Sen. Jeff Hayden, a Minneapolis DFLer who was a chief supporter of the wage-hike measure. “We rely on these workers every day, yet many of them cannot support their own families. Raising the minimum wage is part of a larger effort to lift up the working poor and ensure all Minnesotans have the opportunity to earn enough to get by.”

A Minnesotan who earns $6.15 per hour work full-time earns an annual salary of just $12,792, about $7,000 below the poverty line. Raising the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour comes within $30 of closing that gap for the year.

To help small businesses, the bill also establishes lower minimum wage requirements for small employers and young workers once the new law takes effect Aug. 1.

Minnesota Senate passes $100 million in tax relief

Posted by: Baird Helgeson Updated: April 10, 2014 - 5:09 PM

Minnesotans would get more than $100 million in tax relief as part of a proposal that sailed through the Minnesota Senate on Thursday with bipartisan support.

The measure includes tax relief for businesses, veterans and transit users. It also provides tax breaks for volunteer emergency responders, parents who pay for tutors and people who lost their home through foreclosure or a short sale.

The measure, which passed 57-6, expands the local sales tax exemption for local governments. It also eliminates sales taxes for snowmobile clubs, post-season high school events and nonprofit fundraising groups.

This is the second tax relief bill of the legislative session, coming just a month after legislators approved $443 million mostly in income tax cuts.

Legislators are paying for the tax relief out of the $1.2 billion projected budget surplus for the remainder of the fiscal period. They have also set aside $150 million to increase the state's rainy-day fund.

Republicans who voted against the newest tax-relief measure have pressed Democrats to return a larger share of the surplus to taxpayers.

The Senate bill differs dramatically from a similar measure on the House, which would spend about the same amount of money, but directs it largely toward property tax relief.

If legislators are committed to passing more tax relief, House and Senate leaders will have to work out their differences in coming weeks before the legislative session adjourns.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said he is open to approving more property tax relief this session.

Dayton delays State of the State address until April 30

Posted by: Baird Helgeson Updated: April 9, 2014 - 7:24 PM

Gov. Mark Dayton is postponing his State of the State speech one week until April 30, his office announced Wednesday.

The governor has been recuperating from hip surgery and had planned to give his annual address the week before.

“The governor would simply like more time to prepare his remarks,” said Linden Zakula, s Dayton spokesman.

The governor is scheduled to give the address in the House chambers, with House members and state Senators present.

DFLers push to close women's pay gap, add workplace protections

Posted by: Baird Helgeson Updated: April 9, 2014 - 11:58 AM

House Democrats are making a final push for a measure designed to close the general pay gap and strengthen workplace protections for women.

The measure expands family leave and provides accommodations for pregnant and nursing employees. It would expand access to affordable childcare and take several steps to reduce the gender pay gap, like better enforcement of equal pay laws for state contractors. The proposal also attempts to offset financial consequences for victims of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.

Democratic leaders say the “Women’s Economic Security Act” would be one of their most significant achievements of the legislative session, and a step that would add lasting improvement to the state’s economy.

“In 2014, we shouldn’t be in a position where women are making less and have different economic opportunities than men,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. “This should be important to all Minnesotans because when women do better, families do better, and all of us do better.”

The House is expected to pass the measure Wednesday, and could be on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk in coming weeks. The governor is expected to sign the proposal.

Supporters held a rally on the Capitol steps before the vote Wednesday morning, surrounded by Thissen and dozens of legislators and supporters.

“The bill we’re voting on today is about strengthening working families – because when women have equal opportunities to succeed, it means stronger families, stronger communities and a brighter future for our state,” said Rep. Carly Melin, a Hibbing DFLer who has been a chief backer of the measure.

Democrats have tried to work closely with the business community to resolve any possible objections. The business community has strongly opposed a component of the measure that was stripped out and is expected to pass separately – an increase in the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour.

Advocates say women continue to earn, on average, 80 percent of what men make, a gap that has remained stubbornly persistent for a decade.  

Debra Fitzpatrick, director of the Center on Women and Public Policy at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said the gender pay gap robs every Minnesota woman of almost $500,000 over the span of their career.

“That isn't going to change without a comprehensive, research-based approach like the Women's Economic Security Act," she said.

“Please, let’s show all women and the nation that it does not have to be an economic disadvantage to be born a woman,” said Danielle Hans, a Minneapolis resident who spoke at the event.

Once signed into law, Thissen said, “I think it is going to make Minnesota a nation leader on these issues.

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