Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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ST. PAUL - A design error in the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed Aug. 1 prompted Minnesota officials to look at the original plans of 59 similar bridges. The $500,000 re-evaluation follows Tuesday's preliminary report blaming gusset plates that connect bridge beams for the Interstate 35W bridge collapse. Bridges Minnesota officials gave priority status for the re-evaluation include U.S. 61 over Mississippi River at Hastings, U.S. 63 over Mississippi River at Red Wing and the Blatnik Bridge in Duluth.
ST. PAUL - Legislatively imposed deadlines helped prevent teacher strikes this year, Education Minnesota's president claims. As of Tuesday afternoon, 17 of the state's 346 school districts had not reached contract agreements with teachers, Tom Dooher said.
MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota voters will have more say about who runs for president this fall than ever. State branches of presidential campaigns are springing up in the wake of politically exciting caucuses in Iowa and a primary in New Hampshire. Most candidates will only fly over Minnesota en route to places like California and New York, states much richer in national convention delegates, but when Democrats and Republicans attend caucuses Feb.
ST. PAUL - Minnesota property taxes continued to rise above inflation levels last year, prompting Democratic lawmakers Thursday to seek property tax relief in the legislative session beginning Feb. 12. But Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty said a projected budget deficit means a property tax reduction bill is less likely this year. "They should have took the bill when they had it because times have changed," he said. "We have other things we got to do now. We are in a budget deficit." Property taxes are expected to rise 8.8 percent this year, a just-released nonpartisan legislative study shows.
ST. PAUL - Opponents are attacking Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's pet rural economic development program as being too secretive. The Job Opportunity Building Zones concept that gives big tax breaks to some new and expanding rural businesses does not allow the public to see tax benefits received by individual companies. "Access to information about spending increases the public's trust in government," according to a report from the Democratic-leading Growth and Justice think tank. "For that reason alone, tax incentives should be transparent to the broad population of tax payers.
The Minnesota Environmental Partnership, a coalition of more than 80 groups, set its sights high for the 2008 legislative session, a year most everyone agrees will produce little new money for programs. Atop the partnership's agenda is passage of a proposed constitutional amendment to increase sales tax slightly, with the new money going to outdoors and arts programs. It also wants legislation to lower pollution and to require cleaner-burning cars and more use of home-grown fuels. The group also calls for more transit and outdoors funding. The 2008 Legislature, which begins Feb.
ST. PAUL - The Minnesota biodiesel industry is in the slow lane. "Things have kind of slowed down," the University of Minnesota's Doug Tiffany said. "The excitement of ethanol has had has not been shared with biodiesel." Corn-based ethanol is part of the reason biodiesel hit a rough patch. Farmers last year put more acres into corn to feed the booming ethanol market, taking land away from soybeans. That, in turn, cut the soybean supply and helped force soybean oil prices to soar.
ST. PAUL - All state highway bridges have been inspected since the Aug. 1 Minneapolis bridge collapse, missing by three weeks Gov. Tim Pawlenty's deadline. Seventeen of more than 4,000 bridges needed repairs or other actions after the inspections, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials said Friday. Pawlenty originally said he wanted all 13,026 Minnesota bridges to be inspected. However, he has no authority to order inspections for most local bridges, so that duty was left up to counties.
ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty is on the offensive about a legislative investigation into the Aug. 1 Minneapolis bridge collapse. "I think, frankly, that somebody's concerned that somebody else's conclusion doesn't fit into their story line," Pawlenty said. The GOP governor said he would not name names, but it was clear he referred to Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, who last week claimed the federal bridge investigation is being tainted because its investigators are working with a private firm the state hired to run its own investigation.
ST. PAUL - Solo the one-eared bear received a Christmas present of life. "We are going to give the black bear a reprieve, a pardon," Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced on his weekly Friday radio show. "It is a good pre-Christmas, pre-holiday announcement. State Department of Natural Resources officials had considered putting Solo down because she had become too friendly with people, which could be dangerous. But now state officials say she will live out her life in a wildlife sanctuary, but no decision about where to send the bear family will be made until next week.