State Rep. Ron Erhardt and his Republican challenger Dario Anselmo met face-to-face at a forum at Edina City Hall Monday, agreeing more than they disagreed.
The tone was civil, genial even, which masked how competitive the race is.
Republicans need to flip seven seats to win the House majority, and they are aiming at the incumbent Erhardt in District 49A.
Both candidates struck a centrist tone on the state budget, transportation, health care and natural resources. Both can boast centrist bona fides -- Erhardt was once a Republican while Anselmo is a longtime small businessman.
Erhardt, who chairs the Transportation Policy Committee, said his top priority is a major infrastructure bill that would ease traffic and maintain roads and bridges.
Anselmo, longtime owner of the famed Fine Line Music Cafe until selling the business last year, said he would work to improve Minnesota’s business climate while also focusing on the educational achievement gap that leaves some poor and minority children behind.
Both said they would work to curb flight path noise from the nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Both said more needs to be done to fight invasive species.
Both acknowledged problems with MNSure -- the state’s Obamacare health insurance exchange -- and said it needs improvement.
Minnesota House DFL leaders, locked in a tough battle to retain their majority, announced a plan to freeze public college and university tuition for two more years, until 2017, following a tuition freeze in 2014 and 2015.
“All Minnesota students deserve the opportunity to go to college and receive a degree – without finding themselves under a mountain of debt,” Speaker Paul Thissen said in a news release.
College-aged voters can be fickle, especially in non-presidential years, so DFL leaders may be expending extra effort to get them to the polls this year.
The plan won’t be free. Earlier this month, the University of Minnesota proposed a tuition freeze, in exchange for $127 million — or 10.6 percent — in extra state funding over the next two years, to pay for the tuition plan and other initiatives.
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities offered its own similar proposal: A tuition freeze in exchange for an extra $142 million.
The House DFL plan would also expand loan forgiveness to graduates working in high demand jobs in rural Minnesota, as well as debt relief to graduates working for ServeMinnesota, the state's AmeriCorps offshoot.
Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday said that a Star Tribune report of a nonprofit using state funds to subsidize cruises, a director's car lease and spa treatments was very concerning and alarming.
"I was personally really appalled," Dayton said. "I take it very seriously."
The DFL governor met with his Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson and others about Community Action on Monday to further delve into its spending. As a result, two state agencies, Human Services and Commerce will immediately develop an action plan to deal with Community Action.
The Star Tribune reported on Sunday that Community Action, which drew board members from high-profile Democratic ranks, that a Human Services Department audit found " the organization’s longtime chief executive, Bill Davis, misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars from 2011 to 2013."
Jesson said her department saw red flags in the nonprofit's administrative spending and began looking into it months ago.
"I think we've been taking this very seriously. A step at a time," she said. Community Action was given an opportunity to respond by September 1. Those responses did not assuage the worry.
"What we have seen so far has not alleviated the serious concerns we had," she said.
Jesson said the department looks into state subsidized nonprofit spending and results and audits those that do not comply with best practices.
Jesson said that Dayton's budget two years ago included more funding for Human Services auditing.
Monday morning, Dayton did not say definitively whether Community Action would receive any more state funding.
"Give us an opportunity here to converse among ourselves," and the city of Minneapolis, he said. Dayton said he only became aware of the spending when the Star Tribune reported it on Sunday.
Community Action, which is supposed to help low-income city residents, included state Sen. Jeff Hayden, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson and City Council Member Robert Lilligren on its board. The Star Tribune reported that those elected officials sent others to board meetings in their stead.
Dayton said the party affiliation of the board members -- they are Democrats -- did not change his feelings about the nonprofit's spending.
"I would be very alarmed if there were Democrats involved, I would very alarmed if there were not Democrats involved," Dayton said. "The fact that there were people who were placed in positions of responsibility who allegedly...spent public funds inappropriately, particularly funds that were intended to help people get out of poverty, is very disturbing to me."
A $3 million disaster contingency fund will likely cover the state’s share of nearly $41 million in summer storm damage until the Legislature reconvenes in January 2015, according to analysis by state officials.
The memo to Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders from Minnesota Management Commissioner Jim Schowalter and and Budget and Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Kris Eide outlines the plan to cover the $40.8 million in damages caused by severe storms and flooding following assessments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
According to FEMA, 37 Minnesota counties and three tribal governments qualify under the President’s Disaster Declaration, meaning the federal government will cover 75 percent of the damage costs, leaving the state on the hook for $10.2 million. Between staggered withdrawals from the $3 million allocated by the Legislature, and advances from the Department of Revenue, there will likely be no need to call the Legislature to a special session to allocate more disaster money.
“We anticipate the existing appropriation will be sufficient to reimburse communities for the 25% non-federal share of the FEMA Public Assistance payments due between now and January 20145.” The memo read, adding that priority will be given to areas that suffered more significant damages.
Read the entire memo here:
By Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glenn Howatt
Below, you can dig even deeper by looking at some of the underlying data.
The House district voting history accounts for redistricting by analyzing precinct voting results to show how the voters in the new districts voted in past elections.
In the below spreadsheet you can scroll back and forth and up and down to view all the data.
* I = incumbent