Latest Posts





News Alerts

  • US Transportation Officials: No Federal Funds for Troubled Southwest Light Rail  

    Posted by: Tom Steward on April 22, 2017
    Posted in:

    Hold everything. Top U.S. Department of Transportation officials have informed Minnesota legislators the controversial Southwest Light Rail Transit line does not qualify for $928 million in make-or-break federal funding necessary for the Metropolitan Council to start construction as planned this year. The announcement came from the Federal Transit Administration in response to a letter from Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt and 83 Republican state legislators who expressed concern over SWLRT’s “financial plan, potential environmental impacts, alignment and projected ridership.” Rep. Jason Lewis, R-Minn., has also urged FTA to reject funding. The FTA oversees the federal New Starts program that provides...

  • Is Southwest Light Rail Transit Line on the Ropes?

    Posted by: Tom Steward on March 30, 2017
    Posted in:

    The Met Council always expected the Southwest Light Rail Transit line to be on the short list in Washington—the short list for $895 million in federal funding for construction. Instead, the controversial $1.9 billion project has suddenly popped up on a different list of transit projects that the Washington Post warns “could be out of luck under the Trump Budget.” President Trump’s budget proposal zeroes out the New Starts program that funds light rail transit projects like SWLRT. “Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects,” according to...

  • Is the Minnesota Commerce Department Out of Control?

    Posted by: Tom Steward on March 13, 2017
    Posted in:

    Most of what happens behind the scenes at state agencies stays behind the scenes. The gears of government grind on, leaving taxpayers little choice but to trust that officials act in their best interest. But three recent legal cases involving the Minnesota Department of Commerce have provided ammunition for critics of the entrenched administrative state and unelected regulators that run it. “Court opinions and other legal filings published in the past several months have afforded Minnesotans a stark look at the internal operations of the Minnesota Department of Commerce,” Rep. Tony Albright (R-Prior Lake) and Rep. Kelly Fenton (R-Woodbury) wrote...

  • Lawmakers Aim to Make the Met Council Accountable

    Posted by: Tom Steward on February 22, 2017
    Posted in:

    The Metropolitan Council still holds the title of the biggest, most powerful unelected regional government in the country bar none. But that would change under proposed legislation calling for local elected officials to replace political appointees of the governor as Met Council representatives. “This legislation brings more openness to the Metropolitan Council by aligning its membership with local elected officials, giving regular citizens more voice in the make-up of the council and the important policies it implements,” said Rep. Tony Albright (R-Prior Lake), author of HF 828. While the proposed legislative reforms were embraced by the agency’s critics as a...

  • City Debates Turning Down Grant in Latest Met Council Flap

    Posted by: Tom Steward on January 16, 2017
    Posted in:

    Shakopee could become the first city to reject a $32,000 Met Council planning grant this week in the latest sign of local governments’ mounting antagonism to the heavy hand of the nation’s biggest unelected regional bureaucracy over their affairs. “We are concerned about the direct connection of the Thrive 2040 Plan, Met Council’s housing policies and any housing goal plan, as it relates to the acceptance of this grant,” Mayor Bill Mars wrote in a recent email exchange with Met Council officials. Met Council staff have downplayed the rift. “I don’t think we have a ‘controversy,’ so much as a...

  • Cigarette Smuggling Soars in Minnesota After Big Tax Hike

    Posted by: Tom Steward on January 6, 2017
    Posted in:

    Cigarette smuggling has soared since Minnesota imposed a $1.60 per pack excise tax increase in 2013, propelling the state to fifth highest for the crime in a new Tax Foundation and Mackinac Center for Public Policy report. The study shows smuggled smokes accounted for more than a third of cigarettes–36 percent–consumed in Minnesota in 2014, leading to an estimated $313 million loss in revenue due to tax evasion and avoidance by so-called border shopping. “Minnesota’s big leap in the ranks of smuggling states is no surprise,” said Michael LaFaive, Mackinac Center Fiscal Policy Director and co-author of the report. “As...

  • Contractors Pressed to Shop Subcontractor Bids as MnDOT Misses Minority Goal Again

    Posted by: Tom Steward on December 22, 2016
    Posted in:

    A new MnDOT report shows the agency has again failed to reach its goal for minority and women-owned business participation on transportation projects for at least the tenth year in a row. This despite spending an estimated $10 million of taxpayer funds on training and recruitment to pave the way for the federally mandated Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program since 2007. The DBE program requires states to set goals for companies “owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals” for federally-funded MnDOT projects. But the latest numbers indicate DBE-qualified firms landed 8.5 percent of federally funded road construction contracts statewide...

  • SEIU and State Ordered to Halt Early Contract Talks in Boost for Decertification Drive

    Posted by: Tom Steward on December 5, 2016
    Posted in:

    The Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services has ordered the suspension of contract talks between the Service Employees International Union representing personal care attendants and state negotiators to avoid interfering with a union decertification campaign underway. “This Order is issued to preserve existing conditions and promote a free and fair environment for the resolution of this question of representation,” said Carol Clifford, a BMS Representation Specialist, in a two page order dated December 5. “…It shall remain in full force and effect until an investigation and/or hearing has been conducted and the matter is disposed of by a determination issued by...

  • VA Spends 300k to Study Defunct St. Cloud Wind Turbine

    Posted by: Tom Steward on November 29, 2016
    Posted in:

    The Veterans Administration has been trying to get a wind energy project up and running at the St. Cloud VA Medical Center since 2007.  Almost a decade later, the 245 foot high wind turbine originally hyped as a national model by the White House is up but not running since 2012. The most notable results generated to date by the 93 ton renewable energy installation are a nearly $2 million loss for taxpayers and a black eye for the Obama Administration’s green energy agenda. Yet instead of mothballing the project and cutting taxpayers’ losses, the federal agency recently doubled down...

  • State Ordered to Turn Over List to Personal Care Attendants Fighting Union

    Posted by: Tom Steward on November 1, 2016
    Posted in:

    A Ramsey County Court has ordered the Minnesota Department of Human Services to stop stalling and turn over the names of thousands of personal care attendants to a coalition leading a union decertification drive against SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. Minnesota Personal Care Attendants (MNPCA), a coalition of personal care attendants who provide home-based care for the disabled recently sued three state agencies in an attempt to get an accurate and up-to-date contact list of home care workers to notify about the campaign. MNPCA is working to force a new election in hopes of decertifying the union that won a 2014 low...

  • MN Secretary of State Sued for Instructing Election Judges to Let Felons and Others Known to be Ineligible to Vote

    Posted by: Tom Steward on October 28, 2016
    Posted in:

    Minnesota Secretary of State and county election managers are being sued by election judges who claim the 2016 Minnesota Election Judge Guide requires them to violate state election laws. The lawsuits were filed today in Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis Counties by three election judges who are requesting an injunction relieving them from having to provide ballots to people who are listed as felons, people under guardianship and noncitizens. “It is important for all election judges to honor their election judge oath to adhere to Minnesota election law and allow only eligible voters to cast a vote,” said Andy Cilek,...

  • News Alert: To Save or Not to Save METS: That’s the Real Question for Counties

    Posted by: Tom Steward on October 7, 2016
    Posted in:

    Three years after a disastrous launch, the MNsure state health care exchange’s IT system (METS) remains so dysfunctional that county officials still struggling to implement it openly question whether the system should be scrapped. “The whole operability of the public program side is a complete, unmitigated disaster,” said Dakota County Commissioner Mary Liz Holberg. “After a while you just get numb,” said Pennington County Commissioner Darryl Tveitbakk. “…The administration of it has been a disaster.” “It’s been three years of incremental improvements, temporary fixes and manual work-arounds for public healthcare programs,” Hennepin County Board Chair Jan Callison told Gov. Mark...

  • Minnesota Supreme Court Protects Citizens from Unfair Taxes Disguised as Fees

    Posted by: Tom Steward on August 24, 2016
    Posted in:

    The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling today that declared a fee charged by the City of St. Paul to fund road maintenance was in fact a tax that was subject to the state constitution’s limitations on taxation.   The case was brought by two churches, the First Baptist Church of St. Paul and the Church of St. Mary, that had been paying excessive and unfair fees. “This case represents a victory for Minnesota taxpayers who deserve a fair, transparent and accountable tax system,” said Peter Nelson, a Vice President and Senior Policy Fellow at Center of the American Experiment...

  • Met Council to Spend $25 Million to Monitor Race-Based Use of Parks

    Posted by: Tom Steward on August 10, 2016
    Posted in:

    A walk in the park may be just that to most of us, but not the Met Council. It all depends on who’s taking a walk in the park. A remarkable 47 million visits to regional parks were recorded last year, more than visit the Mall of America. Yet the Met Council staff has concluded that some racial groups aren’t using the parks as much as their numbers suggest they should–and local governments get the blame. “Missing from the throngs of visitors were people of color in numbers proportional to their share of the region’s total population,” according to the...

  • Homecare Workers Mount Statewide Drive to Drop Union

    Posted by: Tom Steward on July 18, 2016
    Posted in:

    The Service Employees International Union that won the biggest public employee labor election in Minnesota history in 2014 now faces a statewide decertification campaign aimed at eliminating  collective bargaining for 27,000 personal care assistants. A group of PCAs today launched a drive to collect the required 9,000 signatures to force a follow-up election, reigniting one of the state’s most controversial political issues of recent years. A 2013 state law designates Minnesota home care workers as public employees subject to collective bargaining because they receive a Medicaid subsidy to care for family members and others with special needs. Homecare workers who join...

  • Rogue State Teaching Board Fined and Cited for Contempt of Court

    Posted by: Tom Steward on July 7, 2016
    Posted in: ,

    How many court orders does it take to compel state education officials to follow the law? A courtroom showdown over the serial intransigence of the Minnesota Board of Teaching has led to a rare contempt of court citation and $7,100 in penalties imposed on the controversial agency. Court transcripts show the Minnesota Board of Teaching and the Minnesota Department of Education not only snubbed a teaching license application request from plaintiff Joan Dobbert, but also a standing Ramsey County District Court order for the Board to expedite the process. “They’re not interested in following the law, they’re clearly not interested,”...

  • Widespread Voter Fraud Documented in New Minnesota Supreme Court Case

    Posted by: Tom Steward on July 1, 2016
    Posted in:

    A new voter fraud case before the Minnesota Supreme Court claims 1,366 ineligible felons have cast at least 1,670 fraudulent votes in recent statewide elections, possibly tipping the outcome of close contests, including the 2008 U.S. Senate race. The case holds repercussions for the 2016 election with the plaintiffs seeking a court order to prevent state and local election officials from distributing ballots to ineligible voters by implementing new safeguards. The lawsuit marks the culmination of a years-long effort to challenge suspected voter fraud tied to Minnesota’s same day voting registration law. More than half a million Minnesotans register to...

  • Suburb Backs Off Restrictions on Homeowners’ Rental Property Rights

    Posted by: Tom Steward on June 15, 2016
    Posted in:

    Brooklyn Center, Minn.—For the second time this year, a Twin Cities suburb has turned back a controversial proposal to curtail one of its residents’ fundamental property rights—a homeowner’s freedom to rent his house. Brooklyn Center had appeared poised to become the fifth Minnesota city to restrict property owners’ rental rights, joining Mankato, Northfield, West St. Paul and Winona. But the Brooklyn Center City Council on Monday unanimously rejected an ordinance that would have banned most property owners from renting out their homes by limiting rental licenses to 30 percent of houses per block. South St. Paul city councilors dropped a...

  • Taxpayers on Hook for $100k for City Council’s Lawyers in Open Meeting Violations

    Posted by: Tom Steward on June 8, 2016
    Posted in:

    Victoria officials expect taxpayers to foot the bill for up to $100,000 in anticipated attorneys’ fees for four city council members found liable in March for a combined 38 intentional violations of the Open Meeting Law.  But not if the citizen watchdog group behind the civil lawsuit can help it. “The City of Victoria should not pay private counsel to represent officials engaging in intentional and unlawful conduct like that proven here,” Alan Kildow, the citizens’ attorney, said in a May 25 letter. “The individual Defendants are not entitled to that personal benefit at taxpayer expense, particularly when the expense...

  • House Democratic Leader Called Out for “Pattern of Verbal Abuse” of Opposition Staff 

    Posted by: Tom Steward on June 3, 2016
    Posted in:

    It gets crazy in the waning hours of a legislative session. But House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis has displayed “a disturbing pattern of verbal abuse of Republican Staff” on the House floor throughout the 2016 legislative session, according to a letter signed by seven GOP legislators. “Your verbal taunts occurred both on and off the record, but all were plainly visible to most in the House chamber. This is absolutely unacceptable behavior by any member – let alone a leader – of either caucus,” states a May 26 letter the legislators sent to Thissen. The blunt letter follows an...

  • Will Bloomington Ever Allow Residents to Vote on Trash Plan?

    Posted by: Tom Steward on May 31, 2016
    Posted in:

    They’ve garnered hundreds more signatures on their petition campaigns than five-term Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead received in votes last November. But it remains to be seen whether the third and latest petition from the citizens group Hands Off Our Cans will be the charm or third strike in a year-long battle with City Hall to let residents vote on who should collect their garbage. Until now, residents of Minnesota’s fifth largest city have been able to select from seven garbage haulers. But the Bloomington City Council has moved to replace the system for “organized collection.” The issue at stake—freedom of...

  • Threat to Eagles Shuts Down Three Xcel Energy Wind Turbines for Months

    Posted by: Tom Steward on May 11, 2016
    Posted in:

    The eagle has landed in rural Mower County, shutting down three turbines at the Pleasant Valley Wind farm for a month so far in hopes of preventing a deadly collision between the federally protected bird and churning blades just 200 feet away. Xcel Energy discovered a pair of adult eagles and at least one eaglet high in a tree in a windbreak between two turbines near State Highway 56 and County Road 1 on March 10, immediately reporting the threat to federal Fish and Wildlife Service authorities. In addition to idling the turbines closest to the nest through the summer,...

  • Residents Criticize Environmental Impact of Solar Project  That Cut Hundreds of Trees

    Posted by: Tom Steward on May 2, 2016
    Posted in:

    Buffalo Township, Minn.–Residents of Buffalo Township are voicing concerns over the environmental impact of a solar power project they say has leveled hundreds of mature hardwoods and taken fertile cropland out of production 35 miles west of the Twin Cities. While it may be too late for Buffalo Township, the backlash has led to a moratorium on additional solar developments in Wright County. “A lot of people were not aware of what was happening yet. Now, it gets thrown in their back yard and all of a sudden it’s like, we’re not so sure about this,” said Don Schmidt, Buffalo Township Supervisor...

  • U of M Professor Bills $120 an Hour Plus Benefits to Study $15 Minneapolis Minimum Wage

    Posted by: Tom Steward on April 19, 2016
    Posted in:

    A University of Minnesota economics professor leading a study underway on a possible $15 per hour minimum wage in Minneapolis will be paid $120 per hour plus benefits under a contract approved by the Minneapolis City Council. Samuel Myers, Jr., Director of the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice at the University of Minnesota, will receive $19,000, plus $6,500 in benefits for an estimated 160 hours on the project, university documents show. Myers earned $183,000 in 2014, according to the Minnesota public salaries database. Two more participants in the study, including AFL-CIO Chief Economist William Spriggs, will receive...

  • Landmark Ruling as Court Finds Victoria City Officials Committed 38 Open Meeting Law Violations

    Posted by: Tom Steward on April 1, 2016
    Posted in:

    In what may be the biggest Open Meeting Law case in Minnesota history, a Carver County District Court has found four current Victoria City Council members committed a total of 38 intentional violations of the state transparency statute, leveling a total of $7,800 in personal fines. The civil case brought by 13 residents of the Twin Cities suburb alleged numerous violations of the Open Meeting Law by city officials in 2013 in the process leading up to building a new city hall and public works building. State law requires governmental bodies to open their meetings to the public for transparency...

  • State Agency Spending $350,000 to Implement Environmental Regulation Blocked by Supreme Court

    Posted by: Tom Steward on March 28, 2016
    Posted in:

    The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to comply with controversial federal greenhouse gas regulations that have been temporarily blocked by the US Supreme Court and may never be implemented. Last month, twenty-seven states concerned about federal government overreach and the economic consequences of the Clean Power Plan successfully sued to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing the climate change regulations until their legal challenges are resolved. But MPCA officials responding to a CAE inquiry indicated the agency will spend more than $350,000 this fiscal year anyway, moving full speed ahead “reviewing and...

  • Child Care Providers Flatly Reject Unionization in Lopsided Vote

    Posted by: Tom Steward on March 2, 2016
    Posted in:

    PAUL, MINN.– After eleven years of facing labor organizers at their doors, Minnesota in-home child care providers overwhelmingly rejected union representation in an election decided today in St. Paul. “Providers have been saying ‘no’ to the unions for so long, it just feels so good that we’ve finally been heard,” said Lakeville provider Pat Gentz. Despite more than a decade of organizing, card campaigns and expenditures, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 garnered 392 votes, compared to 1,014 for providers opposed to the union. The margin of victory announced by Bureau of Mediation Services officials stunned...

  • DFL Lawmaker Bucks Nurses’ Union in Effort to Streamline Licensing

    Posted by: Tom Steward on March 1, 2016
    Posted in: ,

      Judy Santiago just wants a level playing field with the Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin nurses who compete with her. Minnesota has granted reciprocity to licensed nurses in neighboring states for ten years, allowing them to care for Minnesota patients, over the phone or in person, without requiring a Minnesota nursing license. But Santiago still has to buy a separate license to practice in each state, costing the Burnsville nurse time and money. “I know nurses who have 30 plus licenses in order to be able to work with patients telephonically,” Judy Santiago said. “That’s just ridiculous....

  • Farmer Runs for School Board That Sued Him for $2.9 Million

    Posted by: Tom Steward on February 23, 2016
    Posted in:

    A Gaylord chicken farmer plans to turn his campaign for school board into a teachable moment for the Sibley East Public Schools officials who asked a court to award $2.9 million in damages against him, as a result of his fighting a controversial $43 million bond referendum. After a Sibley County District Court denied the multi-million dollar claim in January, Nathan Kranz could have retreated to his chicken coop. Instead, he announced a bid to run in an April special election to serve on the school board that he says threatened his very livelihood. “I’m convicted in what I’m doing,”...

  • MNsure Enrolls Millionaires in Medicaid and MinnesotaCare Programs

    Posted by: Tom Steward on February 15, 2016
    Posted in:

    The Affordable Care Act was supposed to extend health coverage to millions—not millionaires. Yet while many families continue to struggle to afford medical insurance, some Minnesotans with millions in assets get free and low-cost subsidized health coverage through MNsure, the state health insurance exchange. “It’s happening all over the nation and all over Minnesota,” said Harlan Johnson, a Pequot Lakes health insurance broker and MNsure Health Industry Advisory Council member. “I’ve looked people on the MNsure Board of Directors right in the eye and told them this. They know it, but they don’t want to deal with it.” It’s a...

  • Stealth union election threatens to bind thousands of child care providers

    Posted by: Tom Steward on February 8, 2016
    Posted in:

    After fending off union organizers for a decade, Minnesota home-based child care providers face a make or break February election that could leave their businesses subject to collective bargaining and monthly dues. Yet most of the estimated 10,000 licensed and unlicensed child care providers statewide will not get a say in the issue, under the rules of engagement in a 2013 state law. “We were shocked to find out that they were limiting the election to a small group of providers who accepted a payment in one month, which we believe excludes thousands of providers,” said Jennifer Parrish, a Rochester...