A man charged with pulling a gun during a dispute in Montana where Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt was present was found guilty of felony assault last month.
Daniel Benjamin Weinzetl, 25, of Cambridge, pleaded no contest to assault with a weapon in Park County District Court Nov. 17. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dismissed additional felony charges of aggravated assault and criminal endangerment. A sentencing date has not been scheduled.
Weinzetl was charged in connection with a Sept. 7, 2013 incident after he and Daudt, R-Crown, traveled to Livingston, Mont. to buy a vintage Ford Bronco. Daudt, who was the House Minority Leader at the time, got into an argument with the seller that escalated, according to court records. While Daudt and the seller argued, Weinzetl pulled Daudt’s black handgun from the car and allegedly pointed it at the seller’s "entire family, including the children," documents said. Daudt was not charged in the incident.
The charges came to light in January after a report aired on KSTP-TV. Daudt acknowledged he was present during the incident but said he made every effort to defuse the situation. Daudt said earlier this year that he didn't tell the House Republican caucus about the incident because he wasn't charged with anything.
Daudt, 41, was elected Speaker of the House last month after Republicans regained control of the Minnesota House.
Weinzetl, a construction worker, was found guilty in 2010 of assaulting a police officer and obstructing the legal process after a March 2010 incident in which he punched a man outside his home. When an Isanti County Sheriff’s deputy arrived at the house, Weinzetl shoved and punched the deputy, breaking his glasses and tearing his uniform, according to records.
Minnesota lawmakers and the governor will have a nice cushion with which to craft a budget after the Minnesota Management and Budget Office on Thursday reported the state will see a $1-billion surplus.
The surplus, though expected, will set the table for the start of the upcoming budget process as Minnesota legislators figure out what to do with the windfall.
State budget officials said Thursday that the surplus is the result of higher tax revenues, mainly in sales and individual income tax collections, and reduced spending in health and human services. Moreover, the budget surplus from the 2014-15 fiscal year, which ends in June, was projected Thursday to be $373 million after diverting a portion of it to the state's budget reserve.
Budget officials said the drop in spending on health care is largely because of a different composition of enrollees receiving medical assistance.
State budget director Margaret Kelly on Thursday said that though the number of enrollees in medical assistance grew slightly from a previous forecast, the uptick of enrollees have been largely adults without children. Since that forecast, the rate of familes with children and individuals with disabilities enrolling in medical assistance has also dropped.
Since February, when the Minnesota Management and Budget agency published its last forecast, the state’s economy has expanded largely as projected, aided by stronger employment growth. The job gains have shrunk the unemployment rate to its lowest level in more than eight years — 3.9 percent.
Minnesota's economic outlook, however, was downgraded Thursday from the February report. State economist Laura Kalambokidis said that despite a turnaround in the labor market, wage growth is now projected to grow more slowly in 2014. Furthermore, it's likely that millennials burdened by high student-loan debt are not buying homes, which is reducing the rate of household formation.
Still, the budget forecast shows that the the state's fiscal picture has brightened considerably since February 2013, the last time the state faced a deficit, which stood then at $627 million.
Thursday’s forecast will guide the governor’s budget proposal, which Dayton has said he will present to the Legislature on Jan. 27. State lawmakers will craft their budget proposals based on a later February forecast, which includes updated economic data such as holiday retail sales and the country's fourth-quarter economic output.
Gov. Dayton has not yet gone into great detail on his priorities, but they are likely to include a request to fund child-care tax credits during next the next legislative session, set to begin next month.
“I’m not going to make any decisions until I see the revenue projections, but that’s still one I would give a high priority,” Dayton said Tuesday.
The tax credit would be intended to help families afford the cost of child care — a goal also supported by DFL legislators. The governor’s budget proposal may include funding requests for transportation, or a specific proposal may be introduced separately early next year. Dayton said during his re-election campaign that funding basic maintenance of the state’s infrastructure will be a key legislative priority.
The $1-billion surplus will likely make for a smoother session. Republicans are back in the majority in the House, but having extra money to work with would help the GOP, the DFL governor and DFL-controlled Senate create some common ground for compromise.
Dayton and legislative leaders on Thursday are expected to react to the complete report that was released at 11 a.m.
Speaker-designate Kurt Daudt and Majority Leader-elect Joyce Peppin announced their leadership team Tuesday. The Republican caucus, newly in the majority after last month’s election, elected Rep. Dan Fabian to be majority whip. The whip traditionally counts and rounds up stray votes on the House floor.
The caucus also elected six assistant majority leaders. They are first term Rep.-elect Dave Baker and Reps. Deb Kiel, Ron Kresha, Kathy Lohmer, Tim Sanders and Chris Swedzinski.
Minnesota state House Republicans, newly in the majority after this month's election, announced staff and the committee schedule for the upcoming legislative session.
As previously announced, Ben Golnik, a veteran Republican hand, comes over from the Minnesota Jobs Coalition to be executive director of the Republican caucus. Bobby Patrick will be legislative director to Speaker Kurt Daudt. Susan Closmore is head of public affairs. Also of note, Tom Erickson, who most recently was spokesman for the U.S. Senate campaign of Mike McFadden, is executive assistant to the caucus. He previously worked for former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Here's the committee schedule.
State Rep. Greg Davids has asked Attorney General Lori Swanson to review details of a 2011 contract between MNsure and Dr. Jonathan Gruber, a consultant whose work related to the federal Affordable Care Act has become the subject of controversy.
"In light of troubling remarks by Dr. Gruber and MNsure, I believe that a review of Dr. Gruber's work, and payments made to him, is necessary," Davids, R-Preston, wrote Monday in a letter to Swanson. Davids is a veteran lawmaker and in January is set to resume chairmanship of the powerful House Taxes Committee.
Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology health economist, worked with Minnesota officials in 2011 and 2012 in assessing options for the venture, then in planning stages, that later became MNsure. He earned $340,000 from the contract.
Gruber also advised President Obama during development of the Affordable Care Act. He came under new fire earlier this month when comments he made at a 2013 conference resurfaced, in which he suggested that "the stupidity of the American voter" made it possible for Congress to approve the law. He has since apologized for what he called an off-the-cuff remark.
Davids suggested Swanson should look further into why Gruber's report to the state of Minnesota was delivered later than initially promised. Some of Gruber's enrollment projections for MNsure have since fallen short, and Davids said he also wants to know whether MNsure still considers Gruber's enrollment predictions for future years valid.
A spokesman for Swanson had no immediate comment on David's letter.
(This post has been updated.)