Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Contact District 41's legislators about gambling.

Apparently, H.R. 1 in the special session is a gambling bill, for the "racino" Spotty thinks. All three of district 41's legislators said at the March town hall meeting that they were opposed to an expansion of gambling. Contact them and let them know you expect them to continue that opposition. Email addresses are in the sidebar.

Have a look . . .

. . . at Spotty's new blog The Cucking Stool. It's a little broader in scope than this blog and intends to take on some of the silly things politicians, op-ed columnists and editorial writers, and even letters to the editor say.

Monday, May 30, 2005

The tragedy of pseudo-sincerity . . . part deux

Spot has written before about the tragedy of pseudo-sincerity.

Spotty learned a long time ago that a friendly pat on the head does not necessarily mean he is going to be fed or exercised. He has learned to look for that move for the kibble bag or the leash.

Senator Michel gives the occasional pat on the head to his constituents, but he hasn't made much of a move for the kibble bag on the budget which means that education, transportation, and health care are going to remain in the same fixes they are now.

Spot has concluded that pseudo-sincerity is worse than silence, because it is motivated by an intent to deceive.

On Memorial Day . . .

Spotty wants you to meet Clarence. Clarence is a homeless man who lives in Detroit. He is a veteran of the Afghan war. If Clarence doesn't make you weep, you have no heart. There are probably people like Clarence in Minnesota, too, especially among the National Guard, who receive even less in benefits than regular armed forces personnel after active duty ends.

The health care cuts urged by the Republicans in Minnesota are just going to create more people like Clarence.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Read 'em if you can . . .

Ron Erhardt's survey results that Spotty mentioned a couple of posts ago. Click the box if the survey does not appear.

Ron Erhardt and Geoff Michel

What do these two have in common? Please make your comments and then Spotty will weigh in in a few days. (Click the box above if you don't see the photos.)

Friday, May 27, 2005

The tragedy of pseudo-sincerity . . .

Before the session started, Geoff Michel sent a letter to the Star Tribune, co-authored by an Inver Grove Heights DFLer, stating how important bi-partisanship was going to be. Recently, he circulated an article from the Pioneer Press in the district about his joining a bi-partisan legislative group. Then, just yesterday, the Edina Sun Current published a letter wherein the senator says he is in favor of balanced solutions. The text of that letter is in Spotty previous post. Spot thinks he has copies of the first two items, and he'll send them to you on request.

How a signatory to the No New Taxes Ever, I Really Mean It, Cross My Heart and Hope to Die pledge could ever claim to be in favor of "balanced" or "bi-partisan" solutions is beyond Spotty. The senator apparenty believes that his constituents are really that dull.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Michel's latest magnanimous but ultimately empty gesture . . .

Michel says he won't accept OT pay

(Created 5/26/2005 2:57:23 PM)

To the editor:

Five months should be long enough. Twenty weeks should be long enough. And deadlines should matter. This week the state Legislature has, once again, failed to complete our business by the constitutional deadline of May 23.

School districts, local governments, health care programs and others are relying upon the Legislature and the governor for a speedy and balanced resolution of our state budget shortfall. Spending an additional $25,000 per day on special session expenses only makes the task more difficult.

I believe there should be consequences for missing this important deadline and will sponsor legislation that would eliminate the daily compensation (per diem) for legislators during any special session. Whether or not this proposal is approved, I will not personally accept any per diem payments and will encourage other legislators to do the same.

We should get our work done quickly and avoid any state government shutdown that would happen without a conclusion by July 1. I will continue to press for balanced solutions for education, health care and transportation and ask for your continued suggestions and input at sen.geoff.michel@senate.mn.

Sen. Geoff Michel

This letter was in today's Edina Sun Current (the May 26th issue). If Geoff Michel and the rest of the no new taxes Republicans (most assuredly NOT including Ron Erhardt, bless his reasonable heart) did not have their noses so firmly installed in the governor's . . . well, never mind. The fact is that it is the governor and the Republicans who have been obstructionist here.

You know, the DFL is not proposing to raise taxes by as much as they fell earlier in this decade. The Republicans sold the tax cuts on the basis that the state would run permanent tax surpluses, and these revenues wouldn't be needed. Well, sometimes that which goes down must come up.

Think of it this way: a farmer named Republican had a team of horses that he used to plow his fields. He called the team Revenue. For several years running, the fields dried out nicely in the spring, and farmer Republican did not need one of his horses in the team to plow the fields. So, he took it out behind the barn and shot it, and yes, he ate it. Don't look so shocked; Spot thinks he gets fed horse meat a lot.

They next spring was very wet, and farmer Republican's remaining horses couldn't pull the plow through the heavy earth. Farmer Republican was unwilling to buy another horse, so he couldn't work the fields very well, and he paid for it in the fall.

Senator Michel's letter is just sanctimonious gas expelled in an effort to deflect responsibilty from himself.

Ron Erhardt's survey results . . .

Every year, Representative Ron Erhardt sends out a questionnaire for residents in his district to identify issues and priorities. Mr. and Mrs. Spot got their copy of a summary of the responses to the questionnaire the other day. If you didn't paticipate in the survey (shame on you), I don't think the Representative sent you a copy of the results. They are illuminating, however, and Spot suggests that you contact the Representative's office to get a copy. His email is in the sidebar. I am sure he would be happy to send it to you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Vouchers Smouchers . . .

Spot has written before about the Minnesota Constitution and public education. He believes that the proposal of the governor (supported by Geoff Michel; Spotty doesn't know what Reps. Erhardt and Peterson think about this, but he is going to find out) for "school choice," meaning vouchers, is against the explicit terms of the Minnesota Constitution.

For good order's sake, Spot reproduces the first two sections of Article XIII of the Minnesota Constitution:

Section 1. UNIFORM SYSTEM OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.

Sec. 2. PROHIBITION AS TO AIDING SECTARIAN SCHOOL. In no case shall any public money or property be appropriated or used for the support of schools wherein the distinctive doctrines, creeds or tenets of any particular Christian or other religious sect are promulgated or taught.

You might be interested in Spot's earlier discussion of these provisions here.

Spot thinks it is pretty self-evident that if the Legislature provides state incentives for some students to bail out of a public school system, and thereby reduces the funding available to that school through the per-pupil formula, it is not establishing a general and uniform system of public schools . . . throughout the state. It is doing the opposite. Pretty clearly, the drafters of the Minnesota Constitution would take a dim view of the Legislature sabotaging the same public school system that it is obliged to establish and nourish.

In one of the more pseudo-sincere performances of his legislative career, Geoff Michel told an assembled group that he couldn't "look into the eyes of parents in the Minneapolis or St. Paul school system and tell them their child can't go elsewhere." If there is a problem with the Minneapolis or St. Paul school systems, and parents want to send their kids elsewhere, Spotty lays a lot of the blame right at the feet of the governor and the Republicans in the Legislature who forced approximately $185,000,000 in K12 cuts from the last biennium. Vouchers will just accelerate and exacerbate the decline of our central city schools, and let’s face it, most city kids will continue to go to them.

And it is not as though there isn't some school mobility already. Open enrollment permits a number of children from Minneapolis and elsewhere to attend Edina schools. In fact, Spotty thinks that Edina likes open enrollment, because it increases its per-pupil revenue, which helps pay the existing fixed costs of the district. But this is not what vouchers are really about.

The real driver for vouchers is the Edwatch crowd and its ilk. They want to retreat as far as possible from the civil society from which they feel such alienation. They are frightened of exposing their kids to any environment over which they don't have complete control of content and religious doctrine. (So much for strong religious faith, but that's another post for another day.)

But Spotty believes he has some really bad news for them.

Section 2 of Article XIII printed above clearly prohibits not only the appropriation but also the use of public money or property for sectarian schools. Spot says that if public funds wind up in a parochial or sectarian school, even if it is done pursuant to a voucher bill that is neutral as to kind of private school, it is an unconstitutional use of funds under Section 2.

Note this is a different standard than the one being used at present by the US Supreme Court, which has permitted the camel's nose under the tent in several circumstances (Spotty has heard that lawyers like to say that; apparently it means that if you permit a camel to stick its nose into your tent, pretty soon you have the whole camel).

The US Supreme Court is deciding constitutionality of funding of sectarian schools using a "neither advance nor retard test" under the First Amendment. Under this test, the Supreme Court has decided that some non-classroom expenses of sectarian schools can be supported with public money; transportation is an example.

Notice that the language of the Minnesota Constitution is more direct. If a Minnesota state issued voucher ever wound up at a sectarian school and was presented to the state treasurer for reimbursement, it would be unconstitutional to pay it. Period.

Spotty cannot find any reports of decisions on these provisions of the Minnesota Constitution, at least on the state's electronic database. But if the state adopts a voucher system, you can be sure that would change.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Shall Issue Conceal and Carry signed by the Governor . . .

The shall issue conceal and carry firearms bill was signed by the governor today. Spotty promised a few days ago to tell you about the votes of our legislators here in Edina.

Representative Ron Erhardt is a reliable vote against this madness, and he voted against it again. Spotty says send him an email to thank him for his steadfastness.

Representative Neil Peterson voted for the bill. Spot is absolutely shocked and profoundly disappointed in this vote. If you feel like Spotty, let Neil Peterson know.

And then, we come to the strange and mysterious case of Geoff Michel. Long-time followers of our boy in the Senate know that he was originally an enthusiastic supporter of shall issue conceal and carry when it came up in 2003. He told civic and church groups he was in favor of it, and he told one group of women to "just get used to the idea" because it was coming.

He even voted in the Senate to pull the bill enacting conceal and carry out of committee in the Senate for a floor vote without any hearing in the committee. This was a straight party line vote, and the motion failed. Then a curious thing happened.

The Edina City Council adopted a resolution opposing conceal and carry; many local citizens contacted the senator to voice their own opposition, and on the eve of the vote there was a large gathering of Edina citizens who met with the senator and urged him to vote no. Geoff Michel saw that his position on shall issue conceal and carry was not a vote getter in the district, and he did vote against the final bill when it came to the Senate floor in 2003. He will tell you now at every opportunity that he was opposed to conceal and carry, just like his pal Ron Erhardt.

Spotty and some his more suspicious friends have always wondered (and doubted) whether the senator really had a conversion on the road to Damascus. Spot has always believed that Senator Michel got permission from Minority Leader Dick Day to vote against the bill in 2003 because there were enough votes by a couple for the bill to pass without Michel's vote. Moreover, if his vote had been necessary to carry the day, he would have voted "aye." And Spot believes that is what happened again this year.

In support of his opinion, Spot offers the fact that the senator voted against an amendment to the bill to keep guns out of retail establishments. I am sure this will help keep adolescent boys looking over their shoulders while reading dirty magazines in the bookstores, lest there be any armed evangelicals about!

Senator Michel also voted against an amendment to keep guns out of hospitals and nursing homes. Spotty cannot figure this one out, except maybe it's a move to court the euthanasia vote, which doesn't sound like the senator. (Spotty, by the way, is foursquare against euthanasia.)

If anybody doubts Spot's account of these amendment votes, send me an email and I will send you the Senate Journal pages containing the amendments and the recorded votes.

So, we have a good, a bad, and an ugly voting record on shall issue conceal and carry. That was a long journey for a punch line that bad, and Spot begs forgiveness.



Originally uploaded by blog spot dog.
Spot needs some help in figuring out what kind of dog he is. Tragically, as is so often in the case of dogs, Spot is the product of a broken home. Spot is a white (except for the spots, of course) male. He thought for a while he was a Dalmatain, but his spots are the wrong color. Then he though maybe he had some Brittany spaniel blood, but no, then his name would be Spot-TAY.


Academic Freedom . . .

Yeti at Frozen Tundra Blog has a extensive post about Senator Michele Bachmann's so-called defense of academic freedom bill that is currently pending in the Legislature. Senator Bachmann is, of course, the reigning clown princess of Minnesota politics (but with Cheri Pierson Yecke and Pat Pariseau snapping at her heels; Spotty can't seem to shake the canine metaphors).

Sens. Michel and Bachmann both sit on the K12 Education Committee, and while Bachmann's bill deals specifically with higher education, Bachmann has also solicited stories from fundamentalist Christian high school students telling of their hideous repression at school. So we know where she is going with this. Spotty can just imagine how hard it must be to be part of the majority culture and be expected to look at something from a different perspective once in a while.

Spotty says contact Geoff Michel to get his position on this bill.


Saturday, May 21, 2005

Just say NO . . .

Spot quotes first two sections of Article XIII of the Minnesota Constitution:

Section 1. UNIFORM SYSTEM OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.
Sec. 2. PROHIBITION AS TO AIDING SECTARIAN SCHOOL. In no case shall any public money or property be appropriated or used for the support of schools wherein the distinctive doctrines, creeds or tenets of any particular Christian or other religious sect are promulgated or taught.
You will notice that Section 1 directs (choose mandates or requires if you prefer) the legislature to establish a “general and uniform” public school system, and that the system must be made "throughout the state." You have perhaps already apprehended that Section 1 does not carve out an exception for Minneapolis, Saint Paul, or anywhere else that the legislature may find it burdensome or inconvenient to maintain uniform schools.

The governor seems to think that the way to insure uniform public schools is to wreck them all.

Sec. 2 prohibits the appropriation or use of public money for sectarian schools. Spotty thinks this is a stricter standard than the US Supreme Court seems to be applying to the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution. (Watch for more on this in a subsequent post.) So far, vouchers, flying under whatever misleading flag is in fashion, have been unsuccessful in Minnesota. There have been myriad efforts over the years however, some of them successful, to begin to break this prohibition down.

It is plain that Minnesota’s founders (for these two sections have been in the Constitution since the founding of the state) intended that a quality public education be available to all students. It won't do, on "looking into the eyes of a Minneapolis or St. Paul parent," as Senator Michel said in the March town hall meeting, to say here's a little money so that some of your children can go elsewhere, insuring that the children who remain receive an even poorer education. Open enrollment already exists to permit many students to transfer to other public schools if they wish. Nor will it do to subsidize sectarian school so that some students will be encouraged to leave public schools and the per pupil formula will decrease funding to the publics schools.

A few years ago, the governor said that he wasn't promoting vouchers. Now they are one of the items on the cafeteria menu for ending the session. Vouchers are a terrible policy idea that run absolutely counter to constitutional principles that go back to the founding of Minnesota.

Senator Michel seems to have been a supporter of "school choice," a euphemism for vouchers from the get go.

Spot says vouchers are unconstitutional under the Minnesota Constitution and that the state opens itself to suit if it does not provide uniform schools or furthers a scheme to support sectarian schools.

Spot says to tell your legislators in District 41 that you are opposed to the governor's cynical and unconstitutional gambit on school vouchers.

Geoff Michel
Ron Erhardt

Neil Peterson

You really would think . . .

. . . that it would occur to a bunch of economists that perhaps it might be a little more important to people in choosing where to live that Minnesota is prosperous enough to have a median income for a family of four that is 15% higher than the national average? And that the surrounding states with whom we are "competing" compare with Minnesota on the same measure thusly:

Minnesota . . . 72.379
Wisconsin . . . 66,998
Iowa . . . 61,238
N. Dakota . . . 57,070
S. Dakota . . . 55,359

And remember, the Milwaukee - Chicago corridor in located the southeastern corner of Wisconsin, and Wisconsin also has a strong tourist industry along the Lake Michigan shore. Wisconsin is the only other state in these five about the national mark.

The above figures come from an earlier post of Spotty's. There is also a link to the Census Bureau in that post that shows where the above figures come from.

In an article in today's Star Tribune, interviewing some economists, nobody mentions these facts. (Spot can't find a link to the story on the Strib website; you will have to read the story on page one of the "B" section in the dead tree edition.) It is obvious to Spotty that a large part of the money the State spends is actually an investment that provides a return to its citizens, and certainly to its wealthy ones.

By the way, Art Rolnick's comments were curious. Art has hounded the states for years to stop the game of offering tax incentives to attract business, yet in the article he says Minnesota needs to be "in line" with everybody else. Spot isn't sure he entirely understands. And Art, if you are getting $500 suits at the Mall of America, will you tell Spot where?

Spot believes this is the first time he has been able to be self-referential, which is deeply satisfying to Spot.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Letter to a Young Conservative . . .

Spotty has been ruminating about this one for a while. But here goes. There is high school senior in Edina who runs a blog called http://ih8liberals.blogspot.com/. Spot really doesn't have to describe it to you. Now, Spot sometimes has sharp words for people, including specifically Geoff Michel. But Spotty doesn't hate Geoff Michel; his politics are dismal, and Spot tries to be quick in pointing out instances of that whenever he can, but he doesn't hate Geoff Michel. The Senator seems like a nice guy, which makes him especially dangerous.

There is one post on http://ih8liberals.blogspot.com/ that particularly bothers Spot. It is this one from March of this year, shortly after the Town Hall Meeting involving Senator Michel and Representatives Erhardt and Peterson, all from District 41. Here's the post:

Sunday, March 20, 2005
Interesting thing about local dems...

About 2 weeks ago I went to my Edina Town Hall meeting. When Sen. Geoff Michel spoke about having gay marriage being put to a vote only me and 2 other conservatives clapped about letting the people decide. Isn't this shocking, it's like the democrats don't trust the people to make their own minds up. They have to be saved by unelected judges and when they do get to vote the judge should be able to overrule them because they don't know what's in their own interests. Abortion is also related to this, if democrats are so confident that people are generally pro-choice (which I am by the way) shouldn't they put it up to all 50 states to vote weather or not they want legal abortions? Well, of course the Supreme Court always knows what's best for us, we can't question their judgement...

The question this raises is one of the great tensions, and Spot says one of the great geniuses, of American democracy. That is, of course, when and how that passions of a majority, perhaps a transient majority, should be restrained to protect the rights of a minority. This is something the drafters of the Constitution wrestled with, and we still wrestle with it every day. What does it mean to be a citizen of these United States? Does it mean that we are all subject to the whims of whatever torch and pikepole crowd can be assembled? Or does it mean, as Spotty thinks it does, that we are all entitled to some basic civil rights, deriving principally from the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment, the latter promising, among other things, due process and equal protection for everyone. And, ever since Marbury v. Madison was decided in the early days of the Republic, it has been the Supreme Court that is the final arbiter of the meaning of the constitution. And as society grows up and learns things, our ideas of constitutional protections are going to evolve (a bad word in some circles these days).

It is not only conservatives who think the Supreme Court is a nuisance some times through obstructionism or activism. FDR was spitting mad over the treatment of his early New Deal legislation by the Supreme Court.

The Congress and state legislatures also serve to restrain majoritarian excesses, through the filibuster (a dirty word to our young conservative, I know), the committee system, and longer terms for Senators, insulating them somewhat from white-hot political pressure. The ability to restrain the mob is a precious thing. Consider the case of Sir Thomas More, the Chancellor of England during the reign (or part of it, anyway) of Henry VIII.

As a Catholic, he couldn't swear to the Act of Succession or the Oath of Supremacy. The oath was to swear that Henry was the head of the Church of England, renouncing the Pope and Rome. He was charged with treason over this, and ultimately beheaded.

There is a famous play and a movie about these events; it is called A Man for All Seasons. Thomas More was played on stage and screen by British acting icon Paul Scofield. At one point in the play, More has a conversation with Richard Roper, a court sycophant who is Henry's Solicitor General and who is trying to trick More into committing treason here. He is not successful, but it is on Roper's perjured testimony that More is ultimately convicted of treason. I reproduce a portion of that conversation here:

More: There is no law against that.

Roper: There is! God's law!

More: Then God can arrest him.

Roper: Sophistication upon sophistication.

More: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal.

Roper: Then you set man's law above God's!

More: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact - I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I'm a forrester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God....

Alice: While you talk, he's gone!

More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you - where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - man's laws, not God's - and if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

This last remark from Thomas More is the best defense of due process and equal protection that Spotty has ever heard. He still trembles on reading it.

Yes, my young conservative friend, liberals do want to restrain the pious moralism contained in the impulse to diminish further the equal protection of a group of people who have been scorned and demonized through the ages and are just getting at least close to their own little spot in the sun. Like More, I want to live under man's laws, not somebody else's notion of God's law with which I may not agree.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Catch 22 . . .

This is the text of a letter in the Star Tribune on May 19th:

Don't take rights

I am a handgun permit holder, and I believe if the man accused of killing Billy Walsh is found guilty of murder, he should be executed.

The alleged killer violated his permit to carry by drinking. But we shouldn't quit issuing permits because of him or a few criminals. Americans have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Our Constitution must be protected -- all of it, even the portions we do not agree with.

If we listen to groups like Citizens for a Safer Minnesota, we would lose that freedom.


Spotty thinks this guy is a constitutional idiot, and probably a paranoid sociopath as well. First of all, the law doesn't say you can't drink while packing heat; it just requires a more moderate level of drunkenness than for driving. (Spotty does not believe this was changed in the reenactment of the law this year.) I guess Billy Walsh's killer didn't have his pocket breathalyzer on him!

It's also nice to know that if we need somebody executed, our correspondent will be around to gun him down on the spot!

Now on to the US Constitution. The Second Amendment, the Holy Writ for nut jobs like our friend above, reads as follows:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

The introducing clause "A well regulated militia . . ." has been held by the Supreme Court of the United States since the dawn of the Republic to mean state militias, like the National Guard, not the laughable pot-bellied vigilante knuckle draggers in lawn chairs hoping to take target practice on Mexicans crossing into Arizona. It must be remembered that the Bill of Rights was adopted at a time that the states were inching away from the loosie-goosie Articles of Confederation toward a more Perfect Union. The Bill of Rights is a limitation on the powers of the federal government against the states and their citizens.

The Second Amendment was never intended to prevent gun control measures by states regulating their own citizens. So when the Personal Protection Act adopted by the Minnesota Legislature refers in the preamble to an individual right to bear arms, it's pistol-packin' Pat Pariseau's delusion. Incidentally, you note how the Minnesota Constitution doesn't get mentioned in these impassioned rants about "rats"; the Minnesota Constitution is silent on the subject. (The Minnesota Constitution does direct the Legislature to establish a uniform system of public education throughout the state, but that's a subject for another day.)

Entire forests, oceans of ink, and tons of coal have been consumed in trying to argue that the Second Amendment establishes the right of an individual to tote a gun. They're all pretty silly arguments, although some of them pretend to be cloaked in constitutional scholarship. Spotty's favorite is the argument that earlier drafts of the constitution contained an individual right to pack heat. If that is true, what are we to conclude from the fact the framers took it out of the final draft?

Which brings us to Catch 22. Remember the book and the movie? Bomber pilot Yossarian didn't want to go out on bombing runs, and tried to get out because he claimed to be insane. The psychiatrist said nope, if you don't want to go you're clearly sane. It's only if you want to go on bombing runs that you are too insane to go. That was Catch 22.

Spotty thinks shall issue conceal and carry is very similar. If you really want to carry a gun around, you are too dog shit crazy to be permitted to do it. (Please excuse the vulgarity; in Spotty's case specifically, it is a term of art.)

If any Minutemen out there read this, please send Spotty a nasty and hysterical comment. You will prove Spot's point better than any words he could write.

What does this all have to do with Edina's legislators? Stay tuned.

If you wish upon a star . . .

Our governor, Jiminy Cricket (he wants us to wish on a star to solve the state's problems, and quit bothering him) has threatened to, and undoubtedly will, veto the gasoline tax increase measure approved by both bodies in the Minnesota Legislature. The bill did not pass by veto-proof margins in either house. As Spot mentioned before, our two representatives voted for the measure, and they are going to have to work on their Republican colleagues to override a veto in the House.

In the Senate, Geoff Michel and several other Republican senators are going to have to display some of that bipartisanship that the Senator wants to tell us so much about. He could do that by publicly changing his position and urging his senate Republican colleagues to do the same.

Spotty says that you can get Senator Michel's email address, and maybe more importantly, a telephone number for a personal contact with the Senator's office from his name link in the previous paragraph. Spotty says contact the Senator about this. It is important for transportation in the state, our economic well being, and it is a better jobs measure than simply trying to make sure that the best off among us can hire an extra pool boy.

Spot's probably not a watchdog . . .

Spotty got a copy of a letter recently calling him a "watch dog." He is flattered, but he thinks he is more of a hound.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Senate approves bill with ten cent gas tax . . .

Today the Minnesota Senate passed a bill along - you guessed it - straight party lines to increase the gasoline tax ten cents per gallon. A Star Tribune article describing the bill can be found here. You will recall that Representatives Ron Erhardt (R - 41A) and Neil Peterson (R - 41B) and a handful of other Republicans in the House voted with all of the DFLers to pass a bill in that body to raise the gas tax a dime.

Ron Erhardt has been a transportation heavy hitter in the House for years. He is chair of the Transportation committee, and he sits on Transportation Finance, Taxes, and the Ways and Means Committees. Neil Peterson, a first termer, is pretty much limited to emptying the ash trays and turning out the lights after committee meetings (just kidding, Representative Peterson). Anyway, a big thump of the tail by Spotty for each of them for his vote on this.

Geoff Michel has recently claimed - again - to hold aloft the light of bipartisanship. But it does not seem to be happening on major bills so far. The transportation bill, with support from the other two Republicans in the District, sure seems like a good place that Senator Michel might have tried.

In fact, Senator Michel wants to have a referendum on a constitutional amendment to increase the gas tax; the vote couldn't even take place until the fall of 2006. I am sure that you will never guess where this brilliant idea came from. (I'll give you a hint: his initials are TP.) This is just political cowardice and unwillingness to take responsibility for the transportation infrastructure that is critical to the economy of the state.

Perhaps we could consider a constitutional amendment to enshrine the odd and even watering of lawns. Just an idea.

Ok, Spotty is back on the scent . . .

Senator Steve Kelley (DFL - Hopkins) sent out an email message concerning the passage of an education by the Minnesota Senate. The bill is SF2267, and the Senator, who is the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, says it is a good one. Spotty is still reading it, but it is supposed to contain the first genuine increases in the state's education appropriation for four years.

It passed unanimously, which means that all of the Senate Republicans, including Senator Michel, voted for it. So far, so good. But remember, this is an appropriations bill, not a revenue bill. In other words it makes promises that can only be kept if the money is raised to fund it.

Spot's readers will recall from the news, referred to in a earlier post on this blog, that the Republicans, including Senator Michel, panned the idea of an increase in the top marginal rate for the income tax to pay for increased educational appropriations. Every Senate Republican voted against the bill to raise the top marginal rate.

Spotty senses a little cognitive dissonance here. What happens when increased educational funding meets Geoff Michel's No New Taxes Ever, I Really Mean It, Cross My Heart and Hope to Die pledge that he made to the Taxpayers League? Connect the spots.

There is another thing about SF2267 that Spot finds interesting. If you read through it, you will see several items directing school districts to do this or that, most unrelated to the classroom itself, and all costing the districts money. With all the sanctimonious talk about devoting at least 65% of educational funding DIRECTLY to the classroom, Spot cannot see how Republicans, including our own Senator, could vote for a bill that will make it just that much harder for districts to get their chins up to the bar. It just gets curiouser and curiouser.

An amplification . . .

Spotty forgot to mention in an earlier post that public school districts must provide special education services to private school students, too. It's in If Schools had the Same Accounting Systems as Business . . . .

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Some people say that Norm Coleman is a liar . . .

And if they're wrong, there will have to be consequences for that.

This is essentially Coleman's response to the slicing and dicing he got today from George Galloway. He said that there would be consequences if Galloway lied to the committee. Notice he didn't say that Galloway DID lie. If Coleman had any real proof that Galloway was involved in the Iraqi oil for food business or that Galloway was lying to Norm and crew, as Galloway said in the hearing, Coleman would have produced it.

This is one of the more artless performances by a human that Spot has ever observed. Not to mention the most botched political hatchet job that Spotty has ever seen.

Sigh, you really want to look at this . . .

Read more about Coleman's debacle here.

Gotta concentrate . . .

Spot is really distracted today, apparently, but in a good way. Here's a blog post by James Wolcott, an editor at Vanity Fair. The post concerns Norm Coleman's skilled cross examination of George Galloway, a British member of parliament, over the oil for food kerfuffle.

Spot's off the beaten path today . . .

Representative Peterson,

Spotty is taking the day off from pointing out the shortcomings of Geoff Michel to write to you about the shall issue conceal and carry bill that will come up for a vote in the House tomorrow. Some legislators, perhaps including you, have claimed that there have been no problems since shall issue conceal and carry was first enacted in 2003. Well, that’s not true. Here are some headlines from the past couple of years:
















Of course, because of the way the original bill was drafted, it is hard to get information about these incidents.

Did you know that Edina Mayor Jim Hovland appeared in a Capitol press conference last week to reiterate the City’s opposition to shall issue conceal and carry? Well, he did. Also, the Edina City Council unanimously went on record against the original bill in 2003.

I really hope you will reconsider your support of this sociopathic idea.

Spot (the blog spot dog)


(Spotty's readers can contact Representative Peterson at rep.neil.peterson@house.mn)

Monday, May 16, 2005

A trip down memory lane . . .

Okay. Spotty wants a show of hands. Who remembers Cheri Pierson Yecke? Most of you? That's good.

For those of you who are a little hazy, let Spot refresh your recollection. Yecke was the hot shot Commissioner of Education that Tim Pawlenty brought in from Washington DC and environs to straighten out education in Minnesota. (The governor also managed to find a cushy assistant commissioner job somewhere in state government for Yecke's hubby. He may still be there, but Spot is not sure.)

Anyway, Yecke was a divider, not a uniter, right from the beginning. You can Google Yecke's name until Excel runs out of juice, and you will be hard pressed to find her saying anything good about public education in Minnesota. Remember, for years Minnesota has had one of the top public school systems in the nation in test scores, graduation rates, etc. But, oh no, Yecke was an acolye for No Child Left Behind, the program designed to eventually show that all public schools are failures, and she wanted to get a head start. (When Jim Ramstad is back in Minnesota, he says he wants to get rid of NCLB, incidentally, but he seems to always forget to try when he gets back to Washington.)

Spot will get to Senator G in a moment, please bear with him.

Anybody ever heard of the Maple River Coalition or EdWatch? This is the group that believes that public education is a vast left wing conspiracy. Did this EdWatch outfit support Yecke? Oh you betcha.

Senator Michel has sat on the Education Committee since he entered the Minnesota Senate. He sat in on the confirmation hearings for Yecke, and he voted for her in committee and on the floor when she was turned out of office, an extremely rare thing for the Senate to do. Senator Michel was incensed when this happened, saying that the Senate had "no right" to reject Yecke just because she was a divisive (and Spot says destructive) force in Minnesota public education. Well, apparently it did, because Yecke is no longer the Commissioner of Education.

And what is Cheri Pierson Yecke doing now? Why, she's running for Congress. What a Horatio Alger story! In fact, she wrote a fourth grade level book report for the Star Tribune recently on how the Little House of the Prairie Books are a blueprint for life.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Why does Geoff Michel want to wreck public education?

Well, it probably isn't so much that he wants to wreck public education as he has other priorities that are more important to him. Priorities like being a tractable apparatchik for Governor Pawlenty, Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, and Republican Party and Taxpayers League bigwigs William Cooper and Brian Peterson.

Senator G signed up for the Taxpayers League's No New Taxes Ever, I Really Mean It, Cross My Heart and Hope to Die pledge early on in his short but uninspiring legislative career. When he did that, our Senator signed up for a voluntary political lobotomy, insuring that he would be beholden to a bunch of Social Darwinist hunter gatherers rather than his constituents. Try to put public education back on its feet after wringing $185,000,000 out of the budget last biennium? Naw, here's a 2% increase on impoverishment; gotta keep my pledge you know.

And remember Bill Cooper, probably the biggest Minnesota Republican sugar daddy of the them all, together with Senator G smiling in a press conference over the $35 million dollars that Cooper was going to pay for the naming rights for a new Gophers stadium. This is the same Bill Cooper who is establishing a string of wing nut charter schools that will, incidentally, reduce the public coffers for truly public education even further. Connect the spots, I mean dots.

Wow, that saved Spotty some work !

There is another excellent post today from the MN Politics Guru over at Minnesota Politics. It contains a good response to the Republican braying (there's a joke in there somewhere, but Spot doesn't have time to tease it out) over job killing taxes in Minnesota. It is a nice coda to Spotty's recent discussion of median family incomes in various states. You can find it here.

Another blog navigation tip . . .

Did you know that you can easily send an email of a post from this blog (and most other ones, really) to a friend by just right-clicking on the time stamp at the end of each post? A menu will pop up that will allow you to copy the link location of that particular post. In most browsers, the menu also has an option to paste the link right into a new email message.

This is a quick way to share Spotty with your friends.

Oh, and another thing . . .

The Census Bureau statistics on the median annual income of a family of four are endlessly interesting to Spot. Here are a few more states that Spot finds noteworthy. First some high tax states:

The evil liberal Massachusetts 78,312
Connecticut 81,891
New Jersey 82,406

And here's a couple more low tax shangri-las:

Montana 51,579
Wyoming 57,148

Florida, which has no income tax, the closest thing to heaven on this side of the sod for a Republican, and which has more than its pro-rata share of high-income old farts, still manages only a feeble $57,473, below the national average.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Yapping little dogs . . .

The reaction to the Senate's passage of a bill to raise income taxes brought out the standard reaction from the Republicans.

It's the same reaction we got when the increase in the minimum wage was proposed: It's a job killer! It's a job killer! Spot for one is tired of all the yapping. As if these people cared a lick (no pun intended) about the people at the bottom end of the economy. Any effort to improve the quality of serfdom or reduce the number of serfs is jeered by the Republicans. Receiving more livable wages would probably reduce the number of gardeners, pizza delivery boys, and nannies; I suppose that is a fate too sinister for the wealthy to contemplate.

Ok, where were we? Oh, yeah, taxes. The Republicans are currently running radio commercials all over the state shrieking that the sky is falling, and that Minnesotans already pay 22 percent more in taxes than the median. Spot intends to audit that statistic when he gets a chance, but in the meantime consider this:

For the most recent accounting period available, Minnesotans had a median annual income for a family of four of $72,379. The national median for the same period was $62,732. (These figures are both down slightly from the previous accounting period, by the way, showing how well the Bush tax cut strategy is working for the national economy.) So, our tax environment hasn't been exactly killing us. This is a pattern that has persisted for many years, long before the Republicans attained ascendancy.

A large piece of the higher taxation in Minnesota can be explained simply by the higher median income, which means not only more income, by more consumption (think sales tax), and higher value residences and other properties subject to the property tax.

How does Minnesota stack up with surrounding states? Pretty well, thanks.

Wisconsin 66,998
Iowa 61,238
N. Dakota 57,070
S. Dakota 55,359

Don't believe Spot? You can check these figures yourself; they came from the Bureau of the Census.

You might ask Senator G if he is aware of these statistics. Failing to fund education and transportation, just to mention a couple of issues, adequately is inexcusable neglect. It is eating the metaphorical seed corn. Maybe the Senator needs to spend less time polishing apples for the governor in the governor's bid to make the big time and give some serious consideration to the district and the state's business.

Ok, that's better . . .

Spot has fixed the comments function on the blog. Now you can leave a comment without being registered with blogger. Spot is kind of a Luddite; sorry that it took me a while to fix this.

And yes, Spot learned his rhetorical style from Bob Dole.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Tax Incidence Study . . .

In a Friday (5/6) post Minnesota Politics discusses the most recent Tax Incidence Study from the Minnesota Department of Revenue. It shows that people in the middle (and that includes a lot of you folks in Bloomington and Edina) pay the highest percentage of their incomes in combined income, property, and sales taxes.

Currently, the state income tax's top marginal rate is 7.65%. The Minnesota Senate voted Friday (5/6) on a budget bill that would impose a surcharge rate of 10.65% on married filers with combined taxable incomes of more than $250,000; $166,000 for single filers. Senate researchers say that most taxpayers wouldn't feel any effect unless they had a gross income over $297,000 a year, or $198,000 for an individual filer because of typical deductions and exemptions.

Senate DFLers say that a tax increase is necessary to fund the needs of education. It passed the Senate on a party-line vote, so we know how Senator G voted.

Old Spotty never met a dollar he didn't like. But he knows that he has to support his kids. Spotty has sired some pups over the years. Senator G and the Republicans don't want to support the kids; they are political dead-beat dads.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

More about Ward Eames . . .

Ward Eames, the Hopkins businessman mentioned in the last post, testified along with Tom Berge, the Minnetonka School District business manager, about their business accounting system before the K-12 Budget Division of the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol recently. Spot does not know if Senator G was present, but the presentation obviously didn't have much of an effect on him.

If schools had the same accounting systems as business . . .

In business accounting, there is the concept of the "Cost of Goods Sold." The purpose of COGS is to collect the cost of all of the inputs fairly attributed to an article of manufacture. This includes the direct cost of materials to make the article, but it also includes an allocation of some less direct but nevertheless indispensable items of cost: utilities, transportation of materials and finished articles, engineering, manufacturing plant space, et cetera.

A school district chart of accounts is set up very differently. Its purpose is to track the expenditure of funds as allocated by the school board and the state and federal Departments of Education. Apparently, there over 17,000 individual accounts in the state mandated fund accounting system for school districts, known as UFARS for short. This boggles Spot's mind.

Anyway, a committee of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, headed by a Hopkins businessman, Ward Eames, has been working for some time on an accounting system for schools that mimics business accounting. Instead of COGS, the functional equivalent is called "Cost of Teaching and Learning."

COTL attempts to collect all of the costs directly related to educating a student. Classroom teachers are included, but so are paraprofessional and other support staff (such as counselors, psychologists, speech therapists, and media specialists, f/n/a librarians), employee benefits, transportation, building principals, building operations and maintenance, et cetera. Also included are curriculum and staff development expenses. Not included are the so-called top brass that everyone worries about so much.

What happens when schools and business go head to head, so to speak? Spot has only seen the business accounting model applied to the Minnetonka School District, another district that has fallen short of the readin', writin', and 'rithmic Republican stricture, by a similar amount as Edina. The result is illuminating.

Minnetonka is running an average 95% COTL. Ninety-five percent. Much better than most businesses, Spot assures you. And Edina's is likely to be similar.

Now, within COTL, cost items are going to float back and forth a little over the period of a year or couple of years. For example, school districts have been hit hard by rising energy costs for electricity, natural gas, and vehicle fuel in the past couple of years. As a result, as a percentage of total COTL, these items have risen, but they still have to be paid. Children first have to be transported to school, and then they can only learn if the lights are on and the place is warm enough to concentrate. The Edina school district also must provide some transportation for parochial school students in the district; did you know that? Moreover, the district has to provide special education services to the same private school students.

Similarly, the percentage of COTL attributed to teacher salaries will depend on where the district is in the contract cycle, retirements and new hires, and by unusual changes in enrollment from year to year affecting the number of teachers required.

Can people differ as to how to spend funds with in the COTL? Of course. But just to reiterate, these won't be and cannot be static numbers.

The Republican 65% solution is just a shell game intended to make the public think that public school are wasting a lot of money. This is not only wrong, but the timing of the introduction of the idea in the legislative cycle is odious. And Geoff Michel is playing right along.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The 65 percent solution . . .

Senator Geoff Michel is an enthusiastic supporter of the so-called 65% solution which attempts to portray Edina schools--among many others in the state--as squandering money on non-essentials. In the House and Senate last week, Republicans offered proposals to require districts to spend at least 65% of their budgets directly in the classroom. Senator G says that "we need to have a healthy debate about how education dollars are spent."

If it is a healthy debate that Senator G is after, and this is such an important idea, it should have been floated long before a few days ahead of votes on the educational finance bills. This is an obvious attempt to poison the debate on education finance as Superintendent of Edina Schools Ken Dragseth suggests. In othe words, it is naked political chicanery.

One of Edina's State Representatives, Ron Erhardt, is suspicious of the idea, calling it another mandate.

An article on the 65% solution can be found in the Edina Sun Current here. (The article has been moved to the Sun Current's achive, but you can still see it by clinking the link and then selecting May 5 2005 as the issue and education as the subect.)

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Let's Party!

It is a long time until the elections in November 2006. But it is not too early to start thinking about a big retirement party for Senator Geoff Michel. The senator is a party-line functionary, not the reasoned public servant that the area usually produces. He is more interested in polishing his own party creditentials--and helping Tim Pawlenty polish his national party ones--than representing his district.

Coming posts will discuss how the senator has failed us all. Stay tuned.