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 and Gov. Tim Pawlenty will have a $2.163 billion surplus to spend in the next two years, state officials announced this morning. In November, a similar budget forecast showed they would have nearly $2.2 billion. Now legislators and Pawlenty can get down to real work writing a budget. More than a month ago, Pawlenty suggested spending $34.4 billion in the next two years. Lawmakers wait until the Finance Department releases its February budget forecast before they start putting specific numbers to their budget priorities.
ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty authorized the Minnesota National Guard to help snow-buried communities late Thursday afternoon as a winter storm strengthened. Pawlenty signed an order authorizing the Guard to help with electric power generation, searching for people lost in the storm, providing shelter and other humanitarian efforts.
ST. PAUL - Minnesota must intervene to help the state maintain its ethanol leadership, supporters of the next generation of the plant-based fuel say. The intervention would include providing subsidies to farmers growing grass or other plants that are more efficient sources for ethanol than the traditional corn. It also would give loans to build new facilities to produce ethanol from nontraditional plants such as switch grass. Minnesota lawmakers are looking at more comprehensive ethanol changes than any other state, state Rep.
ST. PAUL. - A Senate committee overturned three days worth of northern Minnesota senators' work Monday when it restored a statewide smoking ban proposal to near its original form. The panel removed provisions that would have allowed bars to allow smoking if they install ventilation equipment and to forbid local ordinances stronger than the state law.
Rep. Paul Marquart, chairman of the House property taxes committee, set up a hotline to receive public comments on the matter and has been getting ideas, such as: -- "For resorts, freeze or minimize property tax on resorts if the resort would agree to not break up the land for a certain amount of time to developers. This would save ma and pa resorts from breaking up. My bet is ma and pa would not sell." -- from Park Rapids.
ST. PAUL - All of Minnesota is under a winter storm watch tonight through Saturday, while the eastern and southern parts remain vulnerable Sunday, but don't expect the predicted significant snow accumulations to put much of a dent in the state's drought. And even if next month is snowier than normal - which does not look good now - the drought will continue. "A couple of March snow storms doesn't make the spring," Steve Baun of the National Weather Service Thursday told a Minnesota drought task force.
ST. PAUL - Minnesotans will accept a tax increase to protect their natural resources, environmentalists rallying Wednesday in the Capitol said. "The legacy that we leave for our future generations is the most important thing," John Doberstein of Duluth said. Added Doberstein: Cleaning up the state's water - as required by federal law - is a public priority. Duane Ninneman of Ortonville, who works in Montevideo, said clean energy also is a priority. He and about 200 others at the rally agreed a sales tax increase is an answer to cleaning up the environment.
A large majority of Minnesotans are happy with the work of school instructors and staff, but believe more state funding is needed to maintain that level of quality, a teacher-funded poll found. Education Minnesota, the state's largest teachers union, commissioned the phone survey last November. It also revealed that 62 percent of respondents believe school spending should be increased. One-third of those polled said funding should remain flat. Education Minnesota President Judy Schaubach of Red Wing said poll results reinforce public comments made at listening sessions across the state.
Minnesota needs a permanent school safety center to help prevent school violence, public safety officials and others told legislators Monday. During the school shootings at Red Lake High School in March 2005, local, state and federal law enforcement officers worked well together, recalled former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger said.
A House committee backed measures that would provide relief to the state's struggling timber industry. The bill, authored by Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, allows for timber permits issued by the state to be terminated. Under the legislation, those permits could be repurchased at substantially lower prices as a means to revitalize the industry in Minnesota, which proponents of the bill said is on shaky ground due to a slipping housing market. Despite concerns over the bill's long-term gains from Rep.