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In the first 4 parts of this series (found here, here, here and here), I focused on different facets of the inadequacies of the Dayton-Rothman Commerce Department. I categorized each of the shortcomings and culprits. Most importantly, I identified the opportunities that the Dayton-Rothman Commerce Department missed and why.

This article will pull everything together so we can put together a less hostile, more business-friendly set of policies that doesn’t sacrifice the environment. First, we’ll need to streamline the regulatory review process so hostile environmental activists don’t have multiple opportunities to throttle key infrastructure projects. Whether we’re talking about killing the Sandpiper Pipeline project, the constant attempts by the Sierra Club, Conservation Minnesota and Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness to kill both the Twin Metals and the PolyMet projects or the Public Utilities Commission and the Dayton-Rothman Commerce Department, it’s clear that the DFL is openly hostile to major infrastructure projects.

It’s long past time to get the PUC out of the public safety/transportation business. Similarly, it’s time to get the Commerce Department out of the environmental regulatory industry. Public safety and transportation belong in MnDOT’s purview, not the PUC’s. Environmental regulations need to be significantly streamlined, then shipped over to the DNR. There should be a period for fact-finding and public comment. There should be the submitting and approval/disapproval of an Environmental Impact Statement and the submitting and approval/disapproval of an Economic Impact Statement.

Further, laws should be changed so that there’s no longer a requirement to submit an application for a “certificate of need.” In effect, that’s a bureaucratic regulatory veto of major infrastructure projects. That isn’t acceptable. There should be a time limit placed on the bureaucrats, too. They should have to accept or reject applications within a reasonable period of time. That’s because regulators have sometimes used delaying tactics to throttle projects without leaving a paper trail. It’s also been used to deny companies the right to appeal rulings. (If there isn’t a ruling, there isn’t an appeal.)

Third, streamlining the review process limits the opportunities for environmental activists to kill projects like those mentioned above. There’s a reason why it’s called the Commerce Department, not the Department of Endless Delays and Excessive Costs, which is what it’s become. Eliminating the PUC’s oversight responsibilities, especially in terms of approving certificates of need, will eliminate the impact that environmental activists serving on that Board can have in killing or at least delaying major infrastructure projects.

Fourth, it’s important that we bring clarity and consistency to this state’s regulatory regime. The system Minnesota has now breeds uncertainty. That steals jobs from Minnesota because companies attempt to avoid Minnesota entirely whenever possible. While we want to preserve our lakes, rivers and streams, we want to preserve our middle class, too. The environment shouldn’t be put on a pedestal while communities die thanks to a dying middle class.

I’ve seen too often how once-proud parts of Minnesota that have a heavy regulatory burden have seen their middle class essentially disappear. Cities like Virginia and Eveleth come to mind. It’s immoral to give a Twin Cities agency the authority to kill Iron Range communities. That’s literally what’s happening right now.

For the last 7 years, Gov. Dayton has run an administration that’s of, by and for the environmental activist wing of the DFL. If you work in a construction union, you haven’t had a great run. That isn’t right. People who work hard and play by the rules should be able to put a roof over their family’s head, set money aside for their kids’ college education and save for their retirement. For far too many people, that hasn’t happened recently.

The next Republican governor should implement these changes ASAP. It’s time to destroy the Dayton ‘Hostile to business’ sign and replace it with an ‘Open for business’ sign. It’s time to get Minnesota government working for everyone once again.

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This op-ed is a fantastic illustration of what DFL regulatory corruption looks like. Every voter in Minnesota should understand what’s happening by DFL special interest groups in the hope of killing mining.

In the op-ed, Steve Giorgi, the executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities & Schools, aka RAMS, wrote “Commissioner John Linc Stine and his staff at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announced this week that they will commence with rulemaking hearings across the state on the new proposed rules for limits on Sulfate standards to protect wild rice.” Later in the op-ed, Giorgi wrote “During the last legislative session, Rep. Rob Ecklund was successful in passing legislation that delayed the implementation of any new wild rice/sulfate standards until January of 2019, allowing the MPCA and all Minnesotans to get the results of a study being conducted on the cost implications of a new standard and enforcement of that standard.”

This is what a corrupt regulatory system looks like. The business getting regulated has no assurance that they’ll get the required permits if they follow the stated procedures. (Whatever happened to Bill Clinton’s saying that “if you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll be rewarded with a good life for yourself and a better chance for your children“?) Based on the Dayton administration’s actions, the hard-working people of the Iron Range will get shafted even if they work hard and play by the rules. Then there’s this:

Finding funding for $5 to $10 million dollar treatment plant expansions, along with increased annual operating costs, and then the nightmare of trying to dispose of the brine that is produced by the reverse osmosis treatment, will put most small communities into bankruptcy.

At what point will this DFL administration admit that the regulations they’re thinking about will bankrupt the state? The law was passed and signed into law. PolyMet will be forced by law into playing by the rules. Unless the metro DFL wants to just admit that they want to stop mining altogether, which they’ll deny in public but admit to in private, this regulatory system needs to be scrapped.

I’m not talking about abolishing all regulations. I’m advocating for regulations that protect the water without buying the special interests’ BS. This video is intended to present the MPCA, the regulators on the wild rice standards, as reasonable and business-friendly: That’s intentional. The key difference between the Grede project and the wild rice standards is that the special interests don’t care about Grede. They’re focused on shutting down mining.

It’s indisputable that the metro DFL, especially politicians like John Marty and Al Franken, want to prevent new mining projects from getting permitted. It’s time to throw out the current regulatory system and replace it with a system that’s both business-friendly and that protects the environment. There’s no disputing the fact that the current system is hostile to both businesses and rural Minnesota.

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Friday night during the Almanac Roundtable segment, DFL activist Abou Amara insisted that the legislature had frequently reformed the Met Council. When I heard that, I replayed that part of the segment (I always DVR it) to make sure I heard it correctly. Indeed I’d heard it correctly. Simply put, Amara’s contribution to that part of the roundtable was BS. The legislature has changed the Met Council’s responsibilities frequently but it hasn’t reformed it.

Let’s think of it this way. Each legislator, each city councilmember, each county commissioner and each school board member have hundreds, if not thousands of constituents. The Met Council has a single constituent — the governor. They don’t have to listen to members of the metro city councils, the Hennepin County commissioners and they especially don’t have to listen to the residents of the 7-county metro area. If they decide to ignore the city council, it doesn’t matter as long as they do what their constituent wants them to do.

Another part of Amara’s argument to keep the Met Council around is because there’s a need for long-term planning. That’s a fair point but it doesn’t prove that the Met Council is needed to accomplish that task. In fact, it’s proof that it isn’t needed. Governing bodies that aren’t accountable to people shouldn’t have any authority. The Met Council under Gov. Dayton is a patronage position.

Kathy Kersten’s column nails it in terms of the Met Council’s mentality:

“The people designing your city don’t care what you want.” That’s how forbes.com columnist Joel Kotkin sums up the mentality of today’s so-called “smart growth” urban planners. Here in the Twin Cities, we have a perfect example of what Kotkin is warning about: “Thrive MSP 2040,” the Metropolitan Council’s 30-year development framework for our seven-county metro area.

Here’s something else worth thinking about when thinking whether the Met Council needs a transformation. First, let’s start by noticing that Amara thinks we need to keep long-term planning out of the hands of “people who face election once every 2 or 4 years.” Question: where does Amara think we’d find these long-term planners? Are they ‘experts’ in their field? If they’re experts in their field, would that lead them to not listen to the residents of the seven-county metro? Would they only listen to like-minded advocates and lobbyists?

That’s what’s happening now. The Met Council isn’t listening to people in Prior Lake, Eden Prairie, Maplewood, Woodbury, Plymouth, et al. They have the authority to raise taxes. They don’t face the voters. Ever. That’s the worst possible system imaginable.

The truth is that Abou Amara isn’t telling the truth. The Met Council hasn’t undergone positive change except if you think mission creep is positive change. The Republican gubernatorial candidate that puts together a thoughtful plan that puts the people in charge of the Council will have a positive platform to tout to voters. It’s time to straighten this corrupt system out.

After reading this article, it’s clear that the DFL’s regulatory system is screwed up almost beyond fixing. The only way Minnesota’s regulatory system can be fixed is if Republicans have majorities in the House and Senate and there’s a Republican governor. (Hopefully, that’ll happen in 2018.)

The reason for writing this is because Minnesota Power has decided to build a 550-megawatt natural gas power plant in Superior, WI. Officially, Julie Pierce, Minnesota Power vice president of strategy and planning, said that the reason for this was “It’s really about giving customers affordable, reliable, less carbon-intensive energy. What we’re doing with this is bringing in flexible generation … to back us up.” The real reason for this decision is to avoid Minnesota’s regulatory system, starting with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

According to the article, the power plant will be called the “Nemadji Trail Energy Center.” Further, “Minnesota Power will split the cost and ownership of the natural gas plant with Dairyland Power Cooperative.” Finally, the “550-megawatt plant, to be located near the Calumet refinery, will employ up to 25 people long-term.”

Speaker Kurt Daudt issued this statement after getting the news:

Republicans want Minnesota Power made in Minnesota—not forced to relocate to Wisconsin. It’s unfortunate that once again, Democrats’ resistance to improving our regulatory process has resulted in Minnesota families losing out on hundreds of good-paying jobs and millions in private investment. One of our top priorities next session should be putting Minnesota jobs first and overhauling our regulatory process so we can protect our environment without losing major opportunities for economic growth.

Gov. Dayton and the DFL haven’t put a high priority on job creation. They’ve stood in the way of good-paying jobs, especially in the mining and construction fields.

This article about President-Elect Trump’s deal with Carrier includes the obligatory ‘this sets a dangerous precedent’ quote. In this article, Steve Weitzner of Silverlode Consulting is quoted as saying “It’s a potentially dangerous policy where you reward a company that threatens to leave. It’s a dangerous precedent. Why wouldn’t every other company make the exact same pitch? In this case, you’re rewarding a company that is actually cutting a lot of jobs in the state.”

If this were done in a vacuum, Weitzner would’ve made a salient point. This isn’t happening in a vacuum, though. This was a stop-gap measure aimed at preventing a single company from leaving. The biggest thing that will incentivize other companies into staying is passing the Trump-Ryan tax simplification legislation. The other biggest thing that will incentivize companies to stay is Trump’s regulatory reforms.

What corporate CEO would have their job if they left a nation with low marginal corporate tax rates, a reasonable regulatory environment and a well-trained workforce? That’s a three-legged stool to build a vibrant economy around. That’s a foundation upon which a thriving economy is built.

Let’s be clear. The questions Weitzner asked are legitimate questions. If the Trump administration wasn’t intent on tax and regulatory reform, the Carrier deal wouldn’t be getting positive reviews. That’s why it’s important to look at this deal in its totality. It’s worth noting that companies will return to the US the minute it looks like President Trump’s tax and regulatory plans are becoming reality.

Finally, imagine a company CEO getting a call from President Trump telling them that their company would get hit with expensive tariffs if they left the US. I can’t imagine that being a pleasant conversation.

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After Donald Trump’s victory, there’s been a noticeable outbreak of bipartisanship from red-state Democratic senators.

For instance, “North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) is ready to work with Republicans on legislation to invest in ‘clean coal’ technologies. More broadly, she says she’s willing to work across the aisle on regulatory reform. ‘My priority is standing up for North Dakota, not party politics. The reason I’m in the U.S. Senate is to work with Republicans and Democrats to get things done,’ she told The Hill in a statement.”

Meanwhile, “Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) hopes to work with Republicans to reduce the deficit, clean up Washington by stopping former lawmakers from becoming lobbyists and passing legislation to improve service at the Department of Veterans Affairs, a major Trump talking point during the campaign.”

Before you think the Democratic Party has changed into a principled political party, don’t. There’s an explanation for their sudden ‘appreciation’ for bipartisanship:

While outgoing Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) didn’t want Democrats to work with vulnerable Republicans ahead of the 2016 elections, his heir apparent Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is signaling a willingness to let his members do what they need to do to survive in the next Congress.

TRANSLATION: Sen. Schumer has seen the 2018 electoral map. It frightens him. He’s willing to momentarily retreat if it’ll prevent a bloodbath for Senate Democrats.

The thing for Republicans to highlight is whether this cooperation leads to bills getting to President Trump’s desk for his signature. If Sen. Tester works with President Trump on the deficit but doesn’t work with Sen. Heitkamp on regulatory reform and on repealing Obamacare, then we know that Democrats are playing procedural games.

The litmus test for Republicans should be whether Democrats will work with President Trump on Obamacare’s replacement. If there aren’t blocks of Democrats willing to repeal and replace the ACA, then it’ll be clear that Democrats aren’t really interested in productive bipartisanship.

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Thursday, Senate Republicans voted to make Paul Gazelka the new Senate Majority Leader for the 2017-18 session. At his press conference after the vote, Sen. Gazelka said that “the Republican agenda for the 2017 session with include reduced government spending, tax relief and reduced healthcare costs.”

There’s certainly a mandate to fix MNsure and Minnesota’s health care system. Health insurance premiums have gone through the roof. Access is getting more limited each year. Options are dwindling each year, too. It’s worth noting that House and Senate Republicans ran on fixing MNsure and on skyrocketing health insurance premiums.

According to this article, Sen. Gazelka understands the situation they’re in, saying “We’re going to have to figure out a way to work together at some level. We’re going to work with the governor. We’re going to work with the House and we’re going to do good things for Minnesota.” It doesn’t take Nostradamus to predict that Gov. Dayton will pick lots of fights with Republicans.

Last year, when there was a DFL majority in the Senate, Gov. Dayton still threw a hissy fit pretty much each week. He campaigned hard for an all-DFL legislature, saying that was the only way they’d get things done, which I wrote about here, here, and here. It isn’t just that Gov. Dayton didn’t get an all-DFL legislature. It’s that Minnesotans gave us GOP majorities in the House and Senate.

This is the video of the Senate GOP announcement of Sen. Gazelka getting elected as the Senate Majority Leader-elect:

I hope I get to meet Dr. Darrell Downs someday, hopefully soon. Dr. Downs’ op-ed is the most thoughtful, yet provocative, op-eds I’ve ever read. Having written more than a few LTEs and op-eds myself, I know what goes into writing something of this length and quality.

First, I’d like to thank Dr. Downs for his avoidance of using euphemisms and sugarcoating. It was refreshing to read Dr. Downs say “Minnesota State College and University (MnSCU) or ‘Minnesota State,’ as it has recently renamed itself, is in need of real change. It does not need re-branding gimmicks, new statewide strategic planning, or re-alignments that ignore campus input. As Minnesota State’s June report on financial sustainability said, ‘Houston: the system has a problem’ – I would agree except I would clarify that the system ‘is’ the problem. It’s time to face the reality that the broad authority granted to it by the legislature in 1991 has left the Minnesota State trustees with little formal allegiance and no accountability to the campuses they were appointed to govern.”

This identifies MnSCU’s bad habits quickly. The structure was flawed from the start. It established a bureaucracy without establishing who was responsible for ensuring accountability to the taxpayers. That’s likely because accountability wasn’t that high of a priority. Then Dr. Downs cuts to the heart of the matter of what’s broken:

Minnesota State is led by 15 trustees appointed by the Governor and is run by a central bureaucracy comparable in size to the largest of our state universities. The trustees possess overall governing authority, as well as the authority to set academic policy. Bit by bit, this authority has imposed uniformity on how the campuses are managed and increasingly on how the courses are taught, with rare, if ever, meaningful input from campus communities.

Let’s examine this a bit. Let’s think of this from the standpoint that different communities and different regions of the state have different workforce requirements. Top-down bureaucracies don’t specialize in customization. They specialize (if that’s the right word) in one-size-fits-all ‘solutions’ that are frequently counterproductive.

Next, let’s examine this situation:

Minnesota State’s June report reflects the same tin ear to the value of campuses. It even takes aim on labor agreements so it can more easily create “dedicated administrative structures.” Campuses and their instructional spending are apparently viewed as the key cost drivers while the administrative side of the house is somehow in need of protection. Pardon me for complaining that a system devoted to education now views administration as a fixed cost, while spending on instruction is viewed as a variable cost. This is the same wrong-headedness that led to the MnSCU faculty rejecting the Chancellor’s Charting the Future plan in 2015, and the state university faculty’s votes of no confidence in his leadership.

Think about this. Colleges and universities are where students go to learn, at least theoretically. Based on MnSCU’s ‘business model’, it sounds like the Trustees’ highest priority is to provide administration without providing a great educational product. That’s as foolish as I’ve ever heard.

If you don’t take anything else from this post, highlight this:

It noted that while administrative spending per student was presented by MnSCU to be low compared to other states, the audit found that it depends on how you count administrative spending, and if all administrative supports are counted, MnSCU ranks well above other states in spending per student. So who among the trustees is charged with protecting the instructional priorities on the campuses?

Like I said earlier, there is a bureaucracy established. Its priorities, however, aren’t established, or, more to the point, their priorities aren’t the right priorities.

Dr. Downs is right. It’s time to kick down the doors. It’s time for real change within MnSCU. This isn’t just a warning to the bureaucrats. It’s putting legislators on notice that we aren’t satisfied with the product MnSCU has been producing and we’re not going to take it anymore.

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With the end of session approaching quickly, the DFL’s spin operations are definitely ramping up. Spearheading their effort this year is DFL Chairman Ken Martin, starting with this op-ed. Predictably, it’s his responsibility to spin things in the DFL’s favor whether they’re rooted in truth or not.

For instance, Chairman Martin isn’t telling the whole truth when he said “Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL legislators have thrown out some good pitches on education funding, compromising on a transportation fix and addressing racial and economic disparities.” The only pitch that Gov. Dayton and the DFL have thrown out on transportation has been to shrink the size of the DFL’s middle class tax increase. Further, it’s dishonest for Chairman Martin to say that “Republicans refuse to play ball.”

This article reports that negotiations have essentially started. David Montgomery’s reporting says that the DFL “proposed increasing the normal per-gallon gas tax by 12 cents, phased in over three years” while allowing “metro-area counties redirect some tax money currently going to transit to roads and bridges.”

Montgomery also reported this:

Republicans officially offered to consider a sales tax increase to pay for metro-area mass transit, though they want some concessions in return. In particular, they want to change the Metropolitan Council, which would spend that tax increase on mass transit, to require all its members be composed of local elected officials.

Changing the Met Council from an unaccountable entity into an accountable board, if it happens, is a big deal. The fact that the Met Council is still unaccountable is one of the great tragedies in Minnesota political history. The fact that the Met Council is still unaccountable and has taxing authority is possibly the biggest tragedy in recent Minnesota political history.

This article features a Trump quote that isn’t attached to reality. Campaigning in Wisconsin earlier this week, Trump said “if we win Wisconsin, it’s going to be pretty much over.” The thing is that Sen. Cruz will win the Wisconsin primary with a fairly solid margin.

Last night, Megyn Kelly asked conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes if the Walker endorsement would help Sen. Cruz. Sykes affirmed that it would, saying that Trump attacking Gov. Walker in a state where he’s still popular “is weapons-grade stupid.” Sykes said that Trump would lose “vote-rich southeastern Wisconsin” and lose it badly because he’s offended too many conservative women. That most likely means Trump will get hurt badly in the Milwaukee suburbs because that’s the source of Gov. Walker’s electoral strength and because Sen. Cruz does better with well-educated voters than with less-educated voters.

Trump simply couldn’t resist criticizing Gov. Walker. Trump’s been critical of Gov. Walker for months. During one of Trump’s rallies, he said “But you had a $2.2 billion budget deficit and the schools were going begging and everything and everything was going begging because he didn’t want to raise taxes because he was going to run for president.”

Campaigning in Janesville, WI, Trump said “Cruz likes to pretend he’s an outsider and in the meantime he gets all the establishment support, including your governor.” That’s quite the turnaround from what Trump said about Sen. Cruz in January:

“Look, the truth is, he’s a nasty guy. He was so nice to me. I mean, I knew it. I was watching. I kept saying, ‘Come on, Ted. Let’s go, OK.’ But he’s a nasty guy. Nobody likes him. Nobody in Congress likes him. Nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him,” the real estate mogul said.

Apparently, Trump can’t decide whether Sen. Cruz “gets al the establishment support” or whether everyone hates him because he’s a nasty guy. While speaking out of both sides of his mouth won’t deprive Trump of the nomination by itself, it’s just another thing that’s getting in his way.

Sykes decimated Trump in this interview:

Here’s the pull quote worth noting:

SYKES: Donald Trump, I just don’t think of the term nuanced in terms of Donald Trump. I think he’s a bad mix for Wisconsin.
CHARLES PAYNE: Why is he a bad mix for Wisconsin? Is he not a conservative? Doesn’t he have some of your conservative principles? No?
SYKES: No. He’s not a conservative. He’s a narcissist — He’s a content-free narcissist and he’s an authoritarian who has not even take the time to learn about the issues he’s talking about. I think that, instead of articulating the kind of conservative values, for example the kind that Paul Ryan and Scott Walker have talked about, he’s essentially created a brand, which is Donald Trump and it’s a cult of personality.

Ouch. As I watched the interview, I kept waiting for Sykes to stop and say ‘Other than that, though, Trump’s a great guy.’ That line didn’t arrive. Unfortunately for Trump, this line arrived with a punch:

SYKES: I don’t think he’s gonna win in Wisconsin and I think you’re going to see that over the next week, that in fact, in southeastern Wisconsin, which is a very voter-rich area, he’s got an approval rating of about 25% and a disapproval rating of more than 60% because when voters start to pay attention to what he actually represents, it doesn’t resonate with voters.

Mathematically speaking, it’s difficult to picture how a candidate gets trounced in the most voter-rich part of the state, then makes it up in the rest of the state. That’s assuming that Trump is somewhat popular in the rest of Wisconsin.

It’s been reported that Gov. Kasich pulled his ads from Wisconsin. Sykes said that isn’t true, noting that he’s pulled his ads off of southeastern Wisconsin radio stations and putting them up in western Wisconsin.

Whether Trump wins the nomination is still too far out to predict. Still, Trump isn’t close to closing the deal with Republicans. It’s understatement to say he isn’t heading in the right direction.

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