Mesabi Daily News, March 11
Hands off economic development dollars
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk has brought some much-needed common sense to a school co-location plan that has been like a runaway train in the halls of the State Capitol in St. Paul just two weeks into the legislative session.
The proposal for a $100 million-plus new grades 7-12 school building that would house students of the Virginia, Eveleth-Gilbert and Mountain Iron-Buhl districts is, in part, a trojan horse for a grab of $2.5 million of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board economic development funds each and every year.
While a public vote of support is needed from at least two of the three school districts involved for the co-location to be enacted, the only vote required to snatch millions and millions and millions of IRRRB economic development funds over the years would come in the Legislature. That's because even if voters in the three school districts give a "thumbs-down" to a co-location, the new IRRRB fund for school building infrastructure on the Range would still be created and financed by $2.5 million annually of dollars that would otherwise go into the Douglas J. Johnson Fund.
NO! NO! NO! — 2.5 million times NO!
It is remarkably disappointing that all Iron Range lawmakers, with the exception of Sen. Bakk and Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, have embraced this funding mechanism as if a new Quad Cities school building will attract new businesses and jobs and therefore families and kids. That's just not a rational proposition.
We find it a terribly unfortunate and misguided stance taken by DFL lawmakers Sens. David Tomassoni of Chisholm and Tom Saxhaug of Grand Rapids, along with Reps. Jason Metsa of Virginia, Carly Melin of Hibbing, Tom Anzelc of Balsam Township and Joe Radinovich of Crosby to sign on to bills that would siphon off economic development funds, especially considering that the Iron Range unemployment rate in 2013 soared high above the state average.
And equally troubling is that IRRRB commissioner Tony Sertich also supports what would be a raid of economic development dollars from within the Iron Range, not St. Paul, of the property taxes of all Rangers paid by mining companies' production dollars.
Just consider these jobless numbers on average from last year:
. Statewide: 5.1 percent.
. Virginia: 7.2 percent.
. Hibbing: 7.4 percent.
. Grand Rapids: 9.4 percent.
. Overall Iron Range: 8 percent.
Those are very worrisome numbers for our region. And they come at a time when taconite mining has been going pretty much full bore the past few years. We shudder to think how high the jobless rate on the Range would climb if there was a downturn in the always cyclical mining industry.
And now some legislators, who are not showing leadership on this issue but rather being led by a lobbyist, want to take funds away from economic development to create a new fund for school infrastructure.
This would be plain and simply, NUTS!
St. Cloud Times, March 10
Allow us to suggest uses for surplus
First, this $1.233 billion state budget surplus is a good situation. We strongly prefer it instead of the past few years of deficits and the painful tax increases and program cuts.
The surplus also signals another very good thing: More Minnesotans have jobs.
Now the governor and legislators have to decide what to do with the money.
Gov. Mark Dayton and House members have practically fallen over themselves figuring out ways to deal with the surplus. This is behavior you would expect for lawmakers up for re-election.
The Senate, not up for re-election, has been slower to react. Senate DFL leaders claim they need more time to carefully examine every possible best use for the citizens of Minnesota.
The Times Editorial Board offers these strong suggestions:
. Repeal the three new business-to-business sales taxes passed in the 2013 session to help generate revenue for the state. One of the new taxes is scheduled to start April 1. The B2B taxes were ill advised. The state's business tax climate is challenging enough without these taxes, which harm Minnesota's competitive edge with neighboring states.
. Protect the rebuilt reserves. Some people are suggesting lawmakers nibble at some of the money that would be redirected into the reserve fund for state roads, education or services for the elderly and disabled. All of those ideas have merit. But the state shouldn't count on surpluses each year.
. Here is a suggestion on what not to do: Don't give the money back to taxpayers in the form of a rebate. Everyone enjoyed getting rebate checks during Gov. Jesse Ventura's administration. But lean years followed.
. Align state tax law with federal law to provide $301 million in tax credits and deductions. Under a plan proposed by Dayton to correct these imbalances, married couples, working families, people paying for child care and those paying off student loans would benefit, according to a Minnesota Public Radio report.
. Develop a careful plan for some tax cuts for business and individuals. The proposal should target some of the biggest inequities in the state's tax code. This should be looked at as a way to make the system work more effectively rather than a way to return $500 million to taxpayers.
Minnesota's revenue picture has a rosy forecast. Lawmakers shouldn't see handling such a surplus as a re-election strategy. Rather, they should act in ways that will benefit the state's long-term economic health the most.
Fergus Falls Daily Journal, March 11
Treating e-smokers as standard smokers is off-base.
It looks like smoking, but it is not smoking. The Minnesota Legislature is considering a bill to treat the inhalation of vapors from smokeless electronic cigarettes like typical tobacco cigarettes.
It seems to be an overreach of government to treat e-cigarette smokers like cigarette smokers.
In fact, the tobacco industry wants governments to ban e-cigarettes so that it forces people using e-cigarettes in an effort to quit smoking to be outdoors with the tobacco smokers, where they will be around the substance they are attempting to avoid.
Look, smokeless electronic cigarettes appear to be a less of a health risk compared with conventional tobacco cigarettes and have helped many people quit. They emit vapor. They don't emit chemicals or odors like typical cigarettes.
Some note their effects are not well-studied and are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The state ought to avoid following the wishes of the tobacco lobbyists until more is known about e-cigarettes.
Otherwise, it's like banning bubble gum because the bubble popping is annoying. Lawmakers need to be patient, let Americans exercise this freedom and wait until a time when better information on the secondhand health factor is available.