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Last year, Gov. Dayton signed a bill into law that expands “the options counties have for their audits to save local governments and taxpayers money, as well as expedite the audit process.” This afternoon, the AP is reporting that Gov. Dayton “supports his state auditor’s lawsuit” challenging the law he just signed, saying that “the measure passed last year was an unwise breach into Otto’s constitutional duties.”

I can’t wait to hear Gov. Dayton explain which part of the state Constitution the new law violates. There are 14 articles in Minnesota’s Constitution. The articles relating to the different branches of government are Article IV, which deals with the Legislative department, Article V, which deals with the Executive department and Article VI, which deals with the Judiciary. Article V is the article that deals with the Office of State Auditor. There are 7 sections in Article V. Section 1 deals with “Executive officers.” Article V, Sec. 1 states “The executive department consists of a governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, auditor, and attorney general, who shall be chosen by the electors of the state. The governor and lieutenant governor shall be chosen jointly by a single vote applying to both offices in a manner prescribed by law. [Amended, November 3, 1998]”

Section 2 deals with “term of governor and lieutenant governor; qualifications”. Section 3 deals with the “powers and duties of governor”. Section 4 deals with the “terms and salaries of executive officers”. Nowhere in Article V, Section 1 does it say how often audits have to be done, who is authorized to audit local units of government or whether the state auditor must be a CPA. Each of those specifics is defined by Minnesota state statutes.

As I said earlier, Otto’s audit doesn’t rise to the level of frivolous. Otto’s lawsuit is likely based on the fact that she’s fighting to preserve public employee union (PEU) jobs. The minute that counties and other local units of government can get their audits done faster and cheaper, the PEUs will be tossed aside like scrap metal. I don’t have documentation that AFSCME or MAPE or whichever union represents the people working in the Office of State Auditor, aka OSA, is pressuring Gov. Dayton and Ms. Otto but it’s the only explanation that makes sense.

Why else would Otto care whether she’s doing the audit or whether a private CPA is auditing a city or school district?

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Rebecca Otto has been threatening to file a lawsuit against a bill signed into law by Gov. Dayton. Apparently, Ms. Otto isn’t too bright in terms of the law and Minnesota’s Constitution. Article V of Minnesota’s Constitution talks about the executive branch of state government. Specifically, it says “The executive department consists of a governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, auditor, and attorney general, who shall be chosen by the electors of the state. The governor and lieutenant governor shall be chosen jointly by a single vote applying to both offices in a manner prescribed by law.”

Nowhere in Article V, Section 1 does it outline the duties of the State Auditor. That’s properly left up to the legislature and governor to determine through state statutes. If the court sides with Ms. Otto, it will be clear proof that the DFL has turned them into a super-legislative body.

Rep. Sarah Anderson, the chair of the House State Government Finance Committee, issued a statement, saying “Just one day after the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor’s report was released on county audits which definitively stated that it is within the legislature’s power to define the duties and authority of the Office of the State Auditor, State Auditor Rebecca Otto has decided to waste taxpayer dollars to file a frivolous lawsuit against the State of Minnesota and a select group of counties,” said Rep. Anderson. “The legislature acted in a bipartisan manner last session to expand the options counties have for their audits to save local governments and taxpayers money, as well as expedite the audit process. This lawsuit has no merit, and I am disappointed it will come at the expense of hardworking Minnesota taxpayers.”

This is important:

On February 3, 2016, the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor released their report on county audits done by the OSA. Here are several key highlights from that report:

The Minnesota State Legislature has always defined the duties and authority of the State Auditor

Jim Nobles is a serious man. When he says that the legislature “has always defined the duties of the State Auditor”, it’s because he’s thoroughly researched the Constitution and state statutes. From a legal standpoint, Nobles’ research is probably air tight. Then there’s this:

  1. 34 percent of counties stated they were not satisfied with the cost of OSA audits
  2. The 2015 law change allows for price competition while still giving the OSA significant authority to continue to ensure that all audits meet certain standards and to hold counties accountable in how they spend public dollars
  3. 32 percent of counties said that audits done by OSA were not timely, and many expressed frustrations that the reports came too late to be useful in saving taxpayer dollars for their annual budget process

That’s poison from a political standpoint. It just isn’t surprising.

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It isn’t shocking to find out that Gov. Dayton supports another middle class tax increase. When Gov. Dayton first ran for governor, he campaigned on making Minnesota’s’ tax system more progressive. It’s a promise he kept for the first half of his first term, thanks mostly to Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

In December, the budget forecast showed Minnesota with a $1,200,000,000 surplus. When that surplus was announced, Gov. Dayton said that the DFL’s proposed gas tax increase was dead. This article reports that Gov. Dayton hasn’t given up on a gas tax increase. Gov. Dayton insists that this isn’t a flip-flop. Instead, Gov. Dayton said that his gas tax statement was “his political assessment, not his preference.”

That’s actually believable. While it’s true that Gov. Dayton wanted to make Minnesota’s tax system more progressive, that didn’t mean he wouldn’t support regressive tax increases. It just meant that the progressive tax increases needed to be big to offset the regressive tax increases.

Once Gov. Dayton got DFL majorities to work with in 2013 and 2014, he instituted major income tax increases, instituted, temporarily, major sales tax increases and major property tax increases. Though the DFL will insist that their increased LGA payments brought property tax relief, it’s a sham. The truth is that it just slowed the speed that property taxes increased in most cities. That’s before talking about the huge property tax increases inflicted on taxpayers through property tax increases for education levies.

The truth is that Gov. Dayton and the DFL love regressive tax increases as long as they’re mixed in with lots of progressive tax increases. When Gov. Dayton said the DFL’s proposed gas tax increase was dead, I never thought he meant it. I thought that he recognized the toxic nature of a gas tax increase heading into an election. I still think that a gas tax increase is toxic to DFL legislators in swing districts.

While Democrats living in safe districts remain willing to vote for a gas tax increase, it’s highly doubtful that swing district DFL legislators will be willing to cut their own throats by voting for a gas tax increase.

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Anyone who’s read LFR the last 5 years knows I don’t have any respect for Paul Thissen. He’s one of the most partisan political hacks in Minnesota. His contact with the truth is tangential on his best days, nonexistent on most days. For years, Thissen has insisted that Republicans are interested in providing “special treatment to big Twin Cities and multinational corporations.” That’s an outright lie. It isn’t inaccurate. It isn’t a matter open for discussion.

It’s an outright lie. Rep. Thissen knows that it’s a lie. Worst, Rep. Thissen doesn’t mind telling that outright lie. Last May, I wrote this article about Gov. Dayton’s shutdown notice announcement. At the time, Speaker Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Bakk had worked out a compromise budget. Gov. Dayton and Rep. Thissen objected to the bill in an attempt to kill the bipartisan bill.

Gov. Dayton and Rep. Thissen both complained that the Tax Bill would “provide tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.” I contacted Greg Davids, the Chairman of the House Taxes Committee, for a statement on those statements. Here’s what he said:

My bill does not do that. Eighty percent goes to individuals. Tax relief is for the middle class…My tax bill is tax relief for the poor and middle class.

I read Davids’ tax bill. His characterization of the bill is accurate. Rep. Thissen’s characterization isn’t. Unfortunately for Minnesotans thirsting for the truth, Rep. Thissen’s lies don’t stop there:

Thissen said the 2015 session was a “monumental flop for Greater Minnesota” after the House Republican majority failed to tackle important issues for greater Minnesota such as transportation, broadband infrastructure, and rural property tax relief. He said the “Greater Minnesota for All” agenda is focused on completing the unfinished business of the 2015 session.

First, the DFL played obstructionist with transportation. They said no to the Republicans’ transportation bill that would’ve directed sales tax revenues from rental cars, auto repairs and vehicle leases to a stability fund. That fund would’ve been used to fix Minnesota’s roads and bridges. The DFL didn’t want that because they wanted a gas tax increase and additional funding for transit in outstate Minnesota. The need for transit in outstate Minnesota is less than important. It’s virtually nonexistent.

Next, the DFL’s ‘investments’ in LGA and education from the 2013 budget when there was a DFL governor and DFL majorities in the House and Senate sent property taxes through the roof. Rep. Thissen bragged about the DFL’s “historic investment in education.” Despite that historic investment and the paying off of school shifts, school districts across the state enacted huge property tax increases. The most modest increase was St. Cloud’s increase of 14.75%. The biggest property tax increase that I heard about was Princeton’s 25.16% increase. That’s relatively modest considering the fact that Princeton initially wanted to raise property taxes 33.87%.

The truth is that Dayton, Thissen and the DFL love raising taxes. Dayton, Thissen and the DFL love spending those tax increases on education because they know that the vast majority of that money will go to Education Minnesota, then into DFL campaign coffers.

Rep. Thissen, keep your grubby little fingers off the taxpayers’ hard-earned money. Robbing the taxpayers to pay off Education Minnesota isn’t ok. It’s disgusting and it’s gotta stop ASAP.

Apparently, Gov. Dayton thinks that legislatures can pass laws that override the U.S. Constitution. This AP article says that Gov. Dayton “is urging legislators to ban gun sales to people on terrorism watch lists.” Notice that there’s been a subtle shift from Hillary’s speech about the nexus between terrorism and the national no-fly list.

The article continues, saying that Gov. Dayton “concluded he doesn’t have the authority to restrict those sales on his own.” He’s right. He doesn’t have that authority. Instead, he wants “the Legislature to pass such a law”, adding that “people who aren’t allowed to board airplanes shouldn’t be able to purchase guns.”

That law would never be enforced because the judiciary would halt enforcement in a New York minute. One of the people on the no-fly list was the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Dan Cotton, (R-AR), said that Sen. Kennedy “was on the list and couldn’t get off for weeks, having his flights disrupted time after time.”

If Minnesota passed a law that prevented people on the no-fly list from buying guns, they’d pass legislation that violates a person’s civil rights. That’s unacceptable because it’s unconstitutional.

Gov. Dayton swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. Stripping a person of their constitutional rights without due process is a direct violation of that oath.

The best news from today’s budget forecast, other than the fact that there’s a major surplus, is that Gov. Dayton admitted that a gas tax increase is dead for the upcoming session. That might’ve been the most painful statement he’s made as governor.

That all but officially ends Move Minnesota’s gas tax increase campaign. I wrote this post to highlight the features of House Transportation Committee Chairman Tim Kelly’s plan. Chairman Kelly’s plan invests heavily in roads and bridges without diverting funds to transit. The reason why Move Minnesota opposed Chairman Kelly’s bill is because he didn’t raise taxes and because he doesn’t put a high priority on ‘investing’ in transit.

Chairman Kelly wrote this op-ed to highlight his proposal. A big key to the plan is investing “$7 billion into needed road and bridge repair without raising taxes.” Chairman Kelly’s plan repurposes “revenue that is already being collected from existing sales taxes on auto parts, the Motor Vehicle Lease sales tax, the rental vehicle tax and the sales tax on rental vehicles.” Currently, that money goes into the general fund.

As I said last spring, why should taxes that are imposed on rental vehicles and leasing motor vehicles go into the general fund?

Chairman Kelly’s plan creates a “Transportation Stability Fund.” The TSF will “not only provide new money for roads and bridges statewide, but also for small city roads, bus services in Greater Minnesota, suburban county highways and metro area capital improvements.”

This is what Gov. Dayton and the DFL were upset about:

In addition to the dedicated funds provided by the Transportation Stability Fund, the proposal would also utilize $1.3 billion in Trunk Highway bonds, $1.2 billion from realigning Minnesota Department of Transportation resources, $1.05 billion in General Obligation bonds, and $228 million in General Funds.

According to Paul Thissen, Chairman Kelly’s plan stole money from schools and other DFL priorities. That’s interesting considering the fact that Thissen insisted that the DFL had made an historic investment in education and paid back the school shifts.

At what point does Rep. Thissen think Minnesota’s middle class is overtaxed? For that matter, does Rep. Thissen think that Minnesota’s middle class is overtaxed?

The good news is that the DFL’s dreams of raising the gas tax is over.

Gov. Dayton, Sen. Bakk and the DFL in general are upset that Republicans want to include long-term relief for the Iron Range in a special session. The DFL insists that the time to deal with that is during a regular session. Their problem is that Sen. Bakk wants to use the special session to address challenges facing the black community in Minnesota.

Gov. Dayton agrees with Sen. Bakk on that, saying “Sen. Bakk rightly expressed the urgency of the challenges facing communities of color in Minnesota. I thank Sen. Bakk and his caucus for their leadership. I agree that any special session concerning the economic hardships of steelworkers on the Iron Range should also begin to address the serious economic disparities facing black Minnesotans.”

The article says that “Jeffrey Hayden, who is one of three black state lawmakers, says the Legislature could provide job training grants for minority workers or start-up money for black entrepreneurs. The AP says it could also provide incentives to encourage businesses to hire minority employees.”

By definition, that means the DFL’s plans for addressing “challenges facing communities of color” is old-fashioned throwing money at a valued special interest group without fixing the underlying problem. It’s the DFL’s version of saying ‘here’s some money. Vote for us, then go away.’

Gov. Dayton and the DFL say that special sessions shouldn’t be about working out long-term solutions for economically-depressed parts of the state. Republicans should say that special sessions shouldn’t include spending money on the DFL’s special interest allies.

After the ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris, some thoughtful people from both parties but led by Republicans, proposed pausing the importation of Syrian refugees. They suggested that because the vetting process of Syrian refugees isn’t reliable. That isn’t just Republicans’ opinion. It’s an opinion they share with James Comey, the director of the FBI. During testimony to Congress, he said that vetting Syrian refugees was all but impossible.

After that, President Obama announced that he wouldn’t pause the program, saying that not accepting these refugees was un-American. It isn’t surprising that Gov. Dayton is repeating President Obama’s line. In an interview with MPR’s Kerri Miller, Gov. Dayton said “the State Department and Department of Homeland Security have an extensive vetting process in place.”

According to Director Comey, that’s misinformation. In his testimony, Director Comey said that the databases they need to vet people either doesn’t exist or is highly unreliable. DHS and the State Department can say whatever they want but it doesn’t mean anything if the vetting infrastructure doesn’t exist or isn’t reliable.

Gov. Dayton later said “I think there should be an enhanced level of vetting and security for Syrian refugees or others that come from places which have been sources of terrorism” before saying “having been on the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security, there’s far more that’s actually undertaken.”

Has Sen. Dayton gotten briefed lately on the state of identification databases in Syria lately? If he hasn’t, how would he know that the vetting infrastructure is reliable? Is he just trusting President Obama? If that’s the case, would he trust a Republican president the same way in the same circumstances?

Finally, Gov. Dayton said “People who are fleeing terrorism in other countries, people with families with children in their arms — to tell them they can’t come into this country and have a future is just un-American.” Let’s explain this to Gov. Dayton through this picture:

I’d love to see whether Gov. Dayton would accept that taste-testing challenge.

Lots of people, including some journalists, think that Sen. Bakk is pro-mining. He might be but there’s a respectable case that can be made that he’s a tepid supporter of mining. Brian Bakst’s article says that “Bakk is a leading legislative proponent of the PolyMet copper-nickel mine.” Look at what he’s done to push for making PolyMet a reality. Better yet, let’s see what Sen. Bakk hasn’t done to make PolyMet a reality.

Let’s start by determining which side Sen. Bakk is on. Bakk said “I just want to take as long as it systematically takes in order to get those permits awarded. And I should want it expedited more than anybody else.” That’s a weasel-word quote. Let’s be clear. Sen. Bakk hasn’t lifted a finger to streamline the permitting process. Likewise, Sen. Bakk hasn’t criticized Gov. Dayton for proposing another review of PolyMet, this time by the Minnesota Department of Health. Thus far, the MPCA and the DNR have required environmental impact studies. Then special interests have requested a programmatic environmental impact statement. Now, they’re pushing for the MDH to do another EIS, supposedly to determine whether PolyMet would cause any health issues.

What’s really happening is that environmental activists are using the current regulatory system to delay the building of PolyMet. Then there’s this insane statement:

[Bakk] said any actual or perceived shortcuts “could potentially weaken the state’s position in a lawsuit.” Environmental groups, who are wary of the new kind of mining, have signaled they’ll explore litigation if permits are granted.

That strains credibility. Environmental activists have their lawsuits ready to file. This isn’t a case of them waiting to see how things go before determining whether to file a lawsuit. It’s a matter of waiting for the most opportune time to file their lawsuit. I’d be surprised if they don’t have the lawsuits written. Likewise, I’d be surprised if other like-minded organizations don’t already have their friend of the court briefs written.

Why isn’t regulatory reform a priority for the DFL? This isn’t about whether these projects will get reviewed. It’s a matter of whether they’ll get reviewed into oblivion. Reviewing PolyMet for 10 years isn’t justice. It isn’t being thorough. It’s attrition through regulation and litigation. Sen. Bakk has essentially defended an unjust status quo system.

Defending a system that favors the special interests over hard-working blue collar workers isn’t justice. It’s the epitome of injustice.

Saying that Sen. Bakk is a pro-mining advocate is questionable. His inactions say otherwise.

Tonight, I was stunned and disgusted when Sen. Bakk told the Almanac Roundtable panel what he hoped would come from the possible special session. I was especially startled when Sen. Bakk said “I lived through the 1981 downturn on the Range when waves and waves and waves of Iron Rangers moved to the northern suburbs and had to settle there when most of the mines had to shut down. We’re on the cusp of this again this time and I think that the state coming to their aid and giving them extended unemployment benefits, to give those families some time to make some decisions and maybe get a little closer to see if our federal government will act as some of this unfairly traded steel is coming into this country just to build a bridge for those families because once they run out of unemployment, they’re in a situation of probably having to relocate their families.”

There wasn’t anything in his statement that talked about rebuilding the Iron Range economy. There wasn’t anything in his statement that talked about turning the Iron Range’s economic slide around. His sole focus was on giving families more time to relocate out of his district and Sen. Tomassoni’s district.

The Republican panelists tonight were Sen. David Hann and House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin. The DFL panelists were Sen. Bakk and Rep. Thissen. When Majority Leader Peppin talked about finding a long-term solution to the Iron Range’s economic problems, House Minority Leader Thissen said that that isn’t what special sessions should be about, that that’s what regular sessions should be about.

It’s beyond ironic that Rep. Thissen, Sen. Bakk, Gov. Dayton and the DFL legislature didn’t lift a finger to provide a long-term solution for the Iron Range when there were DFL majorities in the House and Senate and a DFL governor. It’s almost as if the Iron Range was an afterthought, something to worry about only during election years.

When Majority Leader Peppin talked about Gov. Dayton ordering another environmental review, this time involving the Minnesota Department of Health, and cutting through the red tape, Sen. Bakk criticized her, saying that taking a “shortcut” would hurt them when the inevitable lawsuits came. Sen. Bakk didn’t consider the possibility of transforming Minnesota’s environmental review process so that the review is thorough but that it doesn’t last 10-15 years to complete.

This is proof that the DFL’s top priorities are appeasing the environmental activist obstructionists, growing government and appeasing the Metro DFL. They haven’t proven that they care about Iron Range families. Sen. Bakk admitted as much.

I wrote here that the poverty rate is 18% in Hibbing and 24.1% in Virginia. To have Sen. Bakk essentially give up on a once-prosperous region is beyond sad. It’s disgusting.