Category Archives: Minnesota

More news stories I’m giving short shrift to

I wasn’t particularly concerned about this story which explains that a recent test being required of teachers to prove they are educated may be scrapped.

For one reason Minnesota still has pretty good success graduating kids. Obviously our teachers are not generally stupid or hideous as this story makes clear.

Our public school graduates have the third highest test scores in math and our state has the second highest raking among the states in high school graduates.

I hope I’m not being too cavalier.

On Minnesota’s proposed constitutional amendments

I just put up this sign this morning after my two Vote No signs for the marriage amendment disappeared.

Since I plan to vote against both amendments I really prefer this slogan.

Why?

I’ll vote against the Marriage amendment because I don’t object to same sex unions and this amendment would put Minnesota’s current statutory prohibition into the State Constitution. There are two reasons this is on the ballot. 1. Its hoped by the GOP that it will bring out Republican leaning voters. A shrewd tactic. 2. Its also hoped by opponents of gay marriage to defer same sex unions in Minnesota for up to a decade. The concern is that if this in not incorporated into the state constitution then the legislature could OK gay marriage by a simple majority vote. Putting it in the Constitution will require another statewide vote to take it back out again and that will be harder than a simple majority vote of legislators. I figure this would delay same sex marriage by 5 to 10 years until a few more people change their mind and a few more older, resistant, voters die off. Even if it passes, maybe especially if it passes I expect civil unions, just short of marriage, will be authorized in the next couple of years.

I’ll vote against the Voter ID amendment because I think it is a crude answer to a mostly nonexistent problem of fraudulent votes – in order to keep Democrats from the voting booth.

A few weeks ago I posted Mary Kiffmeyer’s video justification for the amendment. In it she concludes by saying that in a recent election there were about 5,000 voters who the Secretary of State could not verify as living at the locations they were allowed to vote in. I mentioned this to my wife and she asked how many of the 5,000 were college students who moved after a school year and that the Secretary of State failed to track down. Probably a lot of them.

Since there is no compelling evidence of massive voter fraud brought about by any political party I’d say the several hundred or even several thousand suspect votes probably are small price to pay to get a large voter turnout.

I appreciate the concern about those who are prohibited from voting going to the ballot box anyway. I’m just more concerned about putting huge obstacles in the way of legitimate voters.

The Republicans who are the primary authors across the nation for these laws have gotten the idea of voter suppression from past experts the former white democrats of the south. They had better than a hundred years to find ways to deny black citizens the right to vote. Minnesota’s plan is less egregiously unfair than some of the other voter ID laws being proposed in other states but it still has a stink about it. Because the objection to felonious voting won’t go away I think it would be in the Democrats own interest to devise a less onerous voter ID procedures rather than let them be drawn up by Republicans.

Republicans have made a very simple calculation. If the voting population that stays away from the polls is poorer and weighted more heavily Democrat then Republicans will benefit. If 60% or 70% of the people staying away from the polls because of burdensome ID registration are Democrats it will be a net gain for the GOP. Out of a 100,000 voters the GOP might lose 30,000 or 40,000 votes but Democrats would lose 60,000 or 70,000 votes. That’s no small potatoes especially in a close race.

Until such time as a fairer ID procedure is drawn up I’ll vote against this amendment too.

Oh yeah, I forgot today’s bygones in the Trib

This was the result of the “Minnesota Miracle” during which both Republicans and Democrats decided to put far more burden on income taxes to pay for local public schools and lower the burden on regressive local property taxes. Perhaps your tax bill has come in and you’ve noticed that this miracle’s angels have been falling from the sky.

Bygones News Tribune
Dec. 1, 1971

The Duluth School Board yesterday voted for a property tax levy that reflects a drop of 26.8 percent from last year’s figure. The reduction is possible because of increased state school aid from a state tax increase approved by the Legislature.

No referendum for the Vike’s stadium

I’ve been exchanging email with a member of the Ramsey County Charter Commission who has followed the theft of the voter’s right to vote on the Red Plan for the past five years. He assures me that the County Charter requires a referendum before Ramsey County can levy a tax to pay for the Stadium. I’m inclined to think this is true but I haven’t studied the matter closely. If so then the Vikings are following the Johnson Controls model to reap tax dollars for their shareholders.

I just listened to the Vice President of PR for the Vikings on an hour long MPR talk show. I suspect the Vikes will be heading to Los Angeles if the referendum takes place because I think Ramsey County voters will turn it down. That is the threat that motivates the Viking’s cheerleaders. I must say I was not impressed with the VP’s arguments. On the other hand I’m also inclined to believe his sales pitch that Zigi Wilf will put more money into the project than most other NFL owners have had to in their own territories.

I especially groaned when he mentioned that the Twins lost the chance to build a stadium with a retractable roof. The implication I took from this is that we can expect the Twins to come back in two decades to tell us their new stadium is inadequate to justify asking for state to build a new sufficient stadium.

The Ramsey County Charter Board member sent me the latest email circulating. The last four paragraphs raise all the Red Plan hairs on the back of my neck:

Tomorrow could be a bad day for Minnesota. If you allow a stadium referendum to be on the ballot in 2012, the end of the Viking’s time in Minnesota will be near, and that is sad.

The Vikings have done everything asked of them over the years by the legislature. They have a plan, a site, and a local partner. But it still seems like it’s not good enough for some people. And now there might a referendum added onto the Ramsey County share of it? That just will not work. The Vikings won’t wait until late 2012 for this referendum to happen, nor should they have to. They have been waiting many years already, and time is almost up!

I don’t think you people realize how close we are to the Vikings moving to LA. The new stadium in LA is almost a done deal. All they need now is a commitment from a team to move, and with the Vikings lease expiring at the Dome in a few months, it doesn’t take a scientist to figure out what will happen. The writing is on the wall. Do you people really want to be known as the reason why the Vikings moved to LA? Please don’t let that happen.

The referendum is a waste of time and money. We elect our politicians to make decisions for us. That is their job! If the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners chooses to impose a tax, so be it.

Look at Hennepin County and Target Field. The Hennepin County Board had the vision to see what could be done, and look what they did! Target Field is one of the finest ballparks in the country! We should all be proud of that! Hennepin County didn’t require a referendum and neither should Ramsey County.

The Minnesota Vikings are an asset to the state of Minnesota and it would be a shame if we lose them. My kids love going to games with me!!! We would be heartbroken without the Vikings!

Please allow your county to raise the sales tax WITHOUT a referendum!!!

Thank you again for your time.

Cutting slack – or not

I only have a small coterie of regular emailers but they send me interesting things. One just sent me this column by a Republican mouthpiece explaining that just because one third of Minnesota’s School Districts are asking for operational levies (including I might ad Duluth) it doesn’t mean that District’s have fallen that far behind previous spending.

Johnathon Blake is absolutely right. Most districts are getting roughly what they got eight years ago only without any inflationary boost. But then inflation has been pretty much nonexistant over that time so what?

I’ll make two quick comments:

First: this information explains why the Duluth School District has no ground to stand on when it complains that its current fiscal woes are all the work of St. Paul.

Second: There is one big hole in Mr. Blake’s argument which is especially important for those who want to compare education spending between the fifty states. Minnesota has not kept up with the most aggressive states in investing in its schools. When I was on the Duluth School Board starting about twelve years ago we were ranked 5th or thereabouts among the fifty states in per pupil expenditures. Today we are in the middle of the pack around 23rd.

My two conclusions:

1. Don’t cut the Duluth School Administration any slack.

2. Don’t cut the great Tea Party anti-tax warriors any slack either.

Dayton caves to the GOP

The lucky folks in Wisconsin will get to vote to give their State Senate back to Democrats in a month or so. Minnesota is not so lucky.

Minnesotans get to delay $700 million more (on top of $1 billion 400 million already deferred) to our public schools if our Republican legislators decide to take the gun away from our heads and let us borrow another two billion to cover spending that they’ve already authorized.

Equity ll – in the State of Minnesota

I picked up the Minneapolis Trib yesterday and read a column by Steven Dornfeld. I was particularly interested in it because I based a lot of my research paper for State and Local Government class on his columns back in 1971 when I was 21 and he was a 23 year old reporter. The paper was about the “Minnesota Miracle” the nickname given a new state educational funding system that equalized funding between rich and poor school districts. (I got an A- on the paper)

Today there is an even sharper critique of the GOP controlled legislature’s determination to go back to the good old days of inequality. Its by a guy who ought to know – Dave Jennings the former Republican House leader and subsequent superintendent of the Minneapolis schools. Here’s a snippet:

There is a gap in achievement levels for poor kids. The research on the achievement gap — all of it — shows that the presence of “normal” levels of poverty in a district is manageable, but that “concentrations” of poverty overwhelm the system.

About 66 percent of students in Minneapolis schools live below the poverty line. In St. Paul, the number is 71 percent; in Duluth, it is 42 percent. With such concentrations, there are two choices: redistribute the poor kids among more school districts to reduce the concentration, or provide supplemental funding and create support systems that overcome the obstacles. Minnesota’s strategy has been option two. The three urban districts now get supplemental money for that reason.

The state’s Constitution places responsibility on the state, not the districts alone, to provide for access to equitable public education for Minnesota children — all Minnesota children. That includes addressing issues like the achievement gap in urban schools and the litany of other issues facing suburban and rural districts statewide as well.

Nowhere in the Constitution does it provide for an exemption from this responsibility when times are tough or when a new party takes control of the Legislature.

The Republicans are busy peeing down their pants or pantyhose, as the case may be, explaining that after decades of giving poor kids schools more money than rich kids schools they have determined that the poor kids still don’t do as well as the rich kids. The Republican solution is to make sure that poor kids will now get less K-12 education funding than rich kids.

God’s Own Party is adamant that fetuses have rights and should not be aborted. Too bad they don’t feel the same way about poor children.

Dobson’s oversight

I found this link to fundementalist cheerleader Dr. James Dobson. This page has a link to Minnesota on a map but the link only mentions two Minnesota races that Dobson’s people are watching. One is the Senate race and the other is the Bachman/Wetterling race. The way things are shaping up Dr. Dobson might find two or three other “conservative” Minnesota Congressman in Jeopardy.

In the Wetterling/Bachman race it may be Congressional Democrats who kill Wetterling. I ran accross a DFLer’s blog who agonized about the nasty anti-Bachman ads which he speculated might hurt Wetterling more than Bachman with voters non plussed by their negativity.

DNT to be owned by Regional Company

The Trib put a lot ink in the paper today about its transfer to the Fargo Forum’s owner Forum Communications. The only thing the new owners indicated that they would lend a hand at would be political endorsements. I wonder what the endorsement history of the Fargo Forum is?

Rototilling

Its a beautiful day in Duluth, Minnesota and my wife is taking the day off to garden. He rented a rototiller and I’m planting tomatos along our back fence with the southern exposure. Beefsteak. Hope they live up to the name. No posts for a while although I’ll have something to say about the first pro-Grams letter to the editor I read this morning.

Pension Schmension

This story pricked up my ears yesterday. It was reported that several of Minnesota’s public employee retirement funds were underfunded by almost 10 billion dollars.

I’m always nervous when benefits are mandated by law as they are in Social Security and Medicare, without regard to future availability of funds to pay for them.

When I was elected to the Duluth School Board I made it a point to ask the Director of the Duluth Teachers Retirement fund about how it guaranteed its member’s pensions. As a fellow who sold annuities briefly in the private sector (I was a lousy salesman) I was aware that there are a few fairly simple methods of disbursing money to people from the lump sums that they have built up during their work years by the time of retirement.

Retirees can take a fixed amount of money for a specific time, say twenty years. This monthly amount paid out will not change whether inflation does or not. The payments are calculated in advance to last until the fund peters out and they are guaranteed. Because the payments are time limited they can be larger.

Retirees who do not want to gamble on the length of their life can set up an annuity which will last until the end of their life. Of course, the retirement fund managing such a pension has to presume a long life for people choosing this payment option. (I recall the story from a few years ago about the death of a French woman who fifty years before had agreed to sell her house to another buyer for a fixed price. She would be allowed to continue living in her home, however, until her death. Unfortunately for the buyers the woman lived to be 112 years old. She outlived them and they were never able to take possessioin of the house that they had paid for. Pension Funds can’t allow themselves to get caught short that way) Pension funds granted for the remainder of a recipient’s life are considerably smaller than time limited annuities.

The problem I’ve seen with the T (teachers) RA, PE (public employees) RA, and the Duluth, Minneapolis, and St. Paul Teacher RA’s (retirement funds) is that they often pay their recipeints more when their stock earnings are good but do not reduce payment levels when their earnings diminish leaving a shortfall with regard to their future obligations. The results for over-generous funds can be disasterous. The Duluth and St. Paul Teachers Retirement Funds have both strongly resisted being combined by the State legislature with the Minneapolis teacher’s fund for just this reason.

The state is not required to shore up profligate and overgenerous retirement funds. Nonetheless, it might be strongly tempted to shore up a weak fund with state taxes in order to tempt resistant retirement funds to merge with and thus bolster the mismanaged funds with their own better managed assets. 

I was so shocked by the implication in the second to the last paragraph of the story that I called its author and asked him if he could confirm what I thought it said:

“The Public Employees Retirement Association fund agreed to raise contributions by cities, counties and workers to reduce its deficit. The government contributions are expected to cost $380 million over the next five years. Increased contributions are also under consideration for the pension plan for state workers.

This makes it sound like the PERA can force municipalities to give them more money to make up for their poor investment decisions. What? Funds can be demanded without resorting to contract negotiations! This is much like the bind that the City of Duluth is in with regard to the post retirement benefits of its workers.

Duluth may have the option of declaring bankruptcy if it can’t cope any other way. Could PERA put other municipalities in the same position? Would bankruptcy be available to the state of Minnesota in a worst case scenario? Full faith and credit to the person answering these questions.

Borrow and Spend

George Bush’s fusion of “conservative” and “liberal” borrow-and-spend principles is leading the US to a 9 trillion dollar debt. He has pursued spending on entitlements that would have gladdened the hearts of Democrats had only they not been so complicated. (My take on the complexity is that it is intended to prevent the truly needy who vote Democratic from sharing in the entitlement) But he has also championed the foolish idea that a growing economy can pay for these benefits without any need to tax for the entitlements today.

This policy suits today’s faith based Republican Party very well with its simple minded, scriptural, admonision: “No new taxes!” This infantile faith has taken hold in all 50 states.

In Minnesota it forced Republican Tim Pawlenty to pledge that he would not raise any taxes in order to win the Party’s gubenatorial endorsement. When Pawlenty finally had to govern without “taxes” he raised “fees” astronomically in order to finance the state. 

On the national level Bush is imitating LBJ’s ruinous policy of “guns and butter” (financing Vietnam and the war-on-poverty simultaneously) which subsequently knocked the US economy into a ten-year cycle of “stagflation. “

Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s critique of Bush