Archive | February, 2012

Did Ernie Leidiger use campaign funds to pay off his speeding ticket?

On March 29, 2011, State Representative Ernie Leidiger was cited for speeding, going 74 in a 55 m.p.h. zone.  Nothing terribly unusual about that.  Leidiger was also cited for driving with a suspended license, which was dropped when Leidiger made his court appearance on June 24 at the Southdale Hennepin County Court.  Leidiger was convicted of speeding, and paid a $178 fine at the courthouse that day.

Screenshot from the Minnesota Trial Court Public Access (MPA) Remote View system showing Leidiger's conviction on the speeding charge (

Why does this matter?  Well, it wouldn’t, if not for an entry on page 23 in Leidiger’s 2011 year-end campaign report filing.

From Page 23 of Ernie Leidiger's 2011 year-end campaign finance report showing a $178 payment at the address of Southdale Hennepin County Courthouse

This entry, cleverly coded as “Transportation”, appears to show that Leidiger paid his traffic ticket from his campaign’s bank account.  The dollar amount, payee, and timing fit.  That’s a problem, because paying off a traffic ticket isn’t one of the authorized uses for campaign funds, per the guidelines from the Minnesota Campaign Finance and  Public Disclosure Board:

Excerpt from the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board showing valid noncampaign disbursement categories

Gary Goldsmith, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, indicated via e-mail in response to a general question that “The general requirements for use of campaign funds are set forth in Minn. Stat. § 211B.12, and would not appear to include paying traffic tickets.  In general, campaign finance money is to be used for expenses that will effect the vote in an election.”

However, Goldsmith also noted that any final determination would have to be the result of a complaint filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings, which has jurisdiction over the statute in question.  As of yet, no one has filed a complaint over Leidiger’s use of campaign funds in such a way.

One has to wonder if Leidiger’s donors appreciate their contributions being used in such a way.

Here is Leidiger’s full campaign finance document for your review:

(Thanks to the tipster who brought this to my attention.)


When “local control” becomes a meaningless catch phrase

We support the belief that parents are responsible for their children’s education and that parents, teachers and local school boards can make the best decisions about our children’s education. – Rep. Duane Quam

The House Education Finance committee will hear testimony on H.F. 1858 tomorrow.  This bill would only allow local school districts to hold operating levy referendums in even-numbered years.  Currently, districts have the ability to choose whether to hold such referendums in odd- or even-numbered years.

Representative Garofalo will work to keep schools under the control of local parents and teachers. – Rep. Pat Garofalo campaign website

This bill would stomp all over the local control that Republicans — and specifically, a number of the bill’s authors — claim they want for their local districts.  And it’s poor policy on the merits, as well.  The state typically makes its major budget decisions in the odd-numbered years.  (That’s why we had our big state budget blowout last year, in 2011.)  This law would force districts to wait 18 months after those decisions are made before they can seek additional funding from voters.  This is nothing more than an attempt to force reduced budgets on to public schools.  It’s time for legislators to do their jobs when it comes to providing consistent funding for K-12 education instead of tying the hands of local officials who get to clean up the mess made in St. Paul.  Remember, it’s these same legislators who have balanced the budget in the last two cycles by sucking $2 billion out of our children’s education.

The more local control over your tax dollars, the more wisely the money will be spent. – Rep. Andrea Kieffer

Garofalo, the chair of the Education Finance committee, has accused school boards of using the odd-year referendums to “fleece” taxpayers. Garofalo should have more faith in voters.  If there’s one thing voters have proven in recent years — at all levels of government — it’s that they’re willing to vote out incumbents who they think aren’t doing the job.  The fact that Garofalo finds himself in the majority in the State House is testament to that fact.  Here in Eastern Carver County, voters replaced  four of the seven seats on the District 112 School Board in 2010 and voted down the technology referendum request in 2011.

Sadly, this bill is not the only bill that has headed down this road during the legislative session.  For instance, last year they pushed H.F. 381, which would have mandated a pay freeze across all districts in the state.

It’s time for the Legislature to start walking their talk.  “Local control” shouldn’t be a catch phrase — it should actually mean something.  Let school boards do their jobs and the voters will hold them accountable.  We don’t need this unnecessary meddling from the state.

Another way the federal tax code fails

Previously, we’ve discussed the widespread effects of the numerous credits and deductions that have littered our tax code.  There’s also been talk about income inequality and how to address it — and part of the answer is in the tax code.

Well, there’s another part of the puzzle that we don’t talk about — and that’s “horizontal equity” in the tax code.  Specifically, that means looking at how much taxes are paid by people with similar incomes.  The latest Economic Report of the President shows just how out-of-whack we are on this measure as well, as pointed out by conservative economist Bruce Bartlett.

What the graph above shows is the distribution of tax rates for each income quintile.  For instance, the middle 20% of income earners (households with income between $38,000 and $61,000) see a range of effective federal tax rates between 1.7% and 23.5%.  That’s a massive swing, which depends on the composition of your income (wage income is at a higher rate than capital gains) and the particular specialized tax credits and deductions you are eligible for.  Most people would consider it unfair for two households with $60,000 income to have tax bills that differ by as much as $10,000.

So, as we look to reform the tax code, we need to keep in mind horizontal equity issues along with “vertical equity” (income inequality) as well.

Redistricting maps revealed: Eastern Carver County to CD 3; Chanhassen split into two State Senate districts [UPDATED]

[UPDATE:  State legislative details were originally incorrect.  They have now been corrected.  Additional maps showing the boundary of the part of Chanhassen in SD33 have been added as well.]

The redistricting maps were just released a few minutes ago.  Here are the key takeaways for Carver County:

From a Congressional perspective, eastern Carver County (Chanhassen, Chaska, Victoria, and Laketown Township) are now part of the Third Congressional District, with current incumbent Rep. Erik Paulsen (R – Eden Prairie).  The rest of Carver County is now part of the Sixth Congressional District.  Rep. Michele Bachmann is the current incumbent in the Sixth, but Bachmann’s Stillwater residence in not in the new Sixth, so she will have to decide whether to move to the new Sixth or challenge Rep. Betty McCollum in the Fourth Congressional District.  [UPDATE:  Bachmann will run in the Sixth.]  Rep. John Kline no longer represents any part of the county.

The area highlighted in red is now part of CD 3.

From a state legislative perspective, northeast Chanhassen is being combined with much of the Lake Minnetonka area in the new Senate District 33 with retiring Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) and Rep. Steve Smith (R-Mound) as the current incumbents.  The boundary of the area in SD33 is the area north of MN-5 and east of MN-41, as shown in the map below.

The rest of Carver County is the new Senate District 47 with Sen. Julianne Ortman as the incumbent.   The rest of Chanhassen, northern Victoria, and Chaska combine to make House District 47B with Rep. Joe Hoppe as the incumbent.  The remainder of the county is House District 47A, with Rep. Ernie Leidiger as the incumbent.

New legislative map for Carver County

Under 2010 Census results, it was inevitable that Carver County would be split up into more than one Senate district — the County’s rapid population growth over the last decade dictated that.

Chaska Herald: Patron Mexican Restaurant opens

The Chaska Herald reports that Patron Mexican Restaurant opened yesterday in the former La Quebrada/River City Pub/Chestnuts location at the corner of MN-41 and Second Street in downtown Chaska.

No website is yet available for the restaurant.

Bountiful Basket Food Shelf moves this weekend: You can help

The Bountiful Basket Food Shelf will move into its new permanent location — the former Water Treatment Plant on Bavaria Road — this weekend.  Volunteers are needed on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to assist with the transition.

If you’re interested in helping, please contact Board Chairman Tom Redman at 952-227-7745 or you can call the food shelf at 952-556-0244.

Keeping the state on track

I wrote this column, which appeared in the February 9 editions of the Chanhassen Villager and the Chaska Herald.

Many observers hoped that this year’s legislative session would be quick and non-controversial. After all, the state has a projected budget surplus, meaning that there will be no repeat of last year’s lengthy budget standoff that resulted in a state government shutdown. Those observers felt that legislators – who are waiting anxiously for the new redistricting maps to be released later this month – would prefer to keep their head down, get some work done, and then focus on their re-election campaigns. 

Not only that, but they pointed to the election of Republican State Sen. David Senjem as the new majority leader as a sign that things would be less acrimonious. Senjem is a Senate veteran who was widely hailed as a conciliatory voice during his previous tenure as minority leader for Republicans. 

It took less than a day for those hopes to be shattered. Senjem and his leadership team (including Chanhassen State Sen. Julianne Ortman) delivered what was perceived by DFLers as a sharp partisan blow – forcing a cut in DFL staff budgets of over $400, 000 while not reducing Republican staff dollars at all in an effort to close a $2.5 million budget gap for the State Senate. This prompted a stinging, sharply worded rebuke from DFL minority leader Tom Bakk over both the cuts themselves and the process that led to them in the first place.

Ortman was also in the middle of the second major partisan controversy of the session – the party-line vote by Republican senators to remove former State Sen. Ellen Anderson as the chair of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

Anderson was a well-known environmental advocate when she was nominated by Gov. Mark Dayton last spring. However, her nearly oneyear long tenure on the PUC was not controversial. In 221 votes that Anderson participated in, the fivemember board (consisting of two DFLers and 3 Republicans), returned unanimous decisions 205 times. Of the remaining 16 votes, Anderson found herself in the minority only six times. 

Republicans, meanwhile, pointed to Anderson’s Senate record for evidence supporting their vote, noting her authorship of a bill that gave the state a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. They failed to note, however, that the bill passed on a bipartisan basis and was signed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. 

Dayton’s response to the Anderson “firing” was intense and personal. In his fiery response, Dayton targeted Ortman (who was just one of two Republican Senators to speak on the floor of the Senate in favor removing Anderson) with pointed rhetoric and some incorrect facts. 

There seemed to be little doubt in many minds – even though it went unsaid by those involved – that the Anderson decision was in part payback for DFL rejections of two Pawlenty appointees. 

So are we doomed to two more months of this nonsense? Let’s hope not – and we can do much as citizens to make sure that we get a session that is productive despite the partisan divisions that paralyze St. Paul far too often. 

First, we should insist that legislators get together quickly on the main deliverable of this year’s session:a bonding bill. Gov. Dayton has released a $775 million proposal that is a mix of infrastructure and support for local projects. Legislative Republicans have yet to release their planned bonding bill, only saying that do not plan on spending more than $500 million and they favor a higher infrastructure component than Dayton. 

Both parties have valid points here. Dayton has the size of the bill correct, as it equals the average bonding investment over the last decade. With interest rates low and the construction industry looking for a boost, this is exactly the right time to invest in our state’s longterm priorities. 

Meanwhile, Republicans are correct that there should be a stronger infrastructure component to the bill. We have crumbling roads and bridges around this state that should be addressed in a more significant fashion. Some local projects specified by Dayton, such as improvements to Nicollet Mall or building a new St. Paul Saints stadium, should wait. 

Second, we can demand that legislators seriously tackle governmental reform that has been left outstanding for too long. 

Included as part of this agenda would be developing a statute that would defuse much of the harm of failure to reach a budget agreement by the end of the fiscal year, freeing local governments and school districts from certain state mandates, consolidating backoffice functions and purchasing across state agencies to maximize efficiencies, and eliminating loopholes in transparency laws that allow legislators to shield some of their income from disclosure. 

Finally, we should expect that politicians on both sides of the aisle to grow up and stop the ridiculous tit-for-tat that passes for discourse in St. Paul. It doesn’t matter who did it first, who did it last, or who did it worst.

We should have higher standards for those who represent us. The decisions they make have real impacts on real people. If a politician is more interested in partisan games than doing the people’s business, it’s up to us to send them home in November.

Our “Entitlement Society” by the numbers

A common theme you hear from Republican politicians these days is that government’s growing entitlement programs are creating a large permanent class of people willing to live off of government benefits instead of working.

In an Entitlement Society, government provides every citizen the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to innovate, pioneer or take risk. – Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney

The good news for us is that there’s data we can use to evaluate those claims, and that’s just what the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities did.  The bad news for Republican politicians is that their claims don’t hold up when you look at the data.

The CBPP looked at the 11 largest federal entitlement programs, which represented 88% of entitlement spending in the 2010 budget — a total of $1.83 trillion.  Included are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit, among others.

Here’s how the spending broke down:

53% of entitlement spending went to the persons over the age of 65 (primarily through Social Security and Medicare).  20% went to those under the age of 65 who are disabled, while another 18% went to households where at least one person worked at least 20 hours a week.  3% of the entitlement spending was for unemployment benefits, which require a history of employment in order to be eligible.

Government dependency can only foster passivity and sloth. – Romney

So let’s total it up — 73% of entitlement spending goes to people who we don’t expect to work (the elderly and disabled).  21% of entitlement spending goes to the working poor or people who recently lost employment.  So that leaves just 6% of entitlement spending to people who fall outside those categories.

What sort of spending is in that 6%?  Well, most of that spending is Social Security-related:   survivor benefits for children and spouses of deceased workers and payments to people who elected to retire early between ages 62 and 64.  There’s also some Medicaid expense for the non-working, non-disabled poor.  Those three categories represent two-thirds of that remaining 6%.

In summary, then, you’ve got somewhere between 2% and 6% of entitlement spending that could be being directed at folks who may not really need it — depending on if you want to classify people collecting survivors benefits as passive and sloth-like.  Is this really an “Entitlement Society” or just empty sloganeering?

GOP Legislature is not popular; Dayton at 50% approval

KSTP-TV and SurveyUSA released results of their latest survey tracking approval of Governor Mark Dayton and the GOP-controlled State Legislature last night.

Dayton fares significantly better than his legislative counterparts.  Dayton’s overall approval rating is at 50% (73% among DFLers, 42% among Independents, and 26% from Republicans).

The GOP-controlled State Legislature is at 17% for an overall approval rating (30% from Republicans, 16% from Democrats, and 11% from Independents).   Of particular concern to Republicans should be that last number — the legislature is faring worse among Independents than Democrats, which may mean that Republicans are in for a tough fight to retain their legislative majorities.

Santorum cruises to caucus victory in Carver County

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum easily won the Presidential Preference Ballot at the Republican Precinct Caucuses in Senate District 34 (Carver County plus three precincts in Scott County) last night.

Santorum collected 589 votes (49.1% of voters who indicated a preference), more than doubling the total of second-place finisher, Rep. Ron Paul, who had 272 votes (22.7%).  Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was third with 216 votes (18.0%) and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was fourth with 122 votes (10.2%).

Santorum also won the statewide ballot, taking 45.0% of the vote (as of 12:30 p.m. on February 8, with 97.5% of precincts reporting).  Paul was second (27.1%), followed by Romney (16.9%), and Gingrich (10.8%).

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