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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ST. PAUL - Minnesota legislators are on call to vote on flood-relief funding Monday, but it remains unclear whether communities affected by a June 17 tornado outbreak - including Wadena - also can expect help. Even the flood action is tentative, depending on whether the federal government declares southern Minnesota a disaster area yet this week. Flooding brought on by record and near-record rainfalls began on Sept. 22 across southern Minnesota, especially the southeast.
News that Minnesota cities and counties will receive full state aid checks later this month appropriately came on a day when many were sending out snowplows and all were dealing with bitter cold weather as the season's first major storm whipped through the state. Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced on Tuesday that he will not reduce or eliminate December state payments to local governments.
The bright spot for the Minnesota economy next year may be when the federal government hires more than 8,000 workers to conduct an every-10-year-census. State Economist Tom Stinson did not paint a pretty picture for the economy when he and other state officials Wednesday released a report about how the economy affects the state budget. "The recovery will be long, slow and bumpy," Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson said. The report prepared by Stinson, Hanson and the state's financial consultant predicted that more people will lose jobs until at least early spring.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty may target local governments as he looks for ways to plug continued budget deficits. Shortly after his aides announced that the current budget contains a $1.2 billion hole and the next two-year budget is $5.4 billion short, Pawlenty on Wednesday said his first action could be chopping a state payment due to local governments later this month.
Minnesota's first swine flu case has been confirmed. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta today confirmed the illness was caused by what Minnesota officials call the "H1N1 novel influenza virus." A woman connected to central Minnesota's Cold Spring school district came down with the flu earlier this month and her doctor sent a specimen to the state health laboratory, which decided it was a probable swine flu case.
The recession means local governments have less money available to spend, but some Minnesota lawmakers say reducing things the state requires local officials to do can save money. "Now is the time to provide some relief," Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said. A House local government committee Monday night approved a Lanning bill that would eliminate holding an annual truth in taxation hearing and allow counties to adopt four-day work weeks.
Workers will fix roofs and walls, renovate buildings and, in general, improve state facilities later this year if some key legislators' wishes come true. Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, on Tuesday announced he plans to push a $300 million public works bill, nearly three times what normally would be expected this year.
ST. PAUL - Jeff Almer wants his mother's death to mean something. Shirley Almer, who owned Wadena Lanes, died Dec. 21 from salmonella poisoning blamed on contaminated peanut butter. It was the first of at least nine U.S. deaths, including three in Minnesota, attributed to the deadly organism from a Georgia peanut butter factory. "I want to make a difference," Almer said after appearing with scientists and the son of another victim in a Monday University of Minnesota roundtable discussion. "It is in honor of my mom that I am doing this." Almer and U.S. Sen.
Comments about Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed two-year budget: "It funds budget priorities in order of importance. ... We believe the Legislature will have slightly different priorities." -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty "Cuts at this level will mean significant reductions in service and even further delays in processing civil and criminal cases.
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota politicians want guarantees that any federal money spent to bail out a troubled automobile industry be used wisely. For U.S. Sen. Norm Colman, R-Minn., the key is that whatever money is given to the industry, automakers must be accountable. "I have a strong concern that any support we give the auto industry must have strong, fiscal controls and accountability," Coleman said. "The taxpayers of my state will insist on it, and I will demand it." Coleman and Minnesota Gov.