Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Weeks of December 7th & 14th, 2008

Unallotment: As part of the effort to balance the FY2009 budget (the current fiscal year runs through June 30, 2009), the Governor exercised his ability to "unallot." That means that he will make unilateral cuts to the budget to meet the $426 million deficit. Before he can cut spending, he has to use up the state's budget reserve of $150 million, and that leaves a deficit of $271 million or so. MPR listed the cuts in detail. Higher education took a hit of $40 million, health and human services were at $73 million, and local government aid and the homestead tax credit were at $110 million. The legislature itself also was cut by $2.2 million. There were not really a lot of good choices here.

[This is an updated paragraph as of 12/23/08]

In our cities, Shoreview lost $139,069 that it was expected to get to fund the Market Value Homestead Credit (MVHC), Circle Pines lost $56,281 in MVHC, Blaine lost $420,891 in MVHC, and Lino Lakes lost $120,481. The MVHC is a tool where homeowners get a credit on their property taxes if their property is valued at less than $413,000. North Oaks will lose $13,677 in both local government aid and the MVHC, and Lexington will lose $55,013 in both LGA and MVHC.

Track agency results: The state has set up a web site where you can track how agencies perform against their stated goals. The Accountability Minnesota website is a good start but it's a little light on data in some areas and is skewed toward areas where the state is already doing good stuff.

Conservation rate structure: Lino Lakes did a utility rate study in 2007 and the city adopted a water conservation plan in October 2007 to help avoid wasteful use of groundwater. Now it is going through with a new ordinance that codifies new requirements for a conservation rate structure, which I got passed as legislation in 2008. The ordinance proposes new tiered water rates. 98.7% of residents in Lino Lakes use less than 40,000 gallons per quarter, but there is a small fraction of residents who use a lot more than that and they would pay a higher rate.

Property taxes: The December 7th Star Tribune listed changes in median property tax values and property tax rates in metro communities with more than 5,000 population.

Here is the breakdown by city for percent change in market value and percent change in tax since last year.

  • Shoreview: market value -3.6%; tax +1.6% (Mounds View SD)
  • Lino Lakes: market value +3.0%; tax +2.3% (Centennial SD) & +2.8% (White Bear SD)
  • Circle Pines: market value -4.4%; tax -7.8% (Centennial SD)
  • Blaine: market value -0.6%; tax -1.5% (Centennial SD)
North Oaks and Lexington have fewer than 5,000 people and were not included in the article. My property taxes in Shoreview are going down by 1.7% and the market value declined by roughly (don't have the statement in front of me) 4%.

Waiting for answers: A Shoreview constituent recently wrote a letter to the Shoreview Press expressing impatience that I have not said exactly how I plan to balance the state budget. Look for my rotating column in the Press next week (or maybe the week after) for a more thorough description of just what kind of sacrifices we will have to make during this difficult economic recession.

Truth-in-taxation letter: Another Shoreview resident wrote a letter to the Shoreview Press while I was out of town suggesting that I author legislation about truth-in-taxation notices and meetings. He was upset that cities, counties, and school districts have their public meetings after the election, and he felt that the legislature should require them to be before the election. I think this is a GREAT idea. I looked into it and it was in legislation in the last session before eventually getting cut out of the final omnibus tax bill. I would like to pursue this legislation in 2009.

Schedule: On Saturday, December 6th, I participated in an all-day meeting of the House DFL Caucus. Governor Pawlenty and former Governor Carlson both came to talk to us, which I thought was a good thing. From Sunday, December 7th to Tuesday, December 16th, I was in Washington, DC and environs. The purpose was to attend a three-day meeting of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL). My airfare was covered by a scholarship from NCEL funded by the Joyce Foundation. I stayed with family members in the DC area, so no taxpayer dollars were spent on the travel. My family also came with me so we had a chance to see a few things downtown on the days when I was not at the conference. We were underwhelmed by the newly re-opened Smithsonian American History Museum other than the refurbished Star-Spangled Banner. However, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum got a big thumbs up from kids and adults alike for its new Ocean Hall. The U.S. Capitol has a new visitor center built underground on the east side. Very posh. I knew that two prominent citizens of each state are represented by a sculpture, but I didn't know that Minnesota's two are Henry Mower Rice and Maria L. Sanford. Save that for Minnesota Trivial Pursuit!

The NCEL meeting was excellent. There were presentations on mercury, energy efficiency, water quality, climate change, the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, etc. Legislators who attended were from the Great Lakes states and the province of Ontario. Rep. Hornstein and I had a long conversation at lunch with the Canadians to understand how their provincial parliament works. Very different! They rely on stricter party loyalty than in the U.S.

I stuck around for two days afterwards so that I could do some family history research. During the last 15 years, I've tracked down various branches of my family and I've spent quite a bit of time on my Gardner ancestors. The first one to come over from Ireland arrived in about 1811 and settled in Millersburg, Pennsylvania. So on Monday I did some deed research in Harrisburg and discovered the location of his house, which I photographed in the afternoon--if indeed it is the same building. (Long story there.)

On Thursday, December 19th, I attended a meeting with legislators and Anoka County about the county's legislative agenda for 2009; met with representatives of the phone book publishing industry and their lobbyist; staff at Great River Energy about waste-to-energy issues; and Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett on issues of mutual interest. On Friday, December 20th, I attended a meeting of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts (AMSD) for legislators.

Visitors: None

Constituent contacts: Circle Pines resident about recent publicity about Otter Tail Power Company competing with private firms; Lino Lakes resident supporting more physical education in public schools; Lexington resident supporting an end to ethanol blended fuel in MN; North Oaks resident concerned about funding cuts to Meals on Wheels; Blaine resident supporting tax cuts for businesses; Circle Pines resident concerned about local government aid cuts to that city; Shoreview resident supporting spending freeze; district resident requesting that "you Democrats need to stop spending our money like drunken sailors"; Shoreview resident supporting spending freeze, corporate tax cuts, and cutting services; Lino Lakes resident supporting spending cuts; North Oaks resident supporting spending cuts

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Week of November 30, 2008

Budget forecast is grim: On Thursday, December 4th, the state released a budget forecast for the fiscal biennium beginning July 1, 2009 and ending June 30, 2011. The projected deficit is $4.8 billion. There was also a forecast for the fiscal year (the current one) ending June 30, 2009, and there is a deficit there of $425 million. So the total deficit is $5.2 billion.

You can see the whole forecast at the web site of Minnesota Management and Budget. Video archives of the news conference by the finance commissioner and state economist are also on-line.

Legislators are being interviewed by the media or are holding their own press conferences to share some ideas for balancing the budget. I would not hold your breath on some of these ideas, like selling the Minneapolis airport. We have a long way to go to the end of session in late May, so I and others here are trying to be patient, look at all our options, and talk to constituents and stakeholders about what effects our actions will have. I look forward to your ideas in the weeks and months to come.

Drinking water profiles for cities in District 53A: The Met Council has produced a draft Master Water Supply Plan for review before the legislation session. There are city profiles for each city in the seven-county metro area, and they project how much groundwater they will need through the year 2050. The data profiles are in appendix 2 in the report link above. Here are what the six cities in 53A may have to do between now and 2050.

Blaine: 13 new groundwater wells necessary through 2050!
Circle Pines: No additional groundwater wells necessary
Lexington: No additional groundwater wells necessary
Lino Lakes: One new additional groundwater well necessary every ten years through 2050
North Oaks (using data from White Bear Township): No additional groundwater wells necessary
Shoreview: One new additional groundwater well necessary about 2040

Subcommittee dissolved: On Friday, the Speaker announced our committee structure for the next session. The number of committees has been cut by 15%, and a lot of subcommittees have been eliminated. The purpose was to simplify our committee process. At my request, the Speaker eliminated the Drinking Water Source Protection Subcommittee that I chaired. We could never find a regular time to meet and it was hard to get a quorum, and I figure I can get just as much done on protecting our drinking water by working within our existing environmental policy and finance committee.

Twin Cities Best for Business: MarketWatch, a web publication of the Wall Street Journal, just recognized the Twin Cities for the second year in a row for being the best metro area for business.

Schedule: On Monday, December 1st, I attended a meeting of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission at the State Office Building. My Republican colleague Dean Urdahl leads the group and I'm the other legislator on the group. In the evening I attended a fundraiser for the DFL House Caucus. On Tuesday, December 2nd, I attended a presentation by the Met Council on their drinking water supply plan. In the evening, I attended a meeting of our local DFL Senate District. On Wednesday, December 3rd, several legislators and I participated in a conference on "Assessing, Managing and Communicating Environmental Risk" hosted by the Center for Science, Technology & Public Policy at the U of M's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. On Thursday, December 4th, I attended a meeting of the Legislative Coordinating Commission Working Group on Ethnic Heritage & New Americans, where I made a presentation giving a historical perspective on immigration in Minnesota. In the afternoon, I participated in a meeting at the MN Pollution Control Agency where staff sought input on a report I requested on product stewardship.

Visitors: State Revisor on progress toward greater transparency on omnibus bills; Met Council staff regarding community based transit (e.g., dial-a-ride) services; four high school students asking for input on an environmental legislation proposal; staff from MN Department of Veterans Affairs about a constituent issue; student reporter from Hamline University about recent political developments; staff from a human services agency in the northern suburbs about transportation issues; lobbyists from Waste Management, Chamber of Commerce, and chemical companies about environmental issues coming up before the legislature; another state representative about transit issues; staff from the MPCA and Ramsey County about safe disposal of unused pharmaceutical products and how to avoid having them get in our drinking water

Constituent contacts: Blaine resident asking that human services budget be spared when balancing the budget; Shoreview resident interested in the opt-out option for phone books; two Shoreview residents against tax increases to balance the budget; Lino Lakes resident supporting a new Vikings stadium (although not necessarily built with public funding); Shoreview resident seeking bike lane on Highway 49; three Lino Lakes residents asking for revisions to last year's Green Acres law

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Week of November 23, 2008

Sick and tired of unwanted phone books (or want more?): While I spent time knocking on doors this fall, constituents had just received a new phone book and many asked how to avoid getting them. I worked on legislation on this issue in 2008 to give consumers the option to "opt out" of getting a phonebook. Since Dex has created a solution to give consumers the option of controlling how many, if any, phone books you would like to receive, I thought I would like to know how to go about it.

Dex has developed an online web page which allows users to find out which directories they are currently receiving and alter what type and how many they would like to receive in the future. There is also a link to the phone numbers for other directory publishers.

Here are the steps required to alter the amount of directories you receive.

Step # 1 - Go to
Step # 2 - On right hand side of the screen, enter your zip code
Step #3 - Near bottom of the screen click “Proceed to select your Dex link”
Step #4 - Fill out information on right side of screen. Under “Available Directories in Your Area” make sure you’ve checked the number “0” next to each listed directory if you do not want to receive anymore phone books. (You can also order additional directories if you choose.

Dex has a toll-free number (1-866-547-5100) available for anyone who would rather change their phonebook service via telephone rather than use the Internet. Other publications include Yellow Book (800-YB-YELLOW) and Verizon (800-555-4833).

Visit to District Court in Anoka: One of my constituents is a district court judge in Anoka, and she invited me to observe the court system at the Tenth Judicial District on Tuesday, November 25th. During the morning, I sat through about a dozen probation violation hearings, three short trials where drivers were contesting their tickets, and a few felony hearings for drug violations. There were plenty of defendants who I think probably were scared straight because of their experience with the criminal justice system, and there were a few people who were never going to get their act together. Two years ago I had the opportunity to tour the Lino Lakes prison, and I plan to do a ride-along with some local law enforcement agency soon, so I'll have the complete picture!

Centennial Community Education: I met with staff from Centennial School District regarding community education initiatives, such as "educational, recreational, social, and cultural programs [that] include enrichment classes, outings, drivers education, swimming lessons, and more." I was particularly interested in the Adult Continuing Education program, which includes help with GED preparation among other opportunities. Statistics about who is going back for a GED were particularly enlightening.

Schedule: No committee or working group meetings during this short holiday week

Visitors: A Senator regarding paratransit issues; constituent dentist about dental licensing policy; Centennial School District community education staff regarding their programs

Constituent contacts: Lino Lakes resident supporting Rule of 90 teacher pension legislation; two constituents reporting that pollsters called them asking about why they voted the way they did for the 53A race earlier this month; North Oaks resident reacting to story about the Fergus Falls school superintendent recruiting Chinese students; Shoreview resident about upcoming reconstruction of Highway 49 through Shoreview; Shoreview resident about the hazards of buying gift cards for retailers who are entering bankruptcy or who are closing for good; Shoreview resident supporting Wine with Dinner legislation to allow wine sales in grocery stores; Shoreview resident asking if I am a member of ISAIAH and whether I endorse its views (see link to organization on the right); Shoreview resident supportive of Blaine airport runway extension; Lino Lakes resident seeking additional financial support for K-12 education; Circle Pines resident supporting legislation to increase recycling of cans and bottles

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Week of November 16, 2008

Met Council Water Supply Plan: The Metropolitan Council has prepared a draft of its Master Water Supply Plan. Since I work on drinking water issues, I have been plowing through the draft, which is available on the web. There are public meetings coming up before the end of the year, and you can see when these meetings will be held on the link above. You can also read the plan.

Airport follow-up: The Metropolitan Airports Commission has a web page on the Blaine Airport (aka Janes Field), as does Anoka County. I also found a list of noise abatement procedures for the airport. ABC Newspapers did a pretty complete article on the recent situation. The operator of the airport is Key Air. Finally, legislation would be required to expand the airport runway to 6,000 feet, since it would move from a minor airport to an intermediate airport. (Look at subdivision 4 for details in Minnesota Statutes 473.641.) The MAC also has a noise complaint website where you can report airport noise issues.

Schedule: Monday, November 17th included meetings with the Citizens League on their water governance initiative, Senator Rummel on drinking water issues, and a former intern who is working on an instant runoff voting initiative. Tuesday, November 18th included attendance at the Anoka County Airport Committee (see next post), a meeting with St. Paul-Ramsey County Environmental Health Division staff about solid waste issues; and a visit to a Lutheran Social Services intermediate care facility in Shoreview where eight developmentally disabled adults live. The latter included an in-depth discussion of state funding issues that affect this facility. It was an eye-opener! In the evening, I attended a meeting of the full House DFL Caucus. On Wednesday, November 19th I met with a North Oaks resident about a health care legislative proposal and met with canvassers at Clean Water Action to discuss my work on drinking water. (I also turned 41 on the 19th.) On Thursday, November 20th, I attended a meeting of the Minnesota Historical Society, whose state funds are allocated by a committee I serve on. On Friday, November 21st, I met with two St. Thomas students working on a class project on scrap tire recycling and met with different house researchers about potential legislation. In the afternoon, I attended a meeting of the Working Group on Ethnic Heritage & New Americans. We participated in a video conference with the Iowa Workforce Development agency and a similar Illinois agency about their efforts to integrate immigrants into their workforce.

Constituent contacts: Approximately two dozen constituents e-mailed me about the proposed Blaine airport expansion. One was neutral on the issue and two were in favor, and the rest were against it. Shoreview resident seeking an interview for a college paper; North Oaks resident and high school student seeking meeting about class project; Lino Lakes resident seeking information about how to start a recall petition for Anoka County Commissioners; district resident asking about stipulations for contractors on Twins stadium; Lino Lakes resident supporting get-tough policy on immigration; North Oaks resident about special education

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Blaine Airport Expansion Public Meeting

The Blaine Airport expansion issue has gotten a lot of attention during the last few days. This morning in Anoka, the county's airport committee (Commissioners LeDoux, Erhart, and West) recessed their meeting so that a public meeting could be held to get input from local residents.

That meeting will be December 2nd at 7:00 p.m. at Kingswood Church, 1264 109th Ave NE, Blaine (just west of Hwy 65). Representatives of Key Air (which operates the airport) and the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) will be there.

[11/21 note: This meeting has now been cancelled as Anoka County will not be acting on the resolution to support airport expansion.]

There were several dozen county residents in attendance this morning as well as numerous reporters.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Early November 2008

Blaine Airport Expansion: I just received word that Anoka County is considering an expansion of the Blaine Airport from 5,000 feet to 6,000 feet. About four years ago I was aware that an original expansion to 5,000 feet would allow planes to do "instrument landings," meaning that they could land without having the engine cranked up and therefore could reduce noise over my district in Lexington, Circle Pines, Lino Lakes, and possibly Shoreview. The expansion to 6,000 feet would allow more safety but would bump up the Blaine Airport up to "intermediate airport" status, which could allow more flights and larger planes flying over 53A. Minnesota Statutes 360.365 has a list of the aircraft that can fly into an intermediate airport: single engine or light to medium multiengine aircraft. Right now the airport can accommodate single engine or light multiengine planes.

[11/17 update: I have received a ton of e-mail from constituents in Circle Pines, Lino Lakes, Lexington, and Shoreview complaining about increased noise from flights just in the last year.]

Anoka County is considering a resolution that would support the expansion, but there hasn't been a whole lot of public information about it. However, on Tuesday, November 18th, Anoka County's airport committee and intergovernmental committees will be meeting to act on the resolution starting at 11:00 a.m. in the Anoka County Government Center. The legislature would have to act on this expansion as well but this would be a good opportunity for citizens to give their input. I will be attending the meeting, and would appreciate any input from district residents to pass along.

Park and ride update: The Met Council informs me that a park-and-ride at Highway 14 and 35W (in Lino Lakes just a few blocks east of Centerville) is likely to be designed in 2009 and then built in 2010 or 2011.

Shoreview to Minneapolis express bus to stay: Metro Transit reports that it will keep running the 261 express bus from Shoreview City Hall to Minneapolis three times a day in each direction. Metro Transit set up a demonstration route of the route last year by extending to route from Roseville City Hall to Shoreview. If there were more than 16 riders between Shoreview and Roseville, the route would stay. The ridership has been strong and steady, and the route is now permanent!

E-waste: There was a story on 60 Minutes on November 9th about how some electronic waste from the United States ends up poisoning communities in China. I'm working on some legislation that would help address this issue in Minnesota, but much of the responsibility and enforcement lies with the federal government. In another development, a non-profit group called the Electronics TakeBack Coalition just issued a report card on the major TV manufacturers on their recycling programs.

Conservation Rate Structure legislation follow-up: Legislation I authored last year required public water suppliers to create a conservation rate structure to promote conservation of our drinking water supply. The DNR has prepared a two-page primer for water authorities to better understand how the rates work.

Higher Education Veterans Programs: While at Century College in November, I found a helpful brochure and web site informing veterans, military personnel, and their families of their opportunites for higher education.

Schedule: Things have picked up since the election! On Thursday, November 6th, I spoke at the Recycling Association of Minnesota's annual conference about legislation related to solid waste and recycling. In the evening, the House DFL Caucus met in St. Paul and we elected Margaret Kelliher as Speaker and Tony Sertich as Majority Leader. On Monday, November 10th, I attended a Metropolitan Council District Dialogue in Maplewood, where Peter Bell gave an update on actions by the Met Council. Many city, county, and state elected officials attended. Later, I attended a meeting of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission in St. Paul. Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) is the organizer and I'm the DFLer on the committee. On Thursday, November 13th, I spoke to a group of canvassers at Clean Water Action in Minneapolis about recent drinking water issues at the Legislature. In the afternoon, I attended a Veterans' Day ceremony at Century College to help open a new veterans' center. My colleague Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake), who has been a member of the MN National Guard for several decades, gave the keynote address. Later in the afternoon, I attended a meeting in Circle Pines regarding the future opening of a county library in Lino Lakes, and then I stopped by a reception in North Oaks to welcome the new members of the city council. On Friday, November 14th, I participated in a meeting by the MPCA on product stewardship of beverage containers. The states of Wisconsin and Minnesota are engaging the beverage industry about how to increase recycling of cans and bottles. (Recycling cans in particular helps reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.)

During this period I have also been working with House Research staff to figure out what legislation I will be working on in 2009. Constituents and colleagues have been suggesting a ton of ideas of things to address where I might be able to help. I also managed to clean up my office so I can find stuff and be ready for the session.

Constituent contacts: Lino Lakes and Circle Pines residents about proposed Blaine Airport expansion; Shoreview resident asking about legislative plans to balance the budget for the 2010-2011 biennium; Shoreview resident about Congressional action on a federal lands issue; Shoreview resident asking for legislation prohibiting dog tethering (we all got about 200 identical e-mails on this from all over the state); Lino Lakes resident and Circle Pines resident supporting get-tough strategy for illegal immigration

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Results & Next Steps

The election brought a victory of more than 1,000 votes on Tuesday evening. Thanks to the voters for their support of my re-election! Big thanks also go to my campaign team of Tom McSteen, Matt & Jennifer Percy, Dawn Reckinger, Mike Spellman, and Judy Ohannesian. They and dozens of others did an incredible job. My opponent John Kappler also worked very hard (I can attest to how many doors he knocked!) and I enjoyed getting to know him during the campaign.

The legislative session will start Tuesday, January 6th. In the meantime, the House DFL Caucus will meet Thursday evening, November 6th, where we are likely to elect a Speaker and Majority Leader. We will also meet again in November and December to begin looking at our legislative strategy for 2009. Balancing the budget will be a major challenge with the economic downturn.

If you are interested in getting e-mail updates from me during the legislative session, you can sign up at

More to follow!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Immigration Mailing & Per Diem mailing

Saturday, November 1 brought a new mailer from the Freedom Club PAC talking about voting record about illegal immigration. Here's some context.

DREAM Act: In state tuition for students whose parents came here illegally

I support this provision because demographers tell us that the number of high school graduates is declining at a time when baby boomers are retiring. Businesses are concerned that there will not be enough college graduates to fill needed positions over the next two decades. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce also supported this position. The group ISAIAH has some other rationale for this legislation at

Sanctuary Cities

I voted for an amendment to allow local law enforcement to ask about immigration status at traffic stops in so-called sanctuary cities but I voted against an amendment to withhold local government aid unless law enforcement was required to ask about immigration status. The federal government rarely picks up people who are detained over their immigration status by local officers, so we end up picking up the tab as we clog up our courts enforcing federal law. Law enforcement agencies in Minneapolis and St. Paul have been against this legislation because it keeps otherwise law-abiding residents from assisting police in solving crimes.

Gas Tax Refund

An amendment was introduced to make undocumented immigrants ineligible for the $25 tax rebate that Minnesotans in the lowest income tax bracket can qualify for to offset the recent gas tax increase. Why would someone here illegally A) file a tax return to draw attention to themselves and B) push their luck with the authorities by applying for a $25 tax refund?

Photo ID to vote

In 2006, less than 20 people voted as non-citizens in Minnesota out of 3 million voters. A photo ID requirement would suppress many more votes than 20. I’ve got 34 constituents who are nuns who get around on Metro Mobility and don’t drive. They would have to get bussed to the courthouse and show a birth certificate to PAY for a photo ID just to vote. Election judges are already empowered to challenge a voter’s eligibility at the polls. The League of Women Voters has a very good explanation why requiring a photo ID at the polls is not a good idea at

Also see this Politico article about the myth of voter fraud:


Minnesota has prohibited the use of welfare benefits for immigrants who are here illegally. You have to provide a social security number anyway to get benefits, thus allowing increased protection against fraud. It should be noted that a staff member of Gov. Pawlenty's Human Services Department was recently indicted for welfare fraud when he funneled $1 million to a private account, which is just as heinous. Here is a summary of the national discussion:

Republican Party Mailing: There was another mailing late last week "How Much More Can You Afford?" with someone lighting a $100 bill. It mentions my vote in favor of the comprehensive transportation bill but also cites House Journal 4052 on a vote in favor of higher per diem and year-round housing for legislators. This is a little misleading. With this one exception, I have voted with the Republicans at every turn to allow the House as a whole to vote on the per diem increase. The House Rules Committee voted to increase it from $66 per day to $77 day without a floor vote. (My per diem is $35 per day on weekdays only while we are in session, one of the lowest in the legislature--and lower than that of any Republican.)

For housing for legislators--this only applies to legislators who live 50 miles or more from the Capitol and I didn't feel I had the knowledge to know whether or not the current housing allowance is the right number. The reason I voted in April 2007 in HJ4052 was because Rep. Steve Sviggum was trying to set a specific per diem rate in statute, and I have a problem with putting specific dollar figures into law--for example, we could LOWER per diem but we'd have to repeal the figure in Rep. Sviggum's proposed legislation. This is another case where the minority was trying to come up with all sorts of votes to use at election time.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Late October 2008

Schedule: On October 14-16, I participated in three candidate forums and attended a House DFL Caucus fundraising event. On Monday, October 20th, I visited a group of senior citizens in Shoreview and the Home of the Good Shepherd in North Oaks.

On Tuesday, October 21st, I visited South Metro Sort & Recycle in Shakopee for a demonstration of grinding equipment for post-consumer asphalt shingles. Asphalt manufacturers have been recycling post-industrial shingles into asphalt for roads at a rate of 5% for some years. Now they are working on using tear-off shingles from roofing companies. If we could recycle 156,000 tons of tear-off shingles in the metro area a year, it would save $12 million a year in road construction costs because shingles have 25% asphalt cement.

On Wednesday, October 22nd, I participated in a candidate forum at Island Lake Elementary School on education. In the evening, I attended a presentation at the Freshwater Society in Excelsior. The Freshwater Society just issued a great report, "Water is Life: Protecting a Critical Resource for Future Generations," about our groundwater supply. (See their report on-line.)

On Thursday, October 23rd, I attended a meeting of the Municipal Legislative Commission (MLC), where I received an award for my legislative work promoting property tax relief for suburban homeowners through the Property Tax Relief (PTR) program. (See picture at left with Mayor of Woodbury.) The MLC is a group of second-ring Twin Cities suburbs, including Shoreview. The Commissioner of the Department of Revenue came to talk about prospects for a budget deficit next year. The meeting was at the corporate headquarters of Great River Energy (GRE) in Maple Grove. The GRE building is a platinum LEED-certified building, which means that it has a lot of environmentally-friendly components. They use a rainwater cistern to collect water from the roof, then use it for flushing toilets. They also use water from a stormwater pond for watering the landscaping. The building uses 90% less water than comparable buildings. (See the link above for more details!)

Constituent contacts: Shoreview constituent concerned about data privacy for newborn DNA screening program at MN Department of Health; Lino Lakes resident about groundwater protection issues; Shoreview resident disagreeing with my St. Paul Pioneer Press endorsement; Lino Lakes resident asking what the Freedom Club PAC is; North Oaks and Shoreview residents asking for state action against renegade ATV riders; Circle Pines resident concerned about U of M's tuition plan for the next two years

Friday, October 17, 2008

Negative Mailing Fact Check #2

The Freedom Club PAC just sent out a second mailing this week suggesting that I would like to tax people out of their homes through property tax increases. The postcard cites four votes that support this contention.

Well, this is more bunk. The votes include two amendments offered by the Republican minority to a tax conformity bill (HF3201) final passage to HF3201 on March 3, 2008, and one amendment on the omnibus transportation bill (HF2800) on February 21, 2008.

So here's the deal on the votes cited in the mailing.

House Journal page 8099: Rep. Drazkowski introduced an amendment to HF3201 that would establish a property tax levy cap for seniors. House Journal page 8060 was an amendment from Rep. Buesgens that would impose levy limits on local governments. While these sound good, these amendment came on the fly on the floor and we were unable to receive any input from the public about its fiscal repercussions. We eventually put together other legislation that provides targeted relief to senior for property taxes. Indeed, I authored a bill in cooperation with the MN Senior Federation (HF4171) that would cap property taxes as a percentage of your income and a bill (HF4188) that would increase the amount of dollars for the Property Tax Refund (PTR) program--or the "circuit breaker" program. HF4188 ended up being part of the omnibus tax bill at the end of the session and included about $20 million. We also had levy limits in our final tax bill as well, and I voted for that bill. The overall tax conformity bill (House Journal page 8103) makes sure that we are coordinating our tax policy with federal tax law among other things, and it was a good bill. The tax conformity bill provided property tax exclusions for disabled veterans and it also included National Guard members in the group of people who can claim income tax deductions for out-of-state military service.

House Journal page 7863 was an amendment by Rep. Kohls on the omnibus transportation finance bill on February 21st. This is the big transportation bill that infuses necessary dollars into our roads, bridges, and transit system. The amendment would require that any new state dollars doing to local governments result in a dollar-for-dollar reduction in property taxes. The problem with this amendment (other than it was poorly written) is that our eventual legislation for transportation is helping property taxes GO DOWN in several places in our district. The city tax levy in 2009 in Circle Pines will GO DOWN by six percent due in part to the new transportation dollars going to cities, counties, and townships.

The mailing has a picture of someone hammering in a "foreclosed" sign in front a house. This is ironic, since I introduced legislation that the Governor signed to provide foreclosure protection and predatory lending protections for owners of manufactured homes (aka mobile homes).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Negative Mailings, Polling, and Independent Expenditures

By now, constituents may have received a negative mailing or two and perhaps some calls asking about candidates. I wanted to mention something about "independent expenditures."

According to Minnesota law, candidates usually cannot coordinate their activities with outside groups. You may have seen this kind of thing in the presidential and senate races, where some outfit sends a mailing or pays for a TV ad and they have a disclaimer at the end--such as "no candidate is responsible for the content of this ad." These groups, which include the political parties, raise their own money. My opponent, John Kappler, and I have talked about this briefly with each other we find these negative independent expenditures to be unhelpful. Both of us have volunteers from the community working hard trying to make the case for each candidate, and it is always a surprise to suddenly find a postcard from some outside group in our mailboxes.

One mailing just came out from the DFL called "Blind Obedience," suggesting that Republicans in the legislature do not have a mind of their own. There is a legitimate discussion to be had about how the House Republican Caucus treated its six members who voted to override the Governor's veto of the transportation bill. However, this was an action in the past. I think the tone of this mailing is pretty over the top and I hope that both political parties would avoid doing these kinds of negative mailings. In 2006 and 2008, I've been targeted by the House GOP Caucus and outside groups attacking me with mail and push polls, so I know what the experience is like. Both Mr. Kappler and I are interested in talking about issues and I hope that voters will avail themselves of information from our own literature, our web sites, voters' guides, and so on to make their choice on November 4th.

There are also so-called "push polls" going on, although the nastier ones don't seem to be happening in 53A. A push poll is where a caller might say, "Would you still vote for X if you knew that they did this awful thing?" They are clearly intending to bring down one candidate with a negative attack. A constituent complained of a call from the Sierra Club where they were doing "positive persuasion," where the caller was suggesting that if the voter was interested in the environment that he should vote for me. There was no attack against the opponent. Again, this is an independent expenditure and my campaign was unaware that these calls were taking place until the constituent brought it up. I don't find positive persuasion calls to be as objectionable as the negative attack push poll, because they tend to be positive.

Stay tuned for updates about other mailings coming out.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Early October 2008

Schedule: On Wednesday, October 1st, I met with staff at the MN Historical Society regarding historical immigration issues as part of my service on the Legislative Coordinating Commission Working Group on Ethnic Heritage and New Americans. In the afternoon, I met with representatives of Messerli & Kramer, a lobbying firm, about issue affecting suburban cities. On Thursday, October 2nd, I had an introductory meeting with the executive director of the White Bear Lake Chamber of Commerce, then attended a meeting at the MN Pollution Control Agency about an upcoming product stewardship study that I requested in legislation in 2008. In the evening, I participated in a candidate forum with my opponent on North Metro 15 cable TV. On Monday, October 6th, I participated in a press conference with Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congressman Jim Ramstad, where they talked about their bill to combat copper theft. The bill includes some of the same elements of my state metal theft bill that has led to numerous arrests. On Tuesday, October 7th, I attended a forum for north metro legislative candidates given by the MN Transportation Alliance in Blaine. On Thursday, October 9th, Senator Rummel and I attended a forum on transportation for senior citizens in Vadnais Heights. It was useful to hear about what the funding sources are for dial-a-ride and other bus services for the elderly. On Sunday, October 12th, my family and I attended an event given by ISAIAH (see link on the right) on social justice, civil rights, health care, and transportation issues. On Monday, October 13th, I attended a subcommittee of the Ethnic Heritage & New Americans working group.

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident about how the Clinton Administration created the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae crisis; Shoreview resident against 2005 law requiring 20% ethanol in gasoline; district resident asking about how to register to vote; several constituents pushing for better enforcement of ATV laws; two district residents upset about Wall Street bailout bill; North Oaks resident about legislation regarding donation of bodies to science

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Negative Mailing Fact Check #1

Senior citizens in District 53A just received a postcard with this information on it:

"...If it hadn't been for Representative Paul Gardner...

"Representative Paul Gardner voted AGAINST eliminating state income tax on Social Security benefits.

"He also voted AGAINST reducing the state income tax by one-half percent.

"Let's CUT Paul Gardner's income by sending him packing from District 53A."

Here's a quick fact check.

The facts: On May 5th, Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) introduced an amendment on the floor of the House (House Journal 11320) during debate of the Omnibus Tax Bill (HF3149) that would exempt Social Security benefits from the state income tax. It was never introduced as an individual bill. The expected budget shortfall created by this amendment would have been half a billion dollars in the next budget biennium, and Rep. Erickson had no plan for what part of the state budget would be cut as a result.

The second item was an amendment to the Omnibus Tax Bill (House Journal 11297) introduced by Rep. Mark Olson (I-Big Lake) on May 5th that proposed cutting all state income tax rates. Again, Rep. Olson had no plan for what part of the state budget would be cut as a result.

Background: The House Republicans regularly introduced dozens of amendments on the floor to major bills that they knew would not get passed, but they introduced them so that mail like this could be sent out at election time.

Who paid for the mailing: The Freedom Club PAC is a conservative political fund that solicits donations from some of Minnesota's wealthier residents.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Late September 2008

K-12 "Second Minnesota Miracle" Proposal: The media recently covered proposals for education reform by both the Governor and the chair of the House K-12 Education Finance Committee, Rep. Mindy Greiling. The Governor's efforts are focused on teacher compensation and recruitment, "empowering innovative school leaders," and an intervention program for 8th graders who are not doing well in reading and math. Rep. Greiling's proposal would significantly boost funding for K-12 schools. Both proposals have a lot of merit. If you see below ("What works for education"), providing mentoring for students in high school is very effective in increasing graduation rates. But you have to have the funding dollars behind these ideas to make them work. Another proven tool for improving graduation rates (again, see item below) is lower class sizes at all levels of K-12 education. Keeping class sizes low means having some more teachers in your school. To sum up, the Governor wants reform without any money, and Rep. Greiling wants to provide the dollars.

I attended a meeting of Rep. Greiling's committee in Woodbury on September 23rd in Woodbury to hear more details on her bill. I'm listing highlights that affect our suburban school districts.

1. Increases the basic per pupil revenue to districts from $5,124 to $7,500, and then would index future revenue to inflation according to the implicit price deflator. Some other pots of money that provide dollars now would be eliminated (Q-Comp, for example).
2. Treats all students as one "pupil." Currently elementary school students count as more than one pupil and high school students as less than one pupil.
3. Increases debt service equalization aid to districts. (This would help Centennial that has a lot of debt for school buildings.)
4. Allows changes to calculating funding formula for districts with declining enrollment. Disticts would be able to average their enrollment over three years. (This would help Mounds View.)
5. Create a location equity index for metro area schools. This would increase dollars for metro schools where the cost of living is higher.
6. Districts not making adequate progress can file a plan with the education commissioner for "innovation revenue."
7. The state would "buy back" up to $500 per pupil in property tax levies so your property taxes would go down.

Under this proposal, we'd see increases in funding for Centennial (23.5%), Mounds View (23.7%), and White Bear Lake (27.0%). The issue, of course, is where the money comes from. The bill would be about $1.7 billion, and we are projecting a deficit for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. While Greiling hasn't proposed a specific method of funding, she has mentioned increasing the income tax on the highest earners (e.g., $200,000 and above).

I would like to hear from constituents about their thoughts on this plan (including the funding). Several local education advocates tell me that the plan--on the spending side--needs some work.

What works for MN education? I see that Growth & Justice recently posted an interesting paper called "Investments in K-12 Education Minnesota: What Works." The "reforms" that seem to show results in increasing high school graduation rates in rank order include:
* reducing class sizes in elementary school for free lunch eligible students
* high school mentoring and monitoring
* high school reform
* reducing class sizes in elementary school for all students
* high school reform with career academy model
* increasing teacher salaries
* high school program monitoring behavior and academic success (from project for Latino students)

The study also quantifies the savings for society when more kids graduate from high school.

Environmental data on-line: I've spent a lot of time working on groundwater issues. I met recently with MPCA staff who gave me a demonstration of their Environmental Data Access system. In the case of groundwater data, you can find water quality data for many wells in the state. If you click on the link above, you can search by a variety of ways. I produced a map of wells that have pollution data for my legislative district. It's pretty speedy if you have broadband access.

Atrazine found in Snail Lake in Shoreview: The MPCA and the Department of Agriculture recently completed a study to research pesticides in Minnesota lakes. Turns out that the agencies found trace amounts of the herbicide atrazine in many lakes, including Snail Lake in Shoreview. It is being suggested that the atrazine is evaporating from agricultural areas, where it is applied to corn and soybeans, and falling through rain. The Star Tribune ran an article on the issue on September 22nd. Atrazine is listed as "present" in Snail Lake and you can see the report on-line (search on "Snail Lake" in the pdf document).

Lincoln Commission: Although it is not an official position yet, I've been asked to serve as the DFLer on the state's committee for the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) was appointed by the Governor to be Minnesota's official state representative to the national commission, and Rep. Urdahl asked me to join him for the local effort. Other state committee members include U of M historians Hy Berman and Ann Pflaum, former MN Historical Society director Russell Fridley, and Lynn Genter of the MN Council of Social Studies Teachers.

Cost to Minnesotans of the War in Iraq: Some of my colleagues, including the Speaker, held a press conference recently showing that the War in Iraq has cost $15.8 billion, or about the same as our annual budget. That's somewhere in the area of $3,150 per person if there are five million people in Minnesota.

E-waste exports: One of the bills I worked hard on in 2007 allows for free drop-off of your old electronic products like TVs and computers. One lingering issue that relies on federal action is the export of e-waste to other countries where the waste is not handled properly. We don't have as many problems with this as e-waste on the west and east coasts, but a recent General Accountability Office (GAO) report shows that the U.S. EPA is not enforcing the law on exporting this toxic material.

Visit to Paynesville: The MN Farmers Union has an "adopt-a-legislator" program where local member units invite urban and suburban legislators to their area to learn more about Minnesota agriculture. So on September 24th, I drove out to Paynesville on Hwy 23 in Stearns County to visit the Cenex Co-op, its director, a board member, and a representative of Western Co-op Transport Association from Montevideo. It was very instructive! The Farmers Union and the Farm Bureau are two of the major agricultural organizations in the state--the Farmers Union tends to be more pro-small farmer, and the Farm Bureau tends to be more pro-agri-business. We talked a lot about federal and state laws governing trucks and the general agricultural situation in greater MN.

Schedule: On Thursday, September 18th, I attended a meeting of the Legislative Coordinating Commission Working Group on Ethnic Heritage and New Americans. I'm the DFLer from the House on the working group and I head the subcommittee on Cultural Heritage. On Monday, September 22nd, I attended the first meeting of our state Lincoln Commission (see above) and then a press conference. In the afternoon, I attended an awards ceremony at Conservation Minnesota where legislators were recognized for their environmental efforts. (I'm among about 20 legislators who have a 100% rating with the organization.) On Tuesday, September 23rd, I met with MPCA staff (see above) and then visited Merrick Inc., a nonprofit in Vadnais Heights, to see their new solar panel array that provides half of their electrical needs. Merrick serves adults with developmental disabilities. Later in the day, I visited with staff at the U of M's Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) as part of my duties with the LCC Working Group on Ethnic Heritage and New Americans. Their collections take up quite a bit of the underground cavern storage areas in the bluff on the campus's west bank. In the evening, I attended the K-12 education finance committee in Woodbury (see above). On Wednesday, September 24th, I visited the Cenex co-op in Paynesville (see above). On Thursday, September 25th, I attended a summit for the Vadnais Lakes Area Water Management Organization, which works on surface water protection in several NE metro cities, including parts of Lino Lakes and North Oaks in my district, and even a few neighborhoods in Shoreview.

Monday, September 15, 2008

First Half of September 2008

Some useful resources: The non-partisan Minnesota Taxpayers Association (not to be confused with the Taxpayers League of MN, a decidedly conservative organization that participates in elections) sends us a bi-monthly newsletter outlining budget trends for the state. While I don't think you can get the newsletter on its web site, the MTA has a lot of useful information on-line.

Bio-businesses in our area: I received this from a House colleague recently.

"The BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota launched today BIOMAP, an interactive map that displays more than 2,000 unique bioscience capabilities including private sector, academic sector and public sector resources throughout the state of Minnesota.

"The tool allows you to search Minnesota by city, county or legislative district as well as by industry sector (medical device, pharma/biologics, animal health, renewable energy, food or bio materials) to see companies or institutions that fit your search criteria. The map includes address, a website link and a brief description."

Legislative Auditor releases several reports: The Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) just released several reports, including a special review of the DNR's activities related to the 2007 North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association Conference. The DNR (illegally it seems) raised funds for the conference using state resources, and we had a hearing on the issue in the Environmental Finance Committee during the first week of September. The auditor suggests that the state get tens of thousands of dollars back from the organization that organized the conference.

Governor's 21st Century Tax Reform Commission: This is a commission set up to change the business tax code, and it should report to the Governor by December 1st. There are public meeting notices and other information at the Department of Revenue web site. Chief among the concerns of the group is that sales taxes do not apply to services and Minnesota's economy has been shifting from goods to services in the last two decades. That has fiscal repercussions for the state treasury because sales tax receipts are likely to go down. One presentation on the web site shows tax reforms for businesses in other states. There is a lot of discussion of shifting from a corporate and business income tax rate and moving in the direction of a gross receipts tax (GRT). A GRT would be much lower than the income tax rate but would apply to a broader number of businesses. The Governor's goal is to make any changes "revenue-neutral," which means that the state would net the same amount of revenue as before.

Schedule: On Monday, September 8th, I attended a joint meeting of the House Environmental Finance Committee and the Senate Environment & Natural Budget Division. We heard testimony about the recent legislative auditor's special review about the DNR mentioned above. On Wednesday, September 10th, I met with several stakeholders at Region's Hospital concerned about anti-competitive behavior in the oncology industry. On Thursday, September 11th, I met in Circle Pines with representatives of Anoka County libraries and the cities of Lexington and Circle Pines about the transition from the Circle Pines library to one in Lino Lakes.

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident asking about the budget for 2009; Circle Pines resident recommending a fiscally conservative agenda for 2009

Friday, August 29, 2008

Rice Creek Trail Update

Anoka County Parks is now announcing that they have enough state and federal funding to complete part of the Rice Creek North Regional Trail in Lino Lakes. I had introduced bonding legislation in 2008 that would have provided about $2.1 million to match $1 million in federal matching funds. Unfortunately the Governor made a line-item veto of this legislation. However, Anoka County Parks worked long and hard to put some dollars together to complete part of it.

Here's what John VonDeLinde, Director of Anoka County Parks, had to say in a recent newsletter.

"For our readers who enjoy trails, I have some good news! After months of deliberations and meetings, final funding arrangements have been made for the first phase development of the Rice Creek North Regional Trail. The Metropolitan Council and Minnesota State Legislature have agreed to the use of $525,000 in Metropolitan Council grant funds (Environmental Trust Funds) for the project. These funds will match $1,050,000 in Federal Transportation Enhancements Funding. A total of $1,575,000 is now available for the project.

"The new regional trail will extend from the north end of Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve, at the site of the new YMCA and Lino Lakes Town Center development. It will extend south and westerly through the park reserve to an existing trail along Birch Street. From that point, it will drop southwesterly along the Rice Creek North Regional Trail Corridor, connecting with Baldwin Lake Park in Lino Lakes. The trail will be comprised of a 10’ wide bituminous path and several bridges and boardwalks. The overall length of this new segment is approximately three miles.

"This new trail will be an important connector in the linking of trails between Washington County and the Minneapolis park and trail system. This is the final “missing gap” in a 20 mile regional trail corridor. The second phase to complete the Rice Creek Trail is planned to occur in the next three to five years. Additional federal, state, and regional funding will be sought for that final two mile link. The future segment will extend from Baldwin Lake City Park, south and westerly to the intersection of County Road J and Lexington Avenue. In the interim, an alternative route on Ware Road and County Road J is being established under the current grant.

"When completed, the new trail is expected to generate about 400,000 annual uses. This is in addition to approximately 600,000 currently occurring on the existing Rice Creek North Regional Trail in Shoreview and Fridley. For people who like trails it will certainly be one of the most scenic and important trail facilities in the north metropolitan area.

"My sincere thanks are extended to the Minnesota State Legislature, LCCMR, Metropolitan Council, Transportation Advisory Board, and the staff at MnDOT and the Metropolitan Council for making this trail project a reality. Construction of the new trail should be underway by summer 2009 with completion in spring 2010..."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Latest Campaign Finance Reports Available

All candidates for the MN House of Representatives just filed a report of receipts and expenditures for activity through August 25th. You can view them on-line, including mine and those of my opponents, John Kappler and Mady Reiter. That way you can see who is funding the campaigns and what stuff we are spending money on. I believe another report is due a few weeks before the election. You can also view my 2006 and 2007 campaign finance reports by clicking on links to the right.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Department of Health, North Oaks & Vinyl Chloride

On Tuesday, August 26th, Senator Rummel and I as well as several other legislators attended a legislative briefing by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). Every four years, the MDH goes through a rulemaking process to update "health risk limits" (or HRLs-pronounced "hurls") for chemicals commonly found in polluted groundwater. One of the chemicals that MDH has been re-evaluating is vinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride is a chemical that has shown up in drinking water wells in North Oaks. The source is the closed Highway 96 landfill in White Bear Township.

In 2004, the MDH set the created a DRAFT HRL at 0.08 parts per billion (ppb), or 0.08 micrograms per liter. That meant that any well that had a concentration of vinyl chloride greater than 0.08 ppb would could be "red-tagged" as contaminated, leading to a variety of possible actions to resolve the issue, such as digging a deeper well, putting the home on municipal water supply, or treating the water. If a polluter could be identified and held liable, that polluter would usually be made to pay for the remediation by the MN Pollution Control Agency. Several wells in North Oaks were right at 0.08 ppb during the last few years. I need to point out that this draft HRL of 0.08 did not go into effect.

This year, after reviewing new data, the MDH is proposing a HRL for vinyl chloride at 0.2 ppb, which is less restrictive than the draft 0.08 ppb. My goal at the meeting on the 26th was to figure out why the standard is to be less restrictive. Had someone meddled with the data? Had the polluters convinced the agency to weaken the standard to avoid paying for pollution they had caused? Or was there some other reason? (I'm not a conspiracy theorist so I just offer those questions as possible ways to look at the situation.)

After much discussion, someone at MDH finally made a statement that made sense to me. Back in 2004, the MDH did not have conclusive data in their risk assessment process to determine what the real HRL was. With a lack of data, they chose to be more conservative in setting a "draft" HRL of 0.08 ppb until they could get some more data. What they said at the meeting is that they have the data now that they need to do an accurate risk assessment, and the assessment resulted in maintaining the existing HRL of 0.2 ppb.

The previous Health Commissioner got in hot water last year for withholding data about mesothelioma deaths in miners in Northern Minnesota, so the MDH seems to be bending over backwards to "show the math" of their work. So you can see just how MDH derived their new HRL on their web site. In fact there is so much information that it takes a while to get through it all.

If you have a well with vinyl chloride in it that is less concentrated than the new HRL, it probably doesn't make you feel much better. So I wanted to make sure interested readers know about public meetings coming up this fall where you can comment on the changes.

Public Meetings: The MDH will have a public availability session on September 15th from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. where the public can meet with staff on how these HRLs were determined. Having a meeting during the daytime is not particularly convenient for homeowners so I am going to request that they have some evening availability.

Other important dates: The MDH will print a notice of the proposed rule changes in the State Register on September 2nd. There will be a hearing in front of a Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on October 10th, followed by a comment/rebuttal period, a report by the ALJ to the Health Commissioner, and the Governor's approval.

Remaining issues: Vinyl chloride was one of several dozen chemicals whose HRLs are being updated. After this rulemaking process this fall, the MDH will be looking at 40-50 chemicals. There was concern expressed by one House committee chair at the meeting that the MDH needs to be reviewing a lot more chemicals every four years, and that inevitably leads to a question of resources, priorities, etc.

Late August 2008

My column attributed to wrong author: During the week of August 24th, the White Bear Press, the Quad Press, and the Shoreview Press printed my rotating legislative column on the retirement of the baby boomers but used the picture of my colleague Rep. Matt Dean for attribution. They will print a correction. Those are the breaks!

Schedule: On Friday, August 15th, several of my colleagues from the House had an impromptu meeting with Senator Klobuchar at the State Capitol. On Saturday, August 16th, my volunteers and I participated in the Blue Heron Days parade in Lino Lakes. In the afternoon I participated in the Business Expo at Lino Lakes City Hall. (The husband of one of my opponents was being particularly belligerent in front of our table. Tsk, tsk.) On Wednesday, August 20th, I visited the Lexington City Council to update them on legislative activities that affect the city. On Thursday, August 21st, I filmed a brief cable TV segment at the Capitol, and in the late afternoon I attended a retirement event for Milo Bennett, the Centennial Fire District chief. On Tuesday, August 26th, I attended a meeting of environmental advocates regarding rule revisions by the MN Department of Health on health risk limits (HRLs) for selected chemicals found in groundwater. In the afternoon, several House members, Senator Rummel and I attended a legislative briefing at the Department of Health about the rule revisions. (I'll do a separate post on that.)

Visitors: MPCA Commissioner Brad Moore and two other senior MPCA staff about some solid waste reports that I requested in legislation in 2008. We also talked about the Highway 96 landfill situation in North Oaks; Shoreview high school student about the legislature and elections

Constituent contacts: Lino Lakes resident about contracts for corrections officers; Shoreview resident asking about deductibility of disabled veterans benefits from property taxes; Shoreview resident upset about transit sales tax; Shoreview resident concerned about pesticide application laws; North Oaks resident about Health Department rule revisions for groundwater contamination; Circle Pines resident asking about home foreclosure protections passed in 2008

Friday, August 8, 2008

Early August 2008

Energy interview: About two weeks ago I was interviewed by Senate Media Services for their weekly Capitol Report show. It appears on Saturday nights at 9:00 p.m. so I know you all watched it! (Ha, ha.) My segment was eight minutes and it was part of a 30 minute show about the energy situation generally. You can watch it on-line.

Test your citizenship knowledge: As an amateur genealogist, I got a newsletter from the Ellis Island Foundation. They have a Citizenship Knowledge Test on-line. I thought you might want to try it out! There are five quizzes of 20 questions each. (I got 98 out of 100.)

Per diem
: The recent letter to the editor dialogue that I am having with one of my opponents, John Kappler, has raised the issue of per diem for legislators. A 2007 blog post discusses this in detail and you'll see that I have one of the lowest per diems in the state legislature.

Vanishing Graduates & Minnesota's Future: I received a DVD from the President of the Chamber of Commerce and the head of Growth & Justice about how we are going to be short of college graduates as the baby boomers retire. It was a 30-minute video produced with Twin Cities Public Television that you can watch on-line. There is a companion web site that has lots of background information. Currently only 25 percent of ninth graders in Minnesota will end up completing a college degree, and even that is one of the highest rates in the country.

Rice Creek Chain of Lakes: One of the hidden gems in the north metro (and my district) is the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve in Lino Lakes. My family just went camping for two nights there, and what a deal! We almost had the run of the place because there were very few people there. Anoka County does a great job maintaining the facility.

Schedule: On Tuesday, August 5th, I attended a National Night Out "lunch" at Scandia Shores, a senior apartment building in Shoreview. (I don't think that they stay up late enough to have an evening event!) I had the chance to meet quite a few of the residents, but I'm afraid I was not as popular as the fire department when their truck pulled up. Oh, well! I also met with a group of about five constituents from the Centennial School District to hear their thoughts about education policy and finance, and met with about half a dozen constituents about environmental issues.

On Friday, August 8th, I attended the second meeting of the Legislative Coordinating Commission Working Group on Ethnic Heritage & New Americans. I'm the House DFL Caucus member on the group and Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) is the Republican House Caucus member. The purpose of this group is to propose ways to fully integrate new Americans into Minnesota, including into the work force. All the data show that we will be desperately short of labor within a decade. Members of the business community, academia, and nonprofit organizations are members. We had a productive discussion about how to accomplish our mission, and I will be heading up a subcommittee dealing with ethnic heritage along with Senator Patricia Torres-Ray (originally from Columbia) and John Poupart of the American Indian Affairs Council. Immigration will be a major issue in this group. Dr. Bruce Corrie of Concordia University, a member of the working group, has his own blog on the issue of "ethnic trends" that I am reviewing now.

Constituent contacts: Shoreview constituent concerned about drunk drivers; two Shoreview constituents and Circle Pines resident asking for investigation of out-of-state welfare spending; Shoreview resident supporting commitment to education to help Minnesota compete globally; Shoreview resident asking that the federal government re-open the 9/11 Commission report; Lino Lakes about transferability of college credits from one MnSCU campus to another; Shoreview resident pleased with my per diem rate; Shoreview resident about veterans' benefits

Friday, August 1, 2008

Late July Wrap-Up

Now that the campaign season has begun, I've been going door-to-door talking to constituents. My literature includes this blog address, so if you are here for the first time, welcome! The content isn't quite as packed with detail as when we are in session at the Capitol, but hopefully it will give you an idea of what I'm working on.

My metal theft law works: KSTP did a two-minute story on July 30th on how the law I wrote to catch thieves of copper wire, pipe, etc. helped in a major arrest. Three people have been arrested for stealing $25,000 of wire from the state fairgrounds. But because their ID had to be recorded and their pictures taken, they got caught. Wahoo!

MSBA Certificate: The MN School Boards Association recently issued a "Certificate of Appreciation for 2008" for my work with Senator Betzold to revise the state's conflict of interest statutes for school boards. Readers may remember the flap about the new Mounds View School Board member who was discouraged from serving because her husband was the lead negotiator for the custodial union.

Postage to be returned: During 2007-2008, each House member has $2,952 in postage to use. (That's $1,968 in 2007 and $984 in 2008.) I've used $849.21 and have $2,102.79. State law prohibits legislators from sending out mass mailings from the Capitol once 60 days pass after the end of the legislative session. So I will probably use maybe another $30 for various constituent response letters before the end of the year, leaving more than $2,000 of taxpayer dollars to give back to the treasury.

Schedule: On Wednesday, July 16th, I was interviewed about energy with Senate Media Services for their weekly Capitol Report show. You can view the whole July 19th show (my part was eight minutes out of the half-hour) on-line.

On Thursday, July 17th, I spoke at a luncheon for St. Paul Chamber of Commerce members from Shoreview, North Oaks, Vadnais Heights, and Arden Hills. We spent a lot of time talking about electricity, transportation, the foreclosure crisis, and water.

On Wednesday, July 23rd, I visited a work site for the Minnesota Conservation Corps (MCC). About a dozen MCC members--ages 18-25--were doing a shoreline restoration on Locke Lake in Fridley. Locke Lake is part of Rice Creek and is very close to where the creek empties in to the Mississippi. Rice Creek also flows through my district and so a lot of stormwater run-off from our area ends up in Locke Lake and the river. The MCC gets part of its funding from the state, and the agency is able to leverage that funding from other agencies to get critical conservation projects done at a relatively low cost. I was in the Youth Conservation Corps in the National Park Service in 1983 and 1984 so I have an interest in the MCC.

During the weekend of July 25-27, I participated in the parade in the Slice of Shoreview. For the eighth year in a row, I've set up the recycling program at the Slice. (In 2000, Target dropped off several pallets of donated water bottles, and they all ended up in the garbage, so I volunteered the year after that to help collect cans, bottles, cardboard, and grease.) Shoreview resident and Roseville recycling coordinator Tim Pratt helps me out also. Each year we divert about six to seven cubic yards of cans and bottles and about the same amount of cardboard, and about 50 gallons of grease that gets made into animal feed.

I have also attended a few other events and interviews for my campaign, but this isn't my campaign blog. If you're interested in my campaign website, you can click here.

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident concerned about meatpacking regulations in Minnesota based on recent Postville, Iowa enforcement actions; Lino Lakes resident about the state of the nation generally; North Oaks resident against some health care reform positions; Blaine resident upset about Ironworld report on KSTP

Thursday, July 10, 2008

July 2008 Update

Shoreview Plaudits: Family Circle magazine just named Shoreview as one of the ten best towns for families in its latest issue! Check out the article on-line.

Northwest asking for better regulation on oil speculators: If you are a Northwest Airlines customer, you may have received an e-mail this week signed by a bunch of airline CEOs. I don't claim to be an expert on oil speculation, but since this came from a major industry I found it intriguing.

"An Open letter to All Airline Customers:

"Our country is facing a possible sharp economic downturn because of skyrocketing oil and fuel prices, but by pulling together, we can all do something to help now. Visit

"For airlines, ultra-expensive fuel means thousands of lost jobs and severe reductions in air service to both large and small communities. To the broader economy, oil prices mean slower activity and widespread economic pain. This pain can be alleviated, and that is why we are taking the extraordinary step of writing this joint letter to our customers.

"Since high oil prices are partly a response to normal market forces, the nation needs to focus on increased energy supplies and conservation. However, there is another side to this story because normal market forces are being dangerously amplified by poorly regulated market speculation.

"Twenty years ago, 21 percent of oil contracts were purchased by speculators who trade oil on paper with no intention of ever taking delivery. Today, oil speculators purchase 66 percent of all oil futures contracts, and that reflects just the transactions that are known. Speculators buy up large amounts of oil and then sell it to each other again and again. A barrel of oil may trade 20-plus times before it is delivered and used; the price goes up with each trade and consumers pick up the final tab. Some market experts estimate that current prices reflect as much as $30 to $60 per barrel in unnecessary speculative costs.

"Over seventy years ago, Congress established regulations to control excessive, largely unchecked market speculation and manipulation. However, over the past two decades, these regulatory limits have been weakened or removed. We believe that restoring and enforcing these limits, along with several other modest measures, will provide more disclosure, transparency and sound market oversight. Together, these reforms will help cool the over-heated oil market and permit the economy to prosper.

"The nation needs to pull together to reform the oil markets and solve this growing problem. We need your help. Get more information and contact Congress by visiting"

Schedule: On Wednesday, July 2nd, I filed for office at the Secretary of State's office. Just in case you are curious, it costs $100 to file to be on the ballot. Quite a few candidates make this a big deal, even bringing a photographer with them and issuing a nice fluffy press release. I will likely send in a notice of filing to our local papers but that's about it.

On Monday, July 7th, I met with the reporter for the Shoreview Press to discuss the previous legislative session. On Tuesday, July 8th, I attended the ribbon cutting for the new Lake Drive bridge over 35W. A bunch of us "cut" the ribbon with two-foot long plastic scissors. The bridge is complete but not all the lanes are open and the traffic lights are working yet. There is also some paving going on. My kids happened to come with me and they were under the impression that no traffic would go on the bridge until after the ribbon was cut. Instead, we did it under a tent on the side of the road. Ah, well. It should be noted that the state did NOT chip in any cash for the new bridge but did give some in-kind design assistance. With the new transportation bill in place, additional funding will be filtering down to cities and counties so that property taxes are not the sole source of funds for projects like this.

On Wednesday, July 9th, I met with staff at the MN Pollution Control Agency to make sure agency staff understood the intent of my legislation requesting ideas for how to increase recycling and composting in the state. The staff shared some interesting information about how the state could conserve a lot of petroleum by recycling asphalt shingles from roofs. More later!

On Friday, July 11th, I met with the groundwater planner for the Ramsey Conservation District (formerly the Ramsey County Soil & Water Conservation District). He is drafting the county groundwater plan during the next six months and asked for my input as the chair of the Drinking Water Source Protection Subcommittee in the House.

Constituent contacts: Lino Lakes resident asking about veterans' legislation; Lino Lakes resident with a recycling question; Shoreview resident about insurance issues--specifically STOLI (Stranger Originated Life Insurance); Shoreview resident asking about investigation into the Attorney General's office, dedicated sales tax constitutional amendment proposal, and 2009 budget plan; Circle Pines resident against highway ramp meters; Circle Pines resident asking whether or not asphalt shingles can be recycled; Shoreview resident concerned that some of my more conservative constituents contacting me could alter my thinking and thoughtfully offering the idea that "the quiet majority that put you into office is open minded, yet rational and discerning" (best e-mail I've gotten in a while!); Lino Lakes resident concerned about affordability of energy and in favor of nuclear power; North Oaks resident concerned about changes to cable TV offerings and regulation