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, J. Patrick Coolican, Patricia Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry and Jim Spencer.

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Citing fraud, Rep. Rick Nolan to push for Afghanistan construction oversight

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: May 21, 2014 - 5:52 PM

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Rick Nolan is appalled that of the $100 billion American dollars spent on construction in Afghanistan, more than $60 billion is unaccounted for, according to an Inspector General's report.

The 8th Congressional District DFLer has a proposed amendment, which he got into the National Defense Authorization Act, that will prohibit funding for any new construction projects over $500,000, unless the U.S. government can physically inspect or audit those projects.

Nolan's amendment will get some floor time tonight and his staffers say a vote should come tomorrow.

The National Defense Authorization Act, an annual bill that sets policy and spending for the Pentagon, may get a full House vote as early as tomorrow. Nolan isn't on the Armed Services Committee, but GOP leaders let anyone submit amendments for a bill this big and Nolan's was approved overnight Tuesday by the House Rules Committee.

Staffers say the potential for corruption and fraud is high in Afghanistan and Nolan is disgusted with the abuse of taxpayer money there.

Dayton signs $1.7 billion in new construction, millions in tax breaks

Posted by: Updated: May 20, 2014 - 12:43 PM

Minnesotans will see millions in tax relief and $1.17 billion in new construction projects as part of measures DFL Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law Tuesday.

The measures are a significant accomplishment for Dayton and DFL legislators who now head into the campaign season in an attempt to hold control at the Capitol.

“Progress,” Dayton said at a Capitol news conference, flanked by House and Senate DFL leaders said. “That is what we have achieved.”

Dayton said he had some regrets about the session and a couple measures left unfinished.

A new measure requiring toxic chemicals to be disclosed on products for children died in the closing hours of session, as did tougher campaign finance and public disclosure requirements for nonprofit groups, which drew strong opposition from anti-abortion groups and the National Rifle Association.

“It’s very telling and very troubling that a couple of interest groups could bludgeon their way to deny people to know where all this money is coming from,” Dayton said.

Dayton said he is still weighing whether to veto a ban on online lottery tickets sales, which emerged as a hotly debated issue in the closing days of the legislative session. He said he would make a final determination on that measure in coming days.

Legislators adjourned late Friday night, ending a legislative session where Democratic majorities in the House and Senate raised the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, approved more than $550 million in tax breaks, poured more money into the state’s rainy-day fund and legalized medical marijuana.

Republican legislators are flying around the state to persuade Minnesotans against one-party control at the Capitol. With Dayton and the House up for election this fall, Republicans are scrambling to win back the governor’s office or control of the House.

Democrats brought “unhealthy taxing and spending, hurting Minnesota’s economy and hurting Minnesota families,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.

Republicans need just seven more seats to gain control, and Daudt expects they will win back nearly 20 additional seats on Election Day.

The GOP urged Minnesotans to embrace their “balanced Republican approach.”

Republicans criticized Democrats for a new $77 million office building and for last year's tax hikes, particularly as some early indications show that Minnesota’s employment and budget picture might be dimming a bit.

“Democrats have really let Minnesotans down,” said Senate Majority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.

  

Republicans bring 'balanced' message to Minnesotans

Posted by: Updated: May 19, 2014 - 10:00 AM

Legislative Republicans were blitzing the state Monday to make the case that one-party Democratic control at the Capitol is bad for Minnesota.

Democrats brought “unhealthy taxing and spending, hurting Minnesota’s economy and hurting Minnesota families,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.

GOP leaders converged at the Capitol for an early-morning news conference before taking off for Moorhead, Austin and Luverne, areas where Republicans believe they can best make their case and help win back the House.

Legislators adjourned late Friday night, capping a three-month legislative session where Democratic majorities in the House and Senate raised the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, approved more than $550 million in tax breaks, threw more money into the state’s rainy-day fund and legalized medical marijuana.

“This Legislature did what we said we were going to do,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. “We balanced the budget responsibly in order to focus on priorities important to most Minnesotans: investing in education from kindergarten to college, investing in proven job creation initiatives, and reducing property taxes for homeowners, renters and farmers.”

The Senate is not up for election this November, so Republicans and conservative donors are placing enormous emphasis on winning control of the House. Ousting Democrats from power would give Republicans a solid platform to block DFL initiatives and pass their own measures.

Republicans need just seven more seats to gain control, and Daudt predicted they could win back nearly 20 additional seats on Election Day.

The GOP urged Minnesotans to embrace their “balanced Republican approach.” They did not highlight some of the more polarizing issues at the Capitol this year, such as the anti-bullying measure and a minimum wage increase that had strong opposition from business leaders.

Instead, they talked about the need for tougher education standards and more commitment to transportation spending, particularly in rural areas.

Republicans criticized Democrats for a new $77 million office building and for last year's tax hikes, particularly as some early indications show that Minnesota’s employment and budget picture might be dimming a bit.

“Democrats have really let Minnesotans down,” said Senate Majority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.

Republicans continued to hammer on the state’s bungled roll out of MNsure, the state’s health insurance exchange.

“The one glaring omission is that we did nothing with health care,” Hann said.

He called the new system a “failure.”

Hann said he plans to meet with health care officials over the summer to see what changes could be feasible.  

Democrats are trying to keep the debate more focused on the economy. They warned that Republican control brought years of back-to-back budget deficits that drained budget reserves, resulting in billions being borrowed from public schools to patch up the state budget.

DLFers said their budget balancing repaid public schools, left the state with its highest ever budget reserves in state history and ushered in a $1.2 billion budget surplus.

"The best way to build on our progress is to continue growing our economy from the middle-out,” House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul. "That means fighting for working families and our local communities instead of engaging in partisan gridlock that only benefits the wealthy special interests."
 

Minn. House passes $1.17 billion in statewide construction projects

Posted by: Updated: May 16, 2014 - 3:21 AM

The Minnesota State Capitol, Minnesotans needing affordable housing and higher education institutions will see some of the most profound transformations as part of a $1.17 billion package of state-backed construction projects.

The Minnesota House overwhelmingly passed the measure early Friday morning and it now goes to the Senate for final approval.

The measure includes $126 million to finish the State Capitol renovation – the single-largest item in the package.

“Bonding bills have many good things in them, and many things that are less good,” said state Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City. He said that for him, the Capitol renovation outweighs the things he finds less desirable.

Legislators set aside $240 million for new and renovated buildings at the state’s higher education institutions, including money for the Tate Laboratory of Physics at the University of Minnesota and a clinical sciences facility at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

The agreement includes $100 million for affordable housing, the largest housing investment in state history. Community leaders from around Minnesota have pleaded with state officials for more housing, saying the limited supply is holding back growth in their regions.

Legislators want $56 million to renovate the Minnesota Security Hospital, a psychiatric facility in St. Peter. They also want nearly $30 million for the Department of Corrections, including a perimeter fence at the correctional center in Shakopee, coming less than a year after an inmate escaped from the facility.

Democrats included $22 million for the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System, a multistate project to pipe water from South Dakota to a handful of southwestern Minnesota communities with unreliable water supplies.

Lawmakers have also agreed to allow local communities to borrow money to pay for the remainder of the $69 million project. The state will increase aid to local communities to pay a large share of the local debt load.

The state is paying for convention center expansions in Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud, projects that have been passed over for years.

The measure includes money to redevelop Nicollet Mall, expand the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul and renovate Duluth’s historic NorShor Theatre.

Minnesota Zoo will get $12 million from the state, including $5 million for Heart of the Zoo II and the rest in asset preservation and new exhibits.

The House overwhelmingly passed the $846 million borrowing portion by a vote of 92-40. An additional $200 million in cash passed a short time later, 82-50.

Legislative leaders who negotiated the construction package asked Gov. Mark Dayton to sign a letter pledging not to veto any of the projects.

He replied with a last-minute list of his own requirements, including passage of a government reform measure, a provision that requires disclosure of toxic chemicals in children’s products and a handful of other provisions.

Negotiations continued early Friday morning and Dayton had yet to sign the letter.

Dayton has last-minute requests as legislators seek promise from him

Posted by: Updated: May 16, 2014 - 2:34 AM

Gov. Mark Dayton’s staffers were walking around the Capitol around midnight passing out a list of last-minute items the governor was insisting upon as legislators finished the final measures of the session.

The governor's staff released the list after legislative leaders asked the governor to sign a letter guaranteeing he would not veto the $1.17 billion package of state construction projects, which was painstakingly negotiated between DFL and GOP leaders.

Dayton is seeking passage of a government streamlining measure regarding rule making.

Dayton is also seeking passage of the the 2014 Toxic Free Kids Act, which would require manufacturers to disclose presence of toxic chemicals in toys, school supplies and personal care products. The measure has endured a wave of opposition from the business community.

The governor is also pipeline safety requirements and an assessment on pipelines.

Dayton also wants $500,000 to pay for sober schools.

The governor is also demanding tougher dog and cat breeding laws, along with $310,000 in 2015 to implement the changes.

Advocates have been pressing for tougher regulations for commercial breeding facilities through licensing, inspection and enforcement of commercial breeding facilities. They are also seeking civil and criminal penalties for breeders that break the law.

The governor also instructed legislators not to pass a measure that would ban the state from imposing sprinkler requirements in larger, new homes.