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Capitol Chatter: Dayton says clean water tops light rail politics

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says he plans to campaign for clean water in coming months instead of against Republicans he blamed for torpedoing a special legislative session over a southwestern Twin Cities light rail proposal.

The Democratic governor has been very strong in his statements against Republican opposition to the rail project, which he says is needed to move commuters from places like Eden Prairie to Minneapolis. No bus line can do that, he says.

Minutes after he announced that he would not call a special legislative session to pass tax cuts and fund public works projects, he answered a reporter's question about whether he would campaign against Republicans with: "Water quality is what I focused on today and what I intend to."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said his fellow Democrats feel light rail deserves the same attention as rural roads that Republicans wanted funded.

"We have talked about it being a matter of fairness..." Bakk said. "There really is nothing for the (Twin Cities) metro in the transportation bill" that failed to pass on the last day of the regular legislative session.

Bakk suggested that a special session approve a bill allowing local governments to decide whether to raise sales taxes to fund the project.

"We will have to go back to the drawing board," Dayton said about light rail.

Republican House Speaker Daudt declared the project dead, but quickly added that it could rise again.

No plans to buy prison

Supporters of a western Minnesota private prison may not want to get their hopes up that the state could buy the vacant facility.

Thursday's news that the federal government plans to withdraw inmates from private prisons encouraged speculation that Corrections Corporation of America would reduce its nearly $100 million price tag on the Appleton facility since private prisons are losing favor. That could make a purchase attractive to the state, reasoned lawmakers in the area of the western Minnesota prison.

But Gov. Mark Dayton's spokesman said that is not going to happen.

"He has opposed purchasing the prison and his position has not changed," Matt Swenson said, adding that the governor has no plans to look into buying the facility.

In March, Dayton had opened the door slightly when he said the only way he would consider using the Appleton prison "would be to buy it."

However, he said at the time, the prison would need rehabilitation. "That is a hugely expensive proposition."

Lousy voter turnout

Just 7.43 percent of Minnesota voters showed up at polls, or voted earlier by absentee ballot, in the Aug. 9 primary election.

The State Canvassing Board certified election results, including the fact that 294,979 people voted out of nearly 4 million who are eligible.

That is a slim turnout even compared to the recent past, which election officials called pitifully small. Recent turnout numbers include 2014, 10.37 percent; 2012, 9.61 percent; 2010, 15.93 percent; 2008, 11.26 percent.

The new numbers will renew the debate about when a primary should be scheduled.

The previous September primary was criticized because some considered it too close to the November election, and some do not like a proposed June primary because it too closely follows the regular legislative session that ends in May.

ID no longer works

State-issued identification cards no longer are accepted to grant access to four federal National Guard facilities in Minnesota.

The state National Guard reports that cards such as Minnesota driver's licenses will not be accepted at the 133rd Airlift Wing, St. Paul; 148th Fighter Wing, Duluth; 934th Joint Base, Minneapolis; and the military facility at Fort Snelling.

Minnesota's ID cards do not meet standards of the federal Real ID Act, and Defense Department installations require IDs with the higher standards. Without a Real ID, access will be granted only to individuals with an approved escort or those carrying an approved alternative ID such as a passport.

Camp Ripley is not unaffected since it is a state facility.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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