Archive | March, 2011

Carver County State Legislator Vote Tracker updated

Carver County State Legislator Vote Tracker updated


La Quebrada Under New Management

It’s come to my attention that La Quebrada has new management, and I’ve heard good things about the food and service lately.  Let’s hope the trend continues!

Carver County legislators vote to slash higher education funding

The Minnesota House and Senate passed their versions of the higher education omnibus spending bills yesterday.  Carver County’s legislators, Senator Julianne Ortman and Representatives Joe Hoppe and Ernie Leidiger voted in favor of the bills.

You can sum up the bills in one sentence: 

If you’re going to attend a public college or university in this state, prepare for the worst.

The Senate bill would cut funding to the University of Minnesota by 19%, or $243 million, while the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System (MnSCU) would take a 13% ($167 million) cut.  The House bill would cut 13% from both the U of M and MnSCU.

Included in the bills was a cap on tuition increases.  MnSCU, for instance, is capped to a 2% tuition increase at colleges and 4% at universities.  Do the math — that means about 10% in spending cuts is going to be required.  That means you’re going to see significant cutbacks across campuses — things like libraries, computer equipment, lab equipment, support staff are all going to be cut to the bone.  Optional fees for use of university equipment or facilities will skyrocket.

The University of Minnesota alone has an $8.6 billion economic impact on the state, and it is estimated that investments in public education return $13 in benefit for every $1 of investment.  Deep, dramatic cuts along these lines are extremely hazardous to Minnesota’s long-term economic well-being.

Once again, Republicans are demonstrating their priorities:  balancing the budget on the backs of the lower- and middle-classes while leaving the wealthiest Minnesotans and corporations essentially unscathed.

Hoppe, Leidiger vote to raise your property taxes and cut taxes for the wealthy

The Minnesota State House of Representatives passed H.F. 42 — the omnibus tax bill — last night by a vote of 73-59.  The bill has the following key provisions:

  • a three-year phased-in income tax cut for the lower two brackets
  • nearly $700 million in reductions to local government aid
  • reductions in the renters property tax refund program totaling about $350 million
  • reduces the statewide business property tax levy
  • applies levy limits for the next two years

According to the State Department of Revenue, this bill will have the following impacts on Minnesota taxpayers:

  • Property taxes will increase by $859 million over the next three years because of the reductions in local government aid
  • 38,000 renters will no longer receive property tax refunds, and for those who continue to receive refunds, the average refund will drop from $643 to $343
  • Net property taxes for all classes of property will increase.  Even with the cuts to the business property levy, the cuts to LGA will force increases at the city and county level that will more than make up for those cuts.
  • Property taxes will increase by 4.3% statewide — 3.7% in the metro, 5.3% in outstate Minnesota.
  • Local governments will be forced to cut $230 million in spending each year.

Additionally, property tax income would total more than income tax income for the first time since 1996.  Why is this important?  Because the property tax is horribly regressive.  Let’s look at how these proposals affect groups of different income levels.

That’s right — the benefits accumulate to those at the top of the income scale.  In fact, 47% of the tax relief in this bill goes to the top 20% of earners

On top of that, the bottom 40% of income earners will see an increase in their net tax burden under this bill, while taxpayers in the upper half of the scale will accrue the largest benefit.

Carver County’s House delegation, Joe Hoppe (34B) and Ernie Leidiger (34A) both voted for this bill. 

They will try to tell you it’s a significant tax cut for the poor and middle class — it isn’t.  As shown above, it’s really another tax cut for the wealthy.  (And, if you’re a renter, you’re really taking a hit.)

They will try to tell you it’s part of balancing the budget without raising taxes — don’t be fooled.  Your taxes are going to go up significantly as a result of this bill.

They will try to tell you your local property taxes don’t need to be increased as result of their deep cuts to local government — they are wrong.  Unless you think things like public safety and road maintenance are optional.

Hoppe and Leidiger, with this vote, showed where their allegiances lie — they are putting the narrow ideology of their party ahead of the needs of Carver County’s working families.

Carver County GOP doesn’t understand sarcasm and lots of other things

On the Carver County GOP webpage, Waconia City Councilor Jim Sanborn mocks Rep. Tina Liebling’s (withdrawn) amendment to have the Health and Human Services Department purchase a lottery ticket for tonight’s $300+ million MegaMillions jackpot.  Well, of course, Liebling’s proposal wasn’t serious.  But there is something very serious about the budget chicanery going on in St. Paul right now.

In their desperation to produce an “all-cuts” budget, Republicans are engaging in the same sort of tricks, gimmicks and illegal activities that they’ve relied on in the last decade to avoid making hard decisions.

Liebling’s amendment was in response to a provision in the HHS bill that asserted that the state would earn a $300 million Medicaid waiver from the federal government.  Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton colorfully called such thinking “Fantasy Island”, for good reason.  The only such other waiver ever granted by the federal government — to Rhode Island — was largely funded by stimulus dollars and didn’t call for reductions in eligibility and services.  The MN GOP proposal calls for cuts in eligibility and services.  That’s not going to go over well with Federal officials, you can bet.

This isn’t the only area of the budget where Republicans are engaging in wishful thinking.  Republican Rep. Bob Gunther has sponsored a possibly unconstitutional bill that would raid the Douglas J. Johnson Development Trust Fund and apply those monies — $60 million — to the state’s General Fund.  The Johnson Trust Fund represents essentially a sales tax on taconite that is allocated to the six Iron Range counties where that activity takes place.  The fund was set up to compensate these counties for the fact that taconite mines are exempted from property taxes.  This move prompted conflict on the committee, as DFL Rep. Carly Melin proposed an amendment to cut all LGA from Gunther’s district as well as that of Rep. Ernie Leidiger (34A – Mayer).  As recounted by MinnPost:

Melin offered an amendment to the finance bill. In her amendment, she said that instead of “stealing our $60 million,” Local Government Aid funds should be cut from the district represented by the bill’s author, Gunther, and from LGA funds from the district represented by Ernie Leidiger of Mayer.

Leidiger had made the mistake of earlier saying he “enthusiastically supported” taking the Ranger money.

Melin said that she would have preferred taking property tax money from those districts but was prevented from doing so by state law. 

Leidiger’s face turned red at this suggestion. But then he made a rookie legislator’s mistake. He asked Melin a question he didn’t know the answer to.

“How much money,” he asked Melin, “does the trust fund receive from the state’s general fund?”

“Nothing, not a dollar,” said Melin.

Leidiger tried to dig out of that hole with another question.

“In the future, is the IRRRB (the Range board that oversees the Johnson Fund) expected to receive money from the general fund?”

“No,” said Melin. “Never has, never will.”

Leidiger decided to cut his losses and ask no more questions.

Leidiger also sits on the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee that tried to take the unprecedented step of raiding metro counties’ transportation funding — $69 million — and applying that to the general fund.  Since 2008, five of the seven metro counties (Carver and Scott do not participate) have paid an additional quarter percent sales tax to fund transportation projects in those counties.  Not only would this be a bad move just from the impacts this is going to have just from a transportation perspective — it puts several projects (like the Central Corridor and Southwest Corridor LRT expansions) in jeopardy, it risks bond ratings for the impacted counties, and it hurts the ability to plan effectively for the long-term — but it also sets a disastrous precedent.  Any local-approved sales tax would effectively be subject to the whims of the Legislature, which could take that money back from the local authorities anytime they saw fit.

Republicans love to bray about “local control”, but they are governing like the big government autocrats they claim to despise.  Leidiger, for instance, has already backed bills that would freeze teacher pay (taking away local control from school districts) and would prohibit cities and counties from raising property taxes after the state slashes hundreds of millions in funding (more local control gone).

Say what you will about these approaches, but they are not conservative in the traditional sense, and they most certainly are not in line with our Minnesota values.

An unfortunate quote from Rep. Buesgens

“Proposing a new gaming option in a facility built for gaming and calling it ‘expansion of gambling’ is like saying that if Wine & Spirits Liquor store sells a new brand of beer, they are expanding alcoholism,” said Rep. Mark Buesgens, a Jordan Republican.

From the March 3 Chaska Herald.

Radio silence continues

Updated below (3/22).

Despite now having a full-time employee devoted to city communications, the City of Chaska continues to underwhelm with its ability to get information out of City Hall and to its residents.  Let’s look at a couple of examples:

  • Downtown Master Plan:  For weeks before the February 16 Open House, the city was claiming it was going to get information on its website regarding the plan and in particular, the three Catalyst Sites.  We’re now nearly five weeks after the Open House, and nothing is posted as of yet.
  • Facebook:  The city heralded its Facebook account when it opened a year ago.  The page now hasn’t been updated in six months.
  • Agendas and Minutes:  Getting agendas and minutes for the City Council and Commissions on to the webpage continues to somehow be a difficult challenge in 2011.  Council agendas are routinely posted very late in the day on the Friday before the meeting.  This is a very poor way to allow people to know what is coming up in front of the Council.  There’s no reason that a preliminary agenda can’t be posted a week in advance, and then updated to a final agenda on Friday.  As for the Commissions, only the Planning Commission has its documents regularly posted to the site.  None of the other Commissions show any activity on the website in 2011, and the Heritage Preservation and Parks Commissions show little activity in the second half of 2010.  The names of the Commissioners haven’t been updated to reflect the new appointments.  This is basic stuff that just isn’t happening.

Who at City Hall is going to begin to take this seriously?  Compare what Chaska is doing to what Chanhassen is doing on the web and on Facebook.  They have a webpage that is clean with a list of recent updates on the right side of the page and has a repository of agendas and minutes that goes back over a decade.  Their Facebook page is updated 2-3 times per week with community links and important updates.

It’s not difficult or expensive to have a clean, easy-to-navigate, and easy-to-update web site today.  (This blog, for instance is built on software that is free.)  It wouldn’t be difficult for the City of Chaska to have a web presence that reflects that — it just takes a little effort.

The city is approaching a major event in the next few days — serious flooding of the Minnesota River that will precipitate the closure of MN-41 and MN-101 between our area and Shakopee.  How is the city going to keep residents informed?  Last year, they used Facebook reasonably effectively to do so.  This year?  Well, we know there’s nothing on Facebook and there’s no current river status on the Chaska city website, either.

Again, compare how Chaska is communicating here versus what is happening in Carver.  Carver’s Mayor, Greg Osterdyk, is providing frequent updates on his blog.  The city website has updates on the front page and a whole special section as well.

The City of Chaska does so many things well — if only they could get it together on their communications.

[UPDATE, 3/22]:  The city is now reposting the Carver County Flood Updates on the front page of the website.  Also, a link to the Athletic Park Webcam has been posted.

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