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.

Posts about Gov. Mark Dayton

Dayton: MNsure rates should be released Oct. 1

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: July 22, 2014 - 11:10 AM

On Tuesday, a day after DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said he was unsure whether the MNsure health insurance rates should be released before the election, the governor asked his commerce commissioner to attempt an earlier release.

"Making the rate information public before open enrollment begins would provide families and businesses additional time and information to help them make informed decision," Dayton said in a letter to MNsure's legislative committee.

The timing of the rate release has long been a political football.

Republicans have hammered the administration to release the 2015 health insurance rates before the November election, saying they believe consumer costs will like rise. Waiting until Nov. 15, when open enrollment begins and several weeks after voters will decide whether to re-elect Dayton and legislative DFLers, amounts to a political "cover up," they've said.

On Monday, Dayton appeared to resist calls for an earlier release.

"I think they are going to be so badly distorted for political purposes that I don't think they will shed any light for consumers," the governor said in answering reporter questions about the release schedule.

But by Tuesday, the date the MNsure's bipartisan legislative oversight panel is scheduled to discuss an earlier release, Dayton had decided an earlier release would be beneficial.

In his letter to the committee, the governor said he would like Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman to request the state's health plans to agree to release rates around Oct. 1. That would give consumers about 45 days before open enrollment begins and put the 2014 release on roughly the same schedule as the 2013 release.

Here's Dayton's letter:

2014 07 22 Dayton LTR MNsure Oversight by Rachel E. Stassen-Berger

Photo: Star Tribune file photo

Dayton said he is unsure if release of MNsure rates would add light

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: July 21, 2014 - 7:21 PM

Gov. Mark Dayton said the idea of releasing the health insurance rates on the state's health exchange before the election may just add political heat without shedding any light.

"The Republicans will make a political issue out of MNsure between now and the election for anything and everything. And, you know, we're taking it one step at a time," Dayton said.

State law requires the rates for MNsure, the Minnesota version of the health exchange created in the wake of the federal Affordable Care Act, to be released in mid-November. Republicans in the Legislature and those who hope to unseat Dayton see politics in that post-election release, which one has called a "cover up."

On Monday, the DFL governor said that the Commerce Department has received preliminary rate estimates from plans and is now negotiating them down. Dayton said he has not seen those preliminary rates and is not sure if they should be released before the November election.

"I think they are going to be so badly distorted for political purposes that I don't think they will shed any light for consumers," Dayton said. "I don't think it is going to shed any light on it. It is going to add a lot of heat to the lambasting that goes on."

An early release would likely require sign off from the health plans.

"Throwing MNsure farther into the thick of the all the political shots that are going to be taken to me is not (serving any purpose,)" Dayton said.

The governor said he has not made a final decision on whether he believes the rates should be released early but is disinclined to move toward release because of pressure from Republicans to do so.

"We will see how it unfolds," Dayton said.

On Tuesday, a state legislative MNsure panel will discuss the rate release schedule.

"Gov. Dayton should put politics aside, and give Minnesotans the time they need in order to make an informed decision as to the healthcare coverage they need," the Republican Party of Minnesota said in a news release Monday.

Photo: Star Tribune file photo

Minnesota property taxes to go down, with help of aids and credits

Posted by: Baird Helgeson Updated: July 16, 2014 - 11:12 AM

Minnesota property taxes will go down about $49 million for residents who qualify to state aids and credits this year, according to a new report.

The report by a nonpartisan legislative office shows that property taxes would go up $124 million without aids and credits, but new property tax and renters credits will more than offset the increases.

The report has set off a new round of high-stakes political fighting in St. Paul. Legislative Democrats have pledged to lower property taxes through more state aid to local governments and through direct property tax relief in the form of aids and credits.

In a letter to constituents, House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, credited Democrats' work for lowering property taxes for the first time in 12 years.

Homeowners will get some of the largest reductions in property taxes in 2014, about $171 million, or about 5.2 percent lower than last year. But owners of agricultural property, public utility land and commercial property could see their property levy edge up.

Republicans are zeroing in on a similar property tax report for 2015. That report shows property taxes will go up next year, even with aids and credits. However, analysts caution the 2015 numbers are highly speculative and make a rough guess and what local governments will do with their property tax levies.

“We knew farmers and rural landowners were going to be hit hard with property tax increases, but now it appears that homeowners in all tax brackets can expect to pay more despite promises the Democrats made over the past two years,” said state Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, who sits on the House Property and Local Tax Division.

Minnesota’s property tax rates are a combination of levies of local government, schools and the state, which means they can vary wildly from community to community.

“The Democrats raised taxes on Minnesotans by more than $2 billion, and vowed this would actually help property taxes go down,” said state Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, ranking Republican on the House Taxes Committee. “This report proves they didn’t keep their word and now Minnesotans are going to pay an even steeper price.”

The lead author of the report cautioned that the figures for aids and credits are only estimates based on their best guesses as to how many Minnesotans apply for the tax relief.

The year-to-year comparison for actual taxes paid between 2013 and 2014, the numbers Republicans are highlighting, are the only numbers analysts know for sure, said Steve Hinze, a legislative analyst in the research department of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Calculating aids and credits, as Democrats are counting on, gets murkier, he said.

The numbers “are actually pretty speculative because there is a new initiative aimed at getting more eligible taxpayers to apply for refunds this year, and no one really knows how successful it will be,” Hinze said.

Democrats say the only number that matters is what Minnesotans actually pay, which will be lower once they receive their aids and credits.

Many Democrats are especially happy that the some of the steepest tax reductions for homeowners and renters are in the rural areas.

Rep. John Persell, DFL- Bemidji, wrote a letter reminding constituents that property taxes were soaring as former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty cut millions from local governments.

Now, he said, legislators and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton  “moved Minnesota in a different direction” and are lowering property taxes for the first time in years.

Dayton's appointments increase diversity among Minnesota judges

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: July 14, 2014 - 3:12 PM

Gov. Mark Dayton has greatly increased the diversity of Minnesota judges through appointing female and minority judges to Minnesota courts, according to analysis by the administration.

Since 2011, Dayton has appointed 76 new judges to fill vacancies in Minnesota’s 10 judicial districts, the state Court of Appeals and Minnesota Supreme Court, increasing the racial diversity of the state’s judges by 53 percent, and the number of female judges by 18 percent.

During his term, Dayton has appointed seven of the state's nine Hispanic judges, or 78 percent of them.  Dayton also appointed the first Hispanic appellate court judge in Minnesota history in March by naming intellectual property attorney Peter Reyes Jr. to the 19-judge panel. Dayton appointed Justice Wilhelmina Wright, the state’s first black woman to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2012. Since Justice Alan Page, who is also black, was first elected to the Supreme Court, Wright is the first black Minnesotan appointed to the Supreme Court by a governor.

In other numbers, Dayton increased the number of women judges in greater Minnesota by 36 percent, and increased diversity in Hennepin County, the state’s busiest judicial district, by 86 percent.
 

In other numbers:
1,490 applications were filed for 86 judicial vacancies during Dayton’s term so far. Of them:

  • 839 were male
  • 483 were female
  • 1,146 were white
  • 47 were black
  • 36 were Latino
  • 23 were Asian/Pacific Islander
  • 13 were American Indian
  • 57 did not disclose

Of those applications, 211 finalists were chosen by the Judicial Selection Committee for Dayton's consideration. Of those finalists:

  • 120 were male
  • 91 were female
  • 177 were white
  • 14 were black
  • 13 were Latino
  • 4 were American Indian
  • 3 were Asian/Pacific Islander

Dayton is expected to make appointments for 10 current vacancies in the coming months.

Zellers touts Dayton's 'surrender' after shutdown

Posted by: Baird Helgeson Updated: July 14, 2014 - 11:52 AM

Republican gubernatorial candidate and former House Speaker Kurt Zellers is claiming credit for getting DFL Mark Dayton to “surrender” after the government shutdown three years ago.

"Democrats, political pundits, special interest groups, and even many Republicans predicted that we wouldn't hold to our principles," Zellers said Monday, marking the three-year anniversary of the end of the shutdown. "But I did not surrender and the GOP legislative majorities did not cave. Instead, it was Governor Dayton who surrendered to us after two weeks."

Dayton and the Republican-led Legislature could not agree on the budget and sent the state into a three-week partial government shutdown, the longest in state history. The state faced a multibillion-dollar deficit and the two sides could not agree the best way to patch up the budget.

Dayton wanted more than $2 billion in tax increases mostly on high earners. Zellers and other Republicans refused to raise taxes and instead wanted to borrow money from K-12 public schools and sell bonds backed by the state’s tobacco settlement.

Dayton eventually agreed to accept the Republican plan, though remained sharply critical of the borrowing.

While Dayton did not get his way in the shutdown, Minnesota voters jettisoned enough Republicans in the next election to give Democrats control of both the House and the Senate. Zellers lost his leardership position, too.

After their historic gains, Dayton and legislative Democrats eventually did raise taxes on high earners and smokers to balance the state budget. The economic recovery allowed to state to repay all of the money borrowed from public schools.

Zellers said he still believes the tax increases were bad for Minnesotans.

"I understood that it was wrong to force middle-class families to pay more for government during an economic downturn,” Zellers said. "I'm the only candidate who has proven his strength and his commitment to conservative principles to be able to beat Dayton and the liberal interest groups again in November."

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