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Human services crowding out all other categories of spending by Minnesota government

3 hours 20 min ago
Fiscal Fitness, the blog of the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence

Back in 2009, the Budget Trends Study Commission painted a grim picture of a Minnesota fiscal future utterly dominated by one spending area: health and human services. The report highlighted historical rates of growth, demographic pressures feeding that growth, and concluded that if historical trends persisted, “in order to achieve balanced budgets over the 25 year time horizon, expenditures on all other segments of the budget, including K-12 education, would have to remain essentially flat.” New information suggests this vision is not a visit from the Ghost of Fiscal Future; it’s unfolding right before our eyes today.

The annual release of Census data on state and local government finances provides information on Minnesota’s tax collections, spending levels, and spending priorities, which enable comparisons to other states. But some of the best insights come from examining the information for an individual state to see how tax collections and spending patterns have evolved. We have been publishing our summary of this Census data, How Does Minnesota Compare, for nearly 50 years and after looking back over many years one thing has jumped out at us as reflected in the table below:

Twenty years ago Minnesota’s “high tax, high service” governance model was reflected in most areas of government. When looking at government spending relative to state personal income – which helps control for differences in wealth between states – Minnesota spent more than the national average in 13 of 18 major expenditures categories in 1992. Based on the just-released FY 2012 data, that ratio has completely flipped. Now we spend more than the national average in just five categories. Whereas Minnesota spending once far exceeded national averages in areas like K-12 and higher education, we now trail national averages.

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Many would be quick to attribute this trend to the practice/philosophy of tax cuts followed by tax restraints that marked the period 1992-2012. It’s undoubtedly a contributing factor.  According to the latest Census figures, total state and local tax collections per $1,000 of income in Minnesota in 2012 were 9.9% above the national average,  down from 13.3% above the national average in 1992.  However, its difficult to attribute this trend and the magnitude of the changes entirely to the modest relative change in tax collections.

That suggests something else – something very powerful – is at work, and the first category of spending in the table suggests what the culprit is.

The Census Bureau defines “public welfare” spending as “support of and assistance to needy persons contingent upon their need.” This category includes a wide variety of programs and expenditures for low income households, the disabled, and – above all – the elderly. It includes payments to health care providers for medical care, support of private and public welfare agencies and organizations, and cash assistance to needy individuals and households – in short what we might more generally call “human services.” Minnesota has long been recognized as a state that looks after its most needy and disadvantaged. It’s part of our ethic, it’s generated many excellent returns, and it’s a hallmark of being a great state.

But the crowding-out effects on other government services that are also critical to our success are very real. Consider this:

  • The 46.8% higher spending translates into $8.4 billion in spending above the national average per biennium.
  • Public welfare spending grew by 75.8% between FY 2002 and FY 2012 – roughly 2/3rds faster than personal income growth over the same period (45.9%).
  • Viewing the trend through another lens:  public welfare spending grew about 1.5 times faster in the last decade than total taxes collected (75.8% to 52.3%).

No spending which grows some 50% faster than income or taxes over time is sustainable – especially a spending area of this magnitude. And perhaps most disturbing of all: the full force and fiscal impact of the “silver tsunami” is still years ahead.

Lots of questions deserve to be asked. How much of the growth is driven by demographics? Does Minnesota have substantially more generous programs? A broader scope of programs? Greater eligibility? What opportunities are there to streamline bureaucracy, consolidate programs, and otherwise improve the cost efficiency of program management? Efforts are being pursued, but answering these questions is difficult because the complexity of spending in these areas perhaps rivals only the property tax system in terms of general incomprehension.

The warnings of the Budget Trends Commission are playing out before our eyes. It would seem program benchmarking and other assessments need to be done, and soon, for the sake of taxpayers, beneficiaries of these programs, and the rest of government.

This post was written by Mark Haveman and originally published on Fiscal Fitness, the blog of the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence.

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MinnPost's year-end campaign to get an additional $5,000 if we get another 75 members

3 hours 26 min ago

We’re in the home stretch of our year-end campaign, and are happy to announce the receipt of a $5,000 challenge gift to help get us over the finish line.

We are only 75 member households shy of our goal of 2,100. If we reach that number, one of MinnPost's board members will make an additional $5,000 donation.

For this campaign, we are 80 percent to our goal of 375 new members, and 70 percent of the way to our goal of raising $60,000. 

Please make a year-end donation today. When you do, please tell us why you're supporting MinnPost — your comment may inspire someone else to follow your lead.

We are grateful to everyone who has stepped forward so far.

The comments below are reprinted with permission.

Donate today, and help MinnPost make news throughout 2015!

I read MinnPost every morning and appreciate the quality of the journalism. In particular, I am a fan of the Morning Glean and stories by Jim Walsh & Andy Sturdevant. I also appreciate that you cover mental health issues.Kyle Feldman, Minneapolis

Because I think knowing what happens in Minnesota is important.Carol Horswill, Minneapolis

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A great way to keep up with events in my former home. — Nikki Strandskov, Brunswick, ME

I appreciate that there is an online news outlet for the state of Minnesota, and I want to encourage you to continue to expand your coverage of Greater Minnesota. — Sheri Holm, Fergus Falls

Good source for local news. — Judith Bennett, Minneapolis

Great reporting, especially on education. Susan Colianni, Minneapolis

I appreciate getting the news and public affairs from more than one source and I feel that MinnPost reporting/writing is informative and professional. Clara Walter-Marchetti, Minneapolis

I appreciate the detailed political commentary and analysis by your writers. — Robert Dybvig, Houlton, WI

Provides me with valuable local news in a convenient email format every day. Martin Berger, Minneapolis

A great place to read about Minnesota politics. Delores Starkman, Ely

Best news and opinion coverage in town. Rolf Westgard, Saint Paul

Donate today, and help MinnPost make news throughout 2015!

Teens in fatal crashes are too often driving unsafe cars

3 hours 51 min ago
Creative Commons/That Hartford GuyAlthough parents state that safety is the top priority they use when choosing a car for their teenage son or daughter, many of those same parents buy their children older, less safe cars.

Teenagers killed on U.S. roads in recent years were about twice as likely to be driving a vehicle six to 15 years old than adults their parents’ age, according to a new study.

They were also significantly more likely than middle-aged adults to be driving small cars and vehicles without important safety features.

These troubling findings suggest that parents need to become better educated about vehicle safety — and to make wiser choices when purchasing cars or trucks that will be driven by their children.

The report was written by researchers at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and published Thursday in the journal Injury Prevention.

Parents don’t do what they say

As background information in the study points out, fatal vehicle crashes involving teens have dropped dramatically since 1996, thanks in large part to graduated driver licensing laws.

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Yet, per mile driven, the rate of serious vehicle crashes, including fatal ones, involving teens remains tragically high — about three times higher than that for adults.

Obviously, we need to be looking for additional ways of keeping our teenage drivers safe.

One of those ways is to make sure that teens are driving safe vehicles. Research has shown, for example, that larger, heavier vehicles provide, in general, better crash protection than smaller, lighter ones. So do newer vehicles, which are more likely to have important safety features.

But, as surveys have shown, although parents state that safety is the top priority they use when choosing a car for their teenage son or daughter, many of those same parents buy their children older, less safe cars.

Five years of data

For the current study, IIHS researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System for the years 2008-2012. This database includes all vehicle crashes on U.S. roads in which at least one person died within 30 days of the accident. The researchers looked at the types, sizes and ages of the vehicles involved in these deadly crashes for two groups: teens (ages 15-17) and middle-aged adults (ages 30-50). They chose that adult age range because it includes most parents of teenagers.

The analysis revealed that two-thirds of the teenagers killed in crashes during those years were driving a car. Of those, 29 percent were driving a mini or small car and 35 percent were driving a mid-size or larger car. The rest were driving pickups (17 percent), sports utility vehicles (SUVs) of various sizes (17 percent) or mini-vans (2 percent).

Teen drivers were significantly more likely than middle-aged drivers to be driving a mini or small car at the time of their fatal crash (29 percent vs. 20 percent) or a mid-sized car (23 percent vs. 16 percent), and significantly less likely to be driving a large pickup truck (10 percent vs. 16 percent).

The analysis also found that 83 percent of the vehicles driven by the teens who died in the fatal crashes were 6 years or older, including 34 percent that were 11 to 15 years old and 17 percent that were 16 years or older.

In addition, only about 12 percent of the vehicles driven by the teens in the study had Electronic Stability Control (ESC) as either a standard or optional feature. That compared to 15 percent of the vehicles driven by the adults in the study — a small but significant difference, say the researchers.  ESC is a safety feature that helps prevent drivers from losing control of their car during a sudden swerve or on slippery roads — and losing control of a car is a situation that is more common among inexperienced drivers. Research has shown that ESC reduces the risk of death by about half in single-vehicle crashes and about 20 percent in multi-vehicle ones.

The current study also found that the teens in the study were slightly less likely than the adults to have had side airbags as a standard feature in their vehicles (14 percent versus 12 percent).

Parents should shop for the newest car they can afford for their teenager, the IIHS researchers conclude. Newer vehicles are generally more likely to have better crash-test ratings, they point out, as well as important safety features, such as ESC and side airbags.

You'll find an abstract of the study at Injury Prevention's website. 

Reopening economic ties between the U.S. and Cuba will benefit both countries

3 hours 53 min ago

President Obama’s announcement that the United States and Cuba will resume full diplomatic relations came as a surprise, but it isn’t surprising that the United States and Cuba are rebuilding their economic relations.

Cuba was an important American trading partner before the U.S. trade embargo began in 1960. For instance, exports from the United States to Cuba were about 13 percent of total exports to Latin America in the late 1950s, with the dollar amount of exports from the U.S. to Cuba were equal to American exports to France over the same period. Imports from Cuba to the U.S. were of a similar magnitude.

Limited incomes

With renewed trade, American businesses will gain access to a new market for their goods, but the demand for those products is limited by Cuban incomes. The figure below shows Cuba’s income per capita from two perspectives: in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars and relative to U.S. GDP per capita.

Cuban GDP per capita, 1947–2008Cuban GDP dropped precipitously after the fall of the Soviet Union and only recovered its 1988 level in 2005.

Cuban income per person grew steadily from the mid-1960s until the collapse of the Soviet Union. From 1988 to 1993, Cuba’s income per capita fell by almost 40 percent and did not reach its 1988 level until 2005. All of this meant that Cuba fell further behind the United States in terms of GDP per capita, falling from 22 percent of the US level in 1947 to 12 percent in 2008.

Bright prospects for exports

The prospects for Cuban exports to the U.S. are brighter. First, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba refocused its economy to encourage tourism. With reduced restrictions on travel, more Americans will head to Cuba to relax with a nice cigar and a bit of rum and they will be able to bring back more of what they sample.

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Commodity exports to the U.S. are another potential source of growth for the Cuban economy. Cuba’s sugar is famous around the world, but will likely face a tough time in the United States because we give our sugar producers a defensive barrier through quotas on sugar imports. You can bet that Red River Valley sugar beet farmers will not allow these barriers to fall without a fight.

In addition to sugar, Cuba also exports nickel, a mineral that is used in many industrial processes such as the creation of stainless steel. The U.S. imports around 43% of our nickel from the rest of the world and Cuba could benefit by entering the U.S. market.

Another policy change that President Obama unveiled in his speech was that he was planning to loosen limits on remittances, i.e. money that people living in America can send to friends or family living in Cuba. This will benefit Cubans by increasing the flow of dollars from the U.S. to Cuba.

One of the most important policy initiatives was that the United States is going to begin helping Cuba to develop better internet infrastructure. This is a big change that indicates Cuba is willing to work with U.S. companies and investors, something it was not willing to do during the Cold War and not able to do with the embargo in place.

Unanswered questions from 1959

Thinking about U.S. investments in Cuba is where things start to get a little bit messier. When Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, there was over $1.8 billion worth of U.S. capital in Cuba and all of those assets were nationalized by the Cuban government. This remains a touchy issue because the existing law that enforces the U.S.-Cuban embargo, the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, specifically states that the ownership of all $1.8 billion of U.S. investment that was confiscated after the Cuban Revolution has to be addressed before the embargo can be fully lifted.

President Obama outlined in his speech that he would engage Congress to change the law, but the incoming Congress looks to be very hostile. So it is not without some pressure from home that President Obama has decided to pursue this.

So what will this look like in the long run? Well, don’t buy your plane ticket just yet — there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done for Cuba and the U.S. to have a normal economic relationship. However, with around 2 million Cubans and Cuban descendants living in the United States and serious reforms in Cuba over the last few decades, this looks to be the first of many steps to recovery.

President Obama said something during his speech that would stand out to anyone from Latin America, “Todos somos Americanos,” “We are all Americans.” This, in a sense, is the most convincing piece of evidence that there has been a serious change in attitude towards Cuba, and that we’ll see some serious changes to U.S.-Cuban economic policy. So go ahead, open up a bottle of rum to celebrate — it’s the beginning of a new chapter with Cuba.

Michael S. Hartz is a senior at St. John’s University and a student coordinator at the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement.

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Pressure mounting on legislators to fix Minnesota sex offender program

4 hours 5 min ago

A looming federal trial and an increase in patients being readied for release from Minnesota’s sex offender program has focused attention back to St. Paul, where lawmakers are again at odds over how to how to fix the state’s controversial program.

Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson says the number of offenders in the final phase of treatment before release at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) in Moose Lake and St. Peter has tripled in the last year. “That says a lot,” Jesson said. “We are seeing people make progress in treatment.”

MinnPost photo by James NordCommissioner Lucinda Jesson

The department has more than a dozen contracts with various group homes, adult foster care centers and other facilities around the state to house offenders should a panel of judges choose to release any of them from their civil commitment to MSOP. Jesson recently withdrew her opposition to the release of the third person to be let out of the program in its 20-year history.

At the same time, MSOP remains at the center of a legal battle that contends that things at the facility haven’t moved quickly enough. A federal class action lawsuit argues MSOP is unconstitutional because it promises treatment for its more than 700 clients — most of whom have already served their prison sentences — but rarely lets anyone out. The case goes to trial in February, and an expert panel appointed by the court has already recommended the release of at least two more offenders from the program.

Those factors have increased pressure on lawmakers in St. Paul to try and find a legislative fix for the program. But a proposal to address constitutional concerns with MSOP stalled in the middle of a heated election season last year. The release of sex offenders into communities has always been politically dicey, and House Republicans and Democrats couldn’t reach an agreement that would attract bipartisan votes. 

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Heading into the 2015 session, the Republicans who control the state House and the Democrats who control the Senate are already divided on how to proceed with fixing the program. At the heart of the disagreement is when to act — before or after the federal court rules on the class action lawsuit.

Senate Democrats are pushing for a swift resolution. “I think many people see the court as the option to force an action on this without having to take responsibility for whatever the solution is,” said DFL Sen. Kathy Sheran, who has the St. Peter campus of the program in her district. “The Legislature is supposed to take on the role of protecting both civil rights and public safety. By doing it ourselves we can do it the most effectively and efficiently and we can have a say in how state money is spent on this.”

Rep. Nick Zerwas

Sheran, working with Senate Republicans, passed a proposal in 2013 that adopted a series of recommendations from a special sex offender reform task force. Among other things, the bill proposed to put only the most dangerous offenders in the program, while others would be placed in a less restricted environment. It also established a two-step hearing process that would determine if commitment to the treatment program is needed and, if necessary, the terms of that commitment. The proposal also required more frequent review of individual cases.

This year, Sheran wants to add a provision from Senate Republicans that would alter sentencing guidelines for future sex offenders. The change would give sex offenders an indeterminate prison sentence, shifting some responsibility to treat sex offenders to the corrections department. 

House Republicans believe the program is constitutional, said Rep. Nick Zerwas, who took the lead on reforms for his caucus last session. He said recent release of a third offender into the community shows that MSOP “isn’t a life sentence.” “This isn’t a one-way ticket,” he said.

“I would be hesitant to start a large public policy discussion in February while the trial is going on,” Zerwas said. “Pulling stakeholders from all sides together prior to start of trial seems far-fetched. I don’t think anyone on either side wants to be have this debate coincide with the federal trial.”

State Sen. Kathy Sheran

That doesn’t mean he’s not open to some changes. Zerwas says House Republicans could agree to some — but not all — of the changes recommended by the sex offender task force and passed by the Senate. And they favor creating less restricted facilities outside of the razor wire but still on the MSOP campuses in St. Peter and Moose Lake, instead of spreading offenders out into communities across the state, he said.

“We want to make sure the setting is appropriate and safe for everybody,” he said. “We firmly agree with the attorney general that the program is fully constitutional. That being said, if there are a handful of ways to improve the efficiency and operation of the program while preserving public safety we would be open to that.” 

With one campus of the program in her Senate district, Sheran understands the kind of public anxiety that comes with having sex offenders living in a community, even under intense supervision. “The public has a lot of anxiety about this. Legislators are sensitive to that,” she said. “The constituents’ anxiety creates a caution in many elected officials and, I think, leads them to the conclusion to let the court deal with this. I think we have to act.” 

How local Muslims won the fight to build a worship center in St. Anthony

4 hours 51 min ago

In 2009, two mosques in Minneapolis decided to join forces to purchase a space and establish a large Islamic Center in the Twin Cities area in hopes of accommodating Minnesota’s growing Muslim population.

After a long search and an ambitious fundraising campaign, in 2012 mosque leaders purchased the former Medtronic headquarters in St. Anthony — rebranding it as Abu Huraira Islamic Center (after a companion of Prophet Mohammed). 

Later that year, when mosque leaders sought a permit from the St. Anthony Village City Council, however, they encountered bitter resistance from local residents during a public hearing. Residents made it clear that they didn’t want to see an Islamic center in their community — and why they felt that way. 

“There is no other religion in the world that condones violence,” resident John Murlowski testified. “Islam is evil.”

“There are no pluses at all in letting this mosque into our city,” said Rob Lundeen, another resident.

“Where did you come from?” asked another. “Change your own country.”

After the testimony, the St. Anthony City Council voted 4-1 against the proposal, explaining that the plans for the Islamic center were not compatible with light-industrial zoning of the St. Anthony Business Center, where the mosque would be located. 

Lori Saroya, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Minnesota (CAIR-MN), was concern to hear the comments made publicly at the meeting about the mosque. “But what was more concerning was that [St. Anthony Mayor Jerry Faust] allowed that,” she added. “In other mosque opposition cases, [officials have] been very clear…that out right bigotry will not be tolerated at a City Council meeting.”   

Sheik Abdirahman Haguf, co-founder and leader of Abu Huraira Islamic Center, echoed a similar sentiment about what had been said at the meeting. “I was very disappointed with the way we were treated at the City Hall,” he said. “We left there feeling down.” 

Lawsuit filed against St. Anthony

Saroya said the Abu Huraira case is just one of six cases in Minnesota that have encountered fierce land-use opposition over the past two years. Most of these cases were eventually approved, despite community resistance.

Leaders of the Abu Huraira Islamic Center turned to CAIR-MN for legal support, and the organization asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate. 

The department went on to find that the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger filed a federal lawsuit against the city of St. Anthony for refusing to allow a permit for Abu Huraira Islamic Center.

The Islamic center, said Haguf, initially wanted to solve the case through dialogue with the community and council members. “We asked the City Council members to meet with us so we can explain who we are,” Haguf said. “They said ‘no.’ Then we held an event at a church near the St. Anthony City Hall. There were a lot of people. We talked about our religion. We told them that we are regular people who want to be part of the society.” 

U.S. attorney, city officials and Abu Huraira representatives announced Tuesday a settlement agreement, which ends the federal lawsuit. “The city’s decision will be reversed and soon members of Abu Huraira will be able to hold prayer services in this building,” said Luger at a Tuesday press conference.

The agreement outlines that the Islamic center will use the rest of the building for light industrial use — which means 90 percent of the center will be rented out to businesses. It’s also the agreement that the center will not expand its worship space to the rest of the building and that it will not allow other religious organizations to use the facility. 

As part of the agreement, St. Anthony also agreed to pay $200,000 in attorney fees for Abu Huraira Islamic Center. The city also agreed to train its employees in land use requirements of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the law which the city allegedly violated.

“Today marks a new beginning for the Somali community and the people of St. Anthony,” said Luger on Tuesday. “ It’s a proud day for all Minnesotans, and injustice from 2012 has been reversed and freedom of religion has prevailed.”

Settlement welcomed

The Minnesota Muslim community has been closely watching the case for the past two years. For many, the rejection seemed motivated by a fear of Islam and Muslims. 

During the press conference on Tuesday, Haguf tried to address those concerns: “We understand that you may have some fear of Somali people, and Muslims. But I want to tell you, we came here 20 years ago seeking freedom, and safety. The same reasons your forefathers came here: safety and freedom, including religion.”

Global Somali Diaspora Deputy Director Sadiq Warfa has played a role in the fight to open the Islamic center in St. Anthony. He said he knew early on that the decision to reject the mosque wasn't right — and that it should be overturned. “Injustice was reversed,” Warfa said in an interview, “because this great country considers religious liberty as our first freedom, because the religious liberty is the bedrock upon which all other religions rest.”

Warfa added that there are many Americans who have the wrong perception of the Muslims because of media that “portrays our great religion very negatively.”

It's not only Muslim leaders applauding the deal, though. Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, also praised the settlement, saying that religious freedom is a right all Americans must be able to exercise.

Hunges said in a statement: “The Muslim community is an integral part of the diverse and democratic society in Minnesota and we stand in solidarity with them.”

“It’s unfortunate that this took two years,” CAIR-MN's Saroya said. “This could have been a mosque in 2012. But moving forward, it’s positive that, finally, the City Council is indirectly admitting that a mistake was made in 2012, injustice was committed and that they’re now taking steps to fix that.”

Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at ihirsi@minnpost.com. Follow him on Twitter at @IHirsi.

Student-housing changes in the Twin Cities mirror trends elsewhere

5 hours 20 min ago

It’s a bit jarring to walk around University of Minnesota campus these days. Huge new apartment buildings are popping up like gophers out of their holes. For example, the Marshall is a new apartment building that can house almost 1,300 students in Dinkytown. (It even has a Target on the first floor.) Likewise, Washington Avenue in Stadium Village is now lined with five- and six-story buildings. Even Sally’s, the famous sports bar with an overly attractive rodent mascot, has had to move into a new building.

Many of these new apartment buildings offer amenities like granite countertops or community rooms that might seem odd to people who remember the spartan housing of their college years. But they’re part of a trend toward newer high-end “luxury” student housing that is indeed a far cry from the "Animal House" image of students living in squalor. For many students, the rise of these new apartments is a long-awaited sign of progress.

Impact on affordability

One of the premises surrounding the new construction is that student demand for housing near campus is increasing because, increasingly, students prefer living within walking distance to campus. For example, when justifying some of his project proposals, developer Kelly Doran was fond of saying that the number of noncommuting students attending the university has increased from 25 percent to 60 percent. Those kinds of trends, along with the new Green Line light-rail line, threaten to shift the housing dynamics for the large school, and might make the school’s many parking ramps less profitable.

Chris Iverson, who graduates from the University of Minnesota this semester, was one of the people curious about how these new five- and six-story buildings would impact neighborhoods around the U. For his senior urban studies project, which he recently posted to streets.mn, Iverson studied how the construction of the new buildings around campus affected the traditional student housing market, duplex and older, smaller apartment buildings concentrated in the neighborhoods surrounding the campus. Compared to private homes, it’s difficult to find data on rental properties, so Iverson combed through online rental listings and compared them over time. He found that the recent apartment construction might have lowered prices for students living in more traditional duplex-style homes.

“People against these kinds of projects claim that luxury housing units are only for rich students and their well-off parents, and removes affordable housing around university area,” Iverson told me. “But there’s an interesting supply and demand system, where sucking up students from older units into high-amenity living makes older housing options less desirable.” 

According to Iverson, rental properties that have traditionally been seen as “cash cows” for university-area landlords might be less valuable, and forced to compete with the new buildings.

Housing tensions around St. Thomas

Meanwhile, just down the river in St. Paul, the University of St. Thomas and St. Paul are struggling to figure out the best way to build student housing. As St. Thomas has shifted its St. Paul campus to focus more on undergraduate students, neighbors in the area have become concerned about the increase in the density of student houses. Common complaints include late-night noise and occasional vandalism due to student parties.

Josh and Laure Capristant live on Fairview Avenue close to the university campus, and would like to see the construction of more residential density along Grand Avenue. According to the Capristants, a surface parking lot at the corner of Grand would be an ideal place for some residential density.

“It’s been highly contested and contentious,” Josh Capristant told me. He serves on the West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Committee, a group intended to calm tensions around the school. “For years here there’s been no ground broken on any of that housing [along Grand Avenue]. I’m an architect and do some planning, and I'd like it to be denser. But the big problem is that the university only has 40 percent of its students living on campus.”

In hopes of spurring denser apartment development along Grand, St. Paul recently re-zoned the area to increase the potential for density around intersections. 

Russ Stark is the City Council member in the area, and has been trying to balance the concerns of neighbors with the institutional needs of the school.

“There’s been a supply problem one way or the other,” Stark explained to me this week. “And the market’s been taking advantage of that. There’s this push and pull. Our interest in the city is to push more toward apartment buildings, as opposed to using the single family homes. But part of the solution is for UST to build more housing on campus as well.”

Neighbors are hopeful that apartments can be built somewhere, on- or off-campus, which would ease some of the tensions around the conversion of single-family homes into student living spaces.

Saint Paul Department of Planning and Economic DevelopmentWest Grand Zoning Study Area, Macalester-Groveland, St. Paul

 

Avoiding the student ghetto

Maybe “luxury student housing” seems like a paradox whose time has come. Years ago, St. Paul instituted a zoning ordinance that limits the number of “student houses” that can be built on any given block, in an attempt to prevent the neighborhood from becoming a student ghetto. While one of the concerns was that the ordinance would limit supply and drive up prices for cash-strapped students, according to Stark that hasn’t happened.

In many ways, a university campus seems like an urbanist dream, filled with walking, density and street life. But because college students are different from many other people in the city — they're often active late at night, are willing to live at higher densities, and are full of desire for new social experiences — these differences inevitably cause tension. Iverson’s research, which looked at four different Big-10 college towns, reveals that the Twin Cities’ student housing shifts are part of a much larger trend toward newer and nicer apartments.

At this point, it remains to be seen whether the housing trend is sustainable. Many of the new buildings around the University of Minnesota are having trouble filling up. One thing is for sure: Student neighborhoods aren’t like the rest of the city. Restrictions on rental housing and the boom in new construction means students will have more housing choices in the future. “Student ghetto” neighborhoods, full of dilapidated homes and couches placed on curbs, might just become a thing of the past.

Careful research unearths unknown catalyst behind Minnesota mental health reform

5 hours 27 min ago

A diligent researcher with a deep love of history, Susan Bartlett Foote decided to dig into the life of Minnesota mental health activist Engla Schey almost on a whim.

Foote, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, first heard about Schey during her research into the movement to reform Minnesota’s state asylums for the mentally ill in the 1940s and '50s.

“Engla Schey is an unusual name,” Foote said, “so I noted it when I saw her mentioned in two different books that discussed the reform movement. It piqued my curiosity, and I decided to find out more.”

Foote, a former attorney, health policy consultant and Robert Wood Johnson health fellow, wanted to know just who Schey was, but cursory research turned up nothing, except that she had worked as an attendant in some of the state’s mental hospitals. That sliver of information, combined with historical documents unearthed from her former father-in-law, Unitarian minister Arthur Foote, was enough to launch Foote, wife of former U.S. senator and health policy expert David Durenburger, on a full-fledged investigation. In the end, Foote decided to write a book about Schey and the Minnesota mental health reform movement. A preview will appear in an upcoming issue of Minnesota History magazine

“One of the joys of history research is unraveling the mystery,” Foote told me. “Engla’s story was a mystery that I felt needed to be solved.”

Earlier this month, I met with Foote in her Crocus Hill home. Over cups of tea, she told me about her in-depth research into the life of Engla Schey.

MinnPost: What inspired you to start researching Engla Schey and the history of mental health reform in Minnesota?

Susan Foote: It’s a long and slightly tangled story. My son was moving and I was helping him clean his closet. A bag fell down from a shelf and almost hit me on the head. The bag contained a wonderful old scrapbook, some speeches and reports written by his grandfather Arthur Foote, who had been the minister at Unity Unitarian Church in St. Paul from 1945 to 1970. The material concerned the mental health reform movement in Minnesota in the 1940s. Years before, when Arthur was an elderly man, my husband and I visited him in his home in Maine.

Arthur talked about Minnesota Governor Luther Youngdahl, and how they had worked together on that reform. I thought this was an interesting slice of history and I wanted to know more.

MP: So where does Engla Schey come into the story?

SF: At first, I thought the story I had discovered was only about the political connections between Arthur, the Unitarian church and Governor Youngdahl. But when I started digging into the history of the movement, this name Engla Schey began to appear in several places, including Elinor Sommers Otto’s “The Story of Unity Church. And then when I read a biography of Youngdahl, her name appeared again. In the Youngdahl book, in the chapter about the reform movement, I read this sentence: “It all started with Engla Schey.”

I said, “What? Who is she?” I tried to look her up, but I didn’t find anything. She was this mystery woman, but yet somehow she was important to the movement to reform the state asylums. So I got on ancestry.com, and because her name is so unusual, I managed to find a little bit about her there.

I learned Engla was an attendant in the state mental hospitals. But I didn’t understand how in the world this attendant who was born in 1895 in Marshall County, Minnesota, could eventually become this catalyst for reform. It was a mystery. Somehow I knew that this was an important story.

MP: How did you manage to learn more about Engla?

SF: I had a friend Carol in Thief River Falls, which is close to Marshall County where Engla grew up. She offered to dig around in land records and local history.

Susan Bartlett Foote

While Carol was digging up north, I was down in St. Paul, working away at the History Center.  I found some facts about Engla in Census documents. While reading through the papers of one of the Unitarian leaders, Genevieve Steefel, I found these handwritten letters. I picked one up and I thought, “I wonder who this is from?” I was reading it, and it said, “Dear Mrs. Steefel . . . ,” and I turned the letter over and it was signed, “Engla Schey.” I couldn’t believe it. It was the first time I saw her handwriting.

I just jumped out of there like there was a fire in the chair. Oh, my god. This was the first tangible piece of evidence that truly connected me to Engla. It was an original letter. And there were about nine of them. Those letters gave me a glimpse at her history: Engla was working at the hospital in Rochester when she wrote them. From the letters, I could tell where she was living, that she worked and lived at a number of the hospitals in the state.

I was just immediately taken by her frankness. These are wonderful letters: They all should be published. Engla, who clearly wanted to push for reform in the state hospitals, was writing things like, “You’ve got to watch those politicians. They’d rather take a tour of the barn than see the patients. It’s so easy to pull the wool over their eyes” — that kind of thing. 

MP: Did Engla’s story end with the letters?

SF: I had the broad outlines of her life, but many questions remained. And then I started tracking downwards to see if I could find any living relatives. I located her nephew in Boston and descendants of her sister Josie in Wisconsin. I sent long letters to her relatives. It took several months to get a response.  

I called a Wisconsin relative who didn’t have many memories of Engla. But she said, “My sister is coming up next week. I’ll talk to her and see if maybe she remembers something.” The relatives must have shared some information about my search.

Two days after Christmas last year, I got this beautiful email l from Engla’s nephew in Boston. We scheduled a time for a long phone call, and he shared photos and some memories from when he was a boy.

Around the same time I got this email from Engla’s great-great niece. She lives in Wisconsin. It was a really nice email and she said, “I have a lot of papers of Engla’s, who was my great grandmother Josie’s sister.”

I thought, “Oh, my god.” I emailed Carol and asked, “Do you want to do a road trip?” And we drove through a January snowstorm to look at the materials.

What we found was priceless — hundreds of pages of journals written while she worked in three different hospitals from 1946-1952. Incredible insights into the life of those who lived and worked there. Also, autobiographical stories she had written about her life.  

MP: And so you made copies of everything?

SF: I brought my printer along. Engla’s family was wonderful. They had all this food ready for us. It was Engla’s great-great niece and her mother, who is about my age. She’s the grand niece of Engla. They were really gracious. She didn’t want to give me the materials, obviously, but they said we could make all the copies we wanted.

Then I went to visit Engla’s nephew in Boston. He and his wife had me to dinner. He showed me Engla’s violin from when she in the Salvation Army. He remembers her but he grew up in San Diego, and so didn’t spend a lot of time with her. He came back to Minnesota when he was a little boy in the summer and would see her then. He had a few items and some memories. Her trail does go cold after the end of her journals, the ones I copied in Wisconsin.

MP: So Engla was an outspoken advocate for reform who worked in a low-status job in the state hospitals. But I still don’t understand how she influenced so many people, including the governor.

SF: In 1946, Engla attended the Minnesota Unitarian Conference, which brought together Unitarians and people from other liberal churches from all over the state. Engla was a member of the First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis. She attended that meeting, and what we know from a report that Arthur wrote, as well as what Engla wrote about it in her journals,is that at some point the issue was raised of Minnesota Unitarians becoming involved in the problems with the state asylums.

Leaders in the American Unitarian Association had created a project they called Unitarian Advance, which meant that no longer should Unitarians sit on the sidelines and just do things as individuals, but as Unitarians they should work together to make a better world. This meeting was about that project.

I do not know why the mental hospital issue was the one that was eventually put on the table. I do know that there were a couple of articles in the paper at exactly that time saying Minnesota’s institutions were not “snake pits” or “bedlam.” So apparently, when it was under discussion, some people at the meeting said, “We have talked to people high up and they tell us that things in Minnesota’s asylums are not bad.”

And that’s when Engla stood up.

I’m crediting her as the catalyst, as she was probably the only person in the room who at that point had at least six years of experience in the state mental hospitals. She worked in the trenches, and she was passionate and fearless. And she stood up and said in pretty blunt terms — I have these words as she recalls them in her journals —  “The people who run these institutions don’t know what the patients need or want. If you want to know, go dance with a patient. Go talk to them.” When you read Engla’s journals, you realize what the conditions were that she was living and working in. You understand why she was so passionate about the issues.

MP: What did Engla accomplish by speaking out?

SF: By speaking out, she got things started. Before this meeting, Engla had traveled around the state, passing out materials about the conditions in the asylums, but on her own, she hadn’t been all that effective. She was a passionate advocate for reform, but it took her speaking to a group that had the expertise, wherewithal and credibility to light the spark that carried the issue to the next step.

Engla passed the baton to the Unitarian conference. Arthur Foote served as chair of the group that persuaded the governor to take on the issue, worked tirelessly for years to bring the issue of mental health out of the shadows, advocate for improvements and reforms in the care and treatment of the thousands of Minnesotans in them. It was the start of a journey toward a modern mental health care system in Minnesota. Engla Schey was the hero without whom this effort might never have happened.

First Twin Cities Jazz Sampler is just the beginning

6 hours 54 sec ago

Artscape is taking a break. We’ll pop in during Christmas week with our year-end list, then return to regularly scheduled programing Tuesday, Jan. 6. Happy holidays!

It seems like kind of a no-brainer. A compilation album of tracks from recent recordings by area jazz groups. A sonic snapshot of the Twin Cities jazz scene, or at least a meaty part of it. So why hasn’t someone done this before?

Trumpeter, bandleader, composer, producer and booker Steve Kenny, the man behind “Twin Cities Jazz Sampler: Volume One,” wondered the same thing. “When the idea hit me, I was torn. On the one hand, I needed cooperation from everybody. You can’t do this alone. On the other hand, I was afraid that if I told too many people about it, someone would do it out from under me.”

Wanting to “put the flag on the moon,” he moved fast, reaching out to artists, having the album mastered, launching a successful Kickstarter to cover the costs of manufacturing. The official release event happens Saturday at Jazz Central. The Sampler is available now through the online music store cdbaby.

It’s part of a bigger plan in Kenny’s mind. “When I did the All Originals Jazz Series this summer, it got me thinking horizontally, looking at the whole scene, and that helped form the idea to do this. A number of jazz artists in the Twin Cities are trying to get ‘Downbeat’ to notice them. The whole scene is worthy of national attention. Let’s see if we can elevate the whole league.”

Kenny wants us to know that the artists featured on the CD – including Chris Bates’s Red Five, the Zacc Harris Group, the Adam Meckler Orchestra, Atlantis Quartet, and his own Illicit Sextet – are “the same groups and the same music you can go out and find live in the Twin Cities right now. Part of the idea harkened back to the glory days of jazz on the New York scene, where Thelonious Monk was releasing recordings and playing at the Five Spot. Artists who released important recordings in the catalog of jazz history were doing that at the same time they were playing the same material with the same musicians in small clubs. I see that happening here, so this was an attempt at recognizing that.

“The hope is to drive people to buy the records, but the goal is to increase audience levels at performances. When you buy this disc, you can get to know these bands and find their gigs, which are happening right now, and go out and check out the music.

“The other thing is, this is Volume One. I’m putting a line in the sand. I have this vision that at some point Target will care about a Twin Cities Jazz Sampler. I know it’s not ever going to beat out the Cities 97 Sampler – that would just be a bizarre-o world, where people really cared about art music. But if this one doesn’t sell 10,000 copies, Volume Four will.”

The “Twin Cities Jazz Sampler: Volume One” CD release on Saturday (Dec. 20) will feature live performances by Atlantis Quartet (just back from playing the Jazz Showcase in Chicago BTW), the Good Vibes Trio and Kenny’s Group 47. Doors at 7:30 p.m., show at 8. FMI and tickets ($15). 

***

Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney has received the 2015 Joe Dowling Annaghmakerrig Fellowship Award, given to an established theater professional with ties to the Guthrie. He’ll spend two weeks at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre on the estate of Annaghmakerrig, Guthrie’s ancestral home in Ireland. The Centre is a residential retreat for artists from around the globe.

Tarell Alvin McCraney

Starting in the 2010-11 season, the Guthrie presented McCraney’s critically acclaimed trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays – “In the Red and Brown Water,” “The Brothers Size” and “Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet” – through productions by Pillsbury House Theatre and the Mount Curve Company. In June 2015, the Guthrie will produce McCraney’s “Choir Boy.” Artistic director Joe Dowling praised McCraney as “a remarkable playwright, whose work has resonated with audiences around the country and internationally.”

At its annual meeting earlier this month, the Guthrie announced a surplus of over $247,000, achieving a return to fiscal balance. Last year it reported an operating loss of $438,000. A reduction in outstanding debt and growth in the Guthrie’s endowment also helped put the theater back on strong financial footing as Dowling prepares to step down.

The Bakken Museum has received a $10,000 grant from Xcel Energy for The Bakken Invention Programs, which include an Inventors Club and summer camps. The grant will allow the museum to improve program accessibility for underserved populations and ensure a broader range of student participation. “Xcel Energy’s generous gift will help The Bakken inspire even more youth with a passion for science,” education director Steven Walvig said in a statement. The Bakken was founded in 1975 by Earl Bakken, inventor of the pacemaker.

Three concerts have been added to the 2015 Live at Orchestra Hall concert season: master Celtic fiddler Eileen Ivers and her band Immigrant Soul (March 6); the 5 Browns, two brothers and three sisters playing five Steinways (May 15); and the Temptations, led by founder Otis Williams (July 12). Motown! Tickets to all three are on sale now.

Know anyone who wants to explore a career in arts advocacy? Minnesota Citizens for the Arts needs interns for January through April/May, depending on the 2015 legislative session schedule. MCA represents the arts community of Minnesota at the state Legislature, lobbies for state funding of the arts, and does advocacy for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The position is part-time and flexible (about 20 hrs/week) and pays an hourly stipend. FMI, contact Mark Albers at 651-251-0868.

The Picks

Opens tonight (Friday, Dec. 19) at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theater: “The King and the Mockingbird.” Based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, French director Paul Grimault’s animated masterpiece – begun in 1946, completed in 1980 – has now been restored in HD. Bring the kids, bring your parents. In French with English subtitles, except at 1 p.m. on Christmas Day, when the English-language version will be shown. FMI, trailer and tickets ($8.50/$6/$3 for 13 and under).

Sunday at Magers & Quinn: Larry Millett and Matt Schmitt sign “Minnesota’s Own: Preserving Our Grand Homes.” In his books “Lost Twin Cities” and “Once There Were Castles,” Millett showed us buildings and homes lost to demolition, accident and neglect. “Minnesota’s Own” takes us to 22 homes across the state that have been lovingly preserved. The book includes more than 200 color photographs. A signed copy would make a great gift, just saying. Noon. Free.

Holiday Fare

Monday (Dec. 22) on your teevee: Couldn’t catch the always fabulous New Standards Holiday Show live this year? No worries. TPT was there, so you can watch at home. Here’s a preview. Airs at 9 p.m. Monday, with repeats at 3 a.m. Tuesday, 10 p.m. Wednesday, and 4 a.m. Christmas day, long after Santa has come and gone.

Christmas day at the Trylon: “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” Part of the Trylon’s aptly named Trash Film Debauchery series, this is the MST3K (Mystery Science Theater 3000) version, complete with hecklers. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($5).

Sunday, Dec. 28 at the Jungle: “Holiday on Golden Pond with Connie Evingson.” For those of us who don’t have cabins to go to, Evingson sings jazzy holiday faves on the cozy cabin set of the Jungle’s current show, “On Golden Pond.” With Tanner Taylor on piano (a rare chance to see him, now that he’s moved to Iowa), Gordy Johnson on bass, and Dave Karr on saxophone. 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets here ($25).

The New Year

One of the things we’re really looking forward to for 2015 is the Minneapolis Institute of Arts' 100th Birthday Year. They’re not wasting a minute. Thursday, Jan. 1 through Sunday, Jan. 4, the MIA will host a weekend of festivities and surprises including a post-New Year’s Eve brunch ($20; tickets here); a display of birthday cakes by Minnesota bakeries inspired by works of art in the MIA’s collection; pop-up performances by the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus and the theater troupe Savage Umbrella; birthday-themed gallery tours; a New Year’s resolution make-and-take activity; and the reveal of an exhibition kept under wraps until now. The museum will open New Year’s Day with regular operating hours (10 a.m. – 9 p.m.), and “Italian Style” will stay open until 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 2 and Saturday, Jan. 3.

Chamber of Commerce will seek to scrap Minnesota's wage law provisions

8 hours 30 min ago

By the sound of it, Minnesota’s businesses are in a precarious position. The AP is saying, “Minnesota's leading business group wants state lawmakers to scrap the new minimum wage law that allows for inflationary increases after the hourly rate reaches $9.50 in 2016. Officials with the state Chamber of Commerce said Thursday it was a priority to get rid of a wage-escalator provision. The chamber's labor policy director, Ben Gerber, says the business lobby also wants to slow specified increases that will push the current $8-per-hour minimum wage up by $1.50 over the next two years.”

Oddly enough: Adam Belz of the Strib reports, “The higher minimum wage has not put a crimp on restaurant and hotel hiring. Restaurants and hotels in Minnesota added 5,000 jobs in November on a seasonally-adjusted basis, the largest monthly gain on record, according to the latest figures from the state. ‘Our increase in minimum wage is not only raising the earning power of workers in this sector, but is also not having those negative impacts on employment that many had feared,’ said Steve Hine, the state labor market economist.” It must be a job creator thing. We wouldn’t understand.

No pass for the home team. Martin Moylan at MPR reports, “A federal judge in St. Paul ruled Thursday that consumers suing Target for last year's data breach can move forward with most of their claims. Target officials say cyber criminals stole financial and personal data for tens of millions of consumers last November and December. But they say the retailer was not to blame. U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that the consumers' lawyers could proceed with the majority of their claims based on the consumer protection laws in certain states.”

At The Huffington Post, Kyle McCarthy tells readers about the smackdown of Globe University. “A Minnesota appellate court panel upheld a jury's verdict ordering Globe University to pay $395,000 in compensatory damages to Heidi Weber, a former academic department head for the university. Weber sued the school after she was terminated in retaliation for raising concerns about about deceptive practices by the school including providing prospective students with inaccurate information about transferability of credits and inflating job placement numbers. … For the past several years, Globe University and other GEN schools have been plagued by similar allegations of deception. Such allegations have noticeably taken a toll on enrollment at Globe University.” What Globe needs is some prominent member of Congress to stand up for their rights.

Also in the realm of education and squirrely finances, Tim Post at MPR says, “A group that provides school districts with training, technology and other services is working to clean up its image after a recent audit uncovered chronic financial mismanagement. The audit of Technology, Information and Education Services found nothing criminal, but it did discover that a remodeling job exploded in cost from $300,000 to $3 million. Auditors also found that sloppy bookkeeping kept the organization from collecting fees for hosting events for years. … Although TIES has saved about $500,000 by not filling vacant positions, it may have to make another $900,000 in spending reductions — likely by laying off some of the organization's 120 staff members, and by cutting some of the services TIES offers to school districts.”

Savers, the second hand store, is still losing partners. In the Strib, Jennifer Bjorhus reports, “Another Minnesota nonprofit is dropping the billion-dollar Savers thrift store chain, after the state accused the company of deceiving the public. The Courage Kenny Foundation will stop working with Savers and its Apogee Retail arm at the end of the year, the foundation said Thursday. … The used-goods program with Savers raised about $120,000 for Courage Kenny in 2013, [Allina Health spokesman David Kanihan] said, and will likely raise about $84,000 this year.”

If you were expecting a barely-renovated old warehouse, increase your expectations. Jess Fleming of the PiPress says, “Surly, the brewery that started the craft-beer boom in Minnesota, finally opens the doors to its ‘destination brewery’ Friday. The $30 million, 50,000-square-foot facility, which straddles Minneapolis and St. Paul in the Prospect Park neighborhood, includes one (eventually two) full-service restaurants, one of which is in a giant beer hall, and an acre-and-a-half outdoor beer garden that will eventually accommodate up to 1,000 beer drinkers.”

Ignorance of these will be no excuse. At MPR, Sasha Aslanian and Nancy Yang write, “Many of the laws passed during the 2014 Minnesota legislative session take effect Jan. 1. Here's a look at some of the more interesting changes. … Teens will be required to have at least 50 hours of behind-the-wheel training, up from 30 currently, and complete a supervised driving log before they can take the road test. Within those total practice hours, 15 must be driven at night, up from 10 currently. … [Another] new law may make it easier for reformed offenders to find work or a place to live. It lets Minnesota judges permanently seal the criminal records of reformed offenders.”

The upside? The volunteers still volunteering are a hard working bunch. Says Jon Collins at MPR, “While Minnesotans are more generous than residents of most other states in volunteering their free time, the proportion of people volunteering in the state has steadily declined in recent years. Volunteer rates in the Twin Cities and Minnesota as a whole are among the highest in the country, according to the annual survey by the Corporation for National and Community Service. About 35 percent of Minnesotans say they formally volunteered last year.”

Somebody needed to cover happy hour. The AP says, “Two Salvation Army red kettles have been stolen in Hayward [Wisconsin] in recent weeks. The Salvation Army says one of the kettles contained an estimated $400. … a few weeks ago, a thief cut a cable to steal a kettle from Walmart. [Salvation Army director Debbie] Huebner estimated it contained $300 to $400.”

In '41,' we get a uniquely personal view of Bush family dynamics

9 hours 12 min ago

How often does a person get a chance to read a biography about a famous someone he’s personally known a bit, written by that person's equally prominent son, whom he’s also met a few times?

Chuck Slocum

I was interested in reading the work of George W. Bush, America’s 43rd president, and what he said in a most personal biography of his father, George H.W. Bush, the 41st president.  

Never before has a president told the story of his father, another president, through his own eyes and in his own words. (We forgive John Quincy Adams this oversight.)

If one is interested in little-known facts about U.S. presidents, as I am, you get an inside view of how 41, enjoying 89 percent popularity after the successful ending of the first Gulf War in Kuwait, garnered just 37 percent of the vote less than two years later, finishing second to Bill Clinton in a three-way race in 1992 that included fellow Texan Ross Perot, who had years earlier tried to recruit the then-businessman Bush to work for him.

OAS_AD("Middle");

The personal rift between 41 and Perot is explained, as are other heretofore little- known facts about his relationship with Ronald Reagan, what Richard Nixon labeled him in Oval Office tapes addressing Watergate, and who in the White House was not a favorite of his popular and witty wife, Barbara.

A blind date, set up by dad

You learn firsthand about eldest son George W. being set up by dad in Washington, D.C., for a date with Tricia Nixon — and what embarrassingly happened to abruptly end it.

The reader comes to understand why George H.W. Bush’s indomitable mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, was the most influential person is his life and that his favorite sports hero was not Babe Ruth — whom he met while playing first base for Yale — but another famous Yankee.

You follow the nomadic life of the senior Bushes, which included six children and 25 different homes in their first 32 years together. (Now long-time Houston residents, George and Barbara — whom he calls "Bobsie" — will have been married 70 years in January.)

Nine-decade trajectory of 41’s life

It was Dorie McCullough Lawson, the daughter of David McCullough, historian and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of John Adams, who suggested to George W. that he write about his father.

The just-released new book, entitled “41: A Portrait of My Father,” covers the nine-decade trajectory of the elder Bush’s life and career.

Stories recount 41’s blueblooded upbringing on the East Coast, life-risking service as a 20-year-old Navy pilot shot down in the Pacific during World War II — he got his flight training in Minnesota and dined with the Pillsburys — his pioneering and most successful career in the oil business, his political rise as a Texas Republican volunteer leader, Houston congressman, two-time-defeated U.S. Senate candidate, U.S. envoy to China, U.N. ambassador, chairman of the Republican National Committee, CIA director, vice president, and president. 

But mostly, the book is about family and how George H.W. Bush became the optimistic, determined man he is while being, as 43 and his other children have said often in public, “the best dad in the world.”

Meeting the Bushes at MSP

As a one-time member of the Republican National Committee and a former state party chair, I recall meeting 41 and his wife, Barbara, during the 1980 campaign in which he was the running mate of Ronald Reagan.

A late arrival at a hastily planned airport welcoming group for the Bushes, I was last in line, holding my 3-year-old son. As luck would have it, the Bushes' ground transportation was late in arriving, so we were left in conversation together for about 15 minutes. Barbara asked to hold my reluctant Judson, eventually totally winning the lad over.

Several days after the trip, I got a very cordial hand written note — a lifelong practice of his — from the soon-to-be veep-elect. Reagan-Bush lost Vice President Mondale’s home state by 81,000 votes of 2.1 million cast, but won the Electoral College with 489 votes, carrying 44 states.

New light on publicity-shy '41'

Importantly, author ’43 explains the loving, supportive but nonintrusive relationship he and his father shared, especially during his own eight years as president. 

The book, well researched and often containing distinct 43-like language and recollections, casts new light on the publicity-shy George H.W. Bush. Seemingly capable of making endless numbers of friends during his long life as an accomplished statesman, he is described as a modest, warm, decent man. He is now goodnaturedly wheelchair-bound, staying on top of things and proudly wearing his outlandishly colorful socks.

Chuck Slocum (Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com) is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm. 

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UnitedHealth's ex-chief McGuire may seek public funding for soccer stadium

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 2:58pm
Bill McGuire

Mike Kaszuba of the Strib reports that Bill McGuire of UnitedHealth fame and massive fortune is mulling asking for a taxpayer handout for a soccer stadium. “In his first lengthy comments on his competition with the Vikings to bring Major League Soccer to Minnesota, Bill McGuire left open the possibility of seeking government help to build his own soccer stadium and cast doubt on whether he and the Wilf family would join together on a team. … McGuire said he supports a separate outdoor stadium — the Vikings want the team to play in their new $1 billion enclosed football stadium — but said no location had been chosen. ‘If we want to be serious about soccer in our community and our state, and want to play at the highest level, [we need a] facility that is built for the game and the fans of the game,’ he said.”

Speaking of entrepreneurs at the public trough, Kia Farhang at MPR writes, “Ramsey County prosecutors have charged four people with running a public benefits fraud scheme that bilked the state and investors out of more than $4 million. The charges, almost 100 in all, stem from a 27-month investigation into businesses run by a Yasmin Abdulle Ali and her husband Ahmed Aden Mohamed, of Fridley. With the help of two men who worked with them, Ali and Mohamed illegally collected nearly $3.7 million in state payments for personal care assistance and child care assistance, according to charges filed in Ramsey County District Court.”

Surely this must be an error. There was so much “job killing” talk not so long ago. Adam Belz of the Strib reports, “Minnesota employers added 6,600 jobs in November and October's gains were adjusted upward slightly as the state posted its fourth straight month of above-average job gains. The state's unemployment rate fell to 3.7 percent, its lowest level since May 2001, according to seasonally-adjusted figures released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.”

Meanwhile, Jeremy Olson of the Strib checks out the discrepancy in the cost of medical care. “Spending on medical care varies dramatically depending on the clinics that Minnesotans choose — from $269 to $826 per patient per month — according to a first-of-its-kind analysis designed to make patients wiser shoppers and doctors more accountable for the cost of care. The average patient cost $425 per month, but fully one in five of Minnesota’s clinics was substantially more expensive or substantially cheaper than average, according to the analysis by MN Community Measurement … .” Because, you know, a Buick sometimes costs four times as much 100 miles away.

Sort of related, Mark Zedechlik at MPR says Ucare isn’t happy with MNsure. “The state's online insurance website, MNsure, has seen dramatic increases in public and private health plan enrollments over the past several days. But one insurance carrier, Ucare, is complaining that MNsure's problems providing reliable information on consumers is placing the health plan at a competitive disadvantage. Joel Ulland, assistant director for legislative affairs for Ucare, told the MNsure board on Wednesday that his company has received no workable data from the exchange and cannot issue new policies.”

Good story by Lydia DiPillis in The Washington Post on a Minnesota rancher/farmer befriended by Fidel Castro. “For a few years there, it looked like Ralph Kaehler might have been able to make a go of it in Cuba, where he started trading long before President Obama’s announcement Wednesday that relations between the two countries were finally beginning to thaw. A lanky, weathered cattle farmer from St. Charles, Minn., whose family has been in the business for 130 years, Kaehler got interested in exporting to the communist nation back in 2002, when then-Gov. Jesse Ventura led a delegation of the state’s food producers to Havana. Kaehler brought what he called the ‘Cuban Ark’: Two beef cattle, two bison, two sheep, two pigs and two dairy cattle, all for breeding. … Castro took a liking to Kaehler’s two young tow-headed boys, and made them guests of honor at the following banquet, where they took in traditional Cuban music and dance.”

Really? 50%? Frank Jossi at Midwest Energy News writes, “A new report suggests Minnesota could supply more than 50 percent of its power needs through renewable energy by 2030 while creating more jobs and meeting federal carbon targets. The Wind Energy Foundation’s ‘Powering Up Minnesota: A Report on The Benefits of Renewable Electricity Development’ offers a scenario in which Minnesota could produce 6,884 megawatts (MW) of renewable electricity under a more aggressive high growth scenario.”

Start queueing now. The AP says, “Visitors to the Apostle Islands ice caves will have to pay a $5 fee this winter. The National Park Service will charge the fee for visitors ages 16 and older, assuming the caves form again this winter. A $10 season pass will also be available. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Superintendent Bob Krumenaker tells Wisconsin Public Radio the fee will pay for increased staffing, portable toilets and medical needs. He says 138,000 people came from all over the world to see the ice caves on Lake Superior last winter. The park service spent more than $450,000 dealing with the visitors.” Maybe they could build an Applebee’s on the lake in front of the caves, so people see the caves without getting hungry or cold?

Most of us out here in frozen flyover land get more sleep than the nightcrawlers of Manhattan and Vegas, but not that much more. At The Huffington Post Carolyn Gregoire writes, “New Yorkers are night owls and Hawaiians are early to bed -- at least according to recent data findings that look at bed times and hours of sleep per night across every county in the U.S. Different U.S. cities and counties vary greatly when it comes to bedtimes and hours of sleep per night, according to recent Jawbone data tracking the sleep patterns of thousands of users of its UP device. The county that stays up the latest is Brooklyn, New York (Kings Country), with an average bedtime of 12:07 a.m., while the earliest to bed counties are Maui and Kauai in Hawaii, hitting the hay at 10:31 and 10:33, respectively.’ the interactive map puts Hennepin County at an average 11:22 bedtime … and Ramsey County a minute later. Hmm.

St. Paul YWCA CEO Billy Collins to retire after 20 years

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 1:37pm
Billy Collins

Billy Collins, CEO of the St. Paul YWCA, will retire in April after 20 years on the job.

Collins has been active in nonprofit and public circles for decades.

The YWCA board says it will conduct a search for a successor and that Collins will assist in the transition.

Some highlights of Collins' career:

  • Legacy Award from the Pan African Community Endowment Fund in 2012
  • Member, St. Paul African-American Leadership Council
  • Member, Sprockets Leadership Group
  • Co-Vice Chair of the State of Minnesota’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee
  • Executive Committee member of the Twin Cities United Way Council of Agency Executives
  • Board member F.R. Bigelow Foundation
  • Member Ramsey County Workforce Investment Board Youth Council

Minneapolis Mayor Hodges to visit China in January to see ice festival and share tourism tips

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 10:55am

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges will visit Harbin, China, in January to attend an Ice and Snow Festival and share tourism and business ideas.

Minneapolis and Harbin are sister cities, and share a cold climate.

Also in the delegation, says the Star Tribune, will be

Harbin is in the northern China, near the Siberian border, with cold winter temperatures that often surpass our own.

As for payment of the trip's expenses, the Strib says:

Meet Minneapolis is purchasing the delegation’s plane tickets, with each member reimbursing the organization. The mayor will make the reimbursement out of her office’s travel fund. Other costs will be covered by the Harbin municipal government.

Minneapolis has 12 sister cities:

  • Santiago, Chile.
  • Bosaso, Somalia
  • Cuernavaca, Mexico
  • Eldoret, Kenya
  • Harbin, China
  • Ibaraki City, Japan
  • Kuopio, Finland
  • Najaf, Iraq
  • Novosibirsk, Russia
  • Tours, France
  • Uppsala, Sweden
  • Winnipeg, Canada

Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak also visited Harbin, as well as the sister-cities in Japan, France and Sweden.

The disappointment of Thaddeus Young

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 10:46am

A rare and marvelous thing occurred during the third quarter of Tuesday night’s game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Washington Wizards — Wolves forward Thad Young discovered his shooting touch.

Young had converted a 16-foot jumper and a layup in the final few minutes of an otherwise dreadful first half, in which he’d missed five of six from both the field and the free throw line while getting routinely outmuscled under the basket by Washington’s Kris Humphries. He also splashed another midrange jumper to begin the third period.

But it was midway through that third stanza when Wolves fans and management finally got a glimpse of the glide-and-grit player they coveted from his seven years in Philadelphia, the same one who had enticed the faithful with a 26-point effort on the season's opening night versus Memphis.

It began with a step-back jumper along the left baseline with 7:12 left in the period, followed a minute later by a drive down the left lane for a layup off a pick-and-roll play with point guard Zach LaVine, and then an almost casual 17-footer just 34 seconds after that.

Then, glory be, Young flashed a little physicality. When Humphries started jamming his hot-shooting opponent with close contact, Young sloughed him back with a slight bang of the shoulder and drained another long jumper on the left wing. Then he worked his way into down into the right low-post, accepted the pressure and spun toward the middle for a layup that brought the Wolves to within three points. Before the quarter concluded, he added a step-back jumper after his drive was closed off by the larger Nene Hilario, and finished the period with the flourish of banging Nene off him down in the paint and floating in a jump-hook.

When the smoke had cleared, Young had a career-best (and team season high) 19 points in a single quarter, converting nine out of ten shots from the field and one-of-two from the free throw line. Even the three personal fouls he garnered in those twelve minutes demonstrated a passionate aggression that had been lacking the first half—and unfortunately, for much of the 2014-15 season.

A failing gamble

Perhaps the best way to describe the Timberwolves’ season to date is that it has crumbled, broken apart into messy little pieces that seem to further disintegrate with attempts at reassembly. No doubt this is due to a barrage of injuries that began with the team’s playmaker-leader, Ricky Rubio, and then extended to their brutish but balletic low-post force, Nikola Pekovic, and their lone long-range marksman, Kevin Martin.

Rubio, Pek and K-Mart were the holdover core of veterans that head coach and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders was counting on to provide competitive ballast as the Wolves made the transition from traded superstar Kevin Love to wunderkind athletes cum 2014 draft lottery picks Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.

Saunders had lined up the trade of Love to Cleveland in exchange for top pick in the past two drafts, Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, plus a trade exception and Cleveland’s first-round pick in 2015. It was an impressive haul given that Love had already informed the world he was opting out of his contract in Minnesota after this season.

But Saunders wasn’t finished. The Philadelphia 76ers were sending signals to other NBA teams that they were desperate to lose as many games as possible to secure themselves another very high lottery pick. Their best player, Young, could be had for resources that damaged their present status and enhanced their future. So Saunders flipped that first-round pick he had just acquired from Cleveland along with end-of-the-bench players Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved to Philly in exchange for Young.

By making the move, Saunders was taking a calculated gamble. Young’s contract has an early termination option that enables him the choice of becoming a free agent at the end of the 2014-15 season or continuing the final year of his deal. In essence, the Wolves could be merely renting his services for this season, in exchange for a first-round pick.

At the time it felt like the shrewd capstone on Saunders’ rapid roster overhaul. Although he was a seven-year veteran, Young turned 26 in June. Throughout his career, he had been a highly coachable and diligent performer in a variety of circumstances. He was a starter in the playoffs his first two seasons, then a crucial sixth man when the Sixers returned to the playoffs his fourth and fifth seasons. The final two years in Philly, he was an anchoring veteran presence for a franchise that fell apart via acrimony between the players and outgoing coach Doug Collins in 2012-13, and began razing the roster in earnest over the course of a miserable 19-win season in 2013-14.

In context then, Young felt like a perfect fit. At 26, he was a linchpin between the vets and the kids. Love’s departure had created a gaping void at power forward for the Wolves, which has been Young’s primary position throughout his career. Perhaps most significantly, at a time when the Wolves were entering a period of transition and turbulence, one in which Saunders would inevitably have to choose between mollifying veterans and developing youngsters, Young was a steadfast professional who had admirably endured a more rugged rendition of the same scenario the past two seasons.

If the Wolves fell apart, Young loomed as the sort of large, fresh presence that could accommodate and even enable an improvised scenario, be it a reliance on veterans or a commitment to the kids. He was regarded, in essence, as the kind of large presence and unifying package of emotional and physical skills that could help immunize the Wolves from exactly the sort of crumbling that has taken place.

What seemed like a pretty sure bet has become a failing gamble. 

Tragedy, tumult and torpor

As mentioned earlier, Young began his tenure with the Wolves in impressive fashion, scoring 26 points against the stalwart Memphis Grizzlies frontcourt in a game when Wolves starting center Nikola Pekovic clearly wasn’t ready to play. The next game, Minnesota’s home opener against Detroit, saw Young again lead the Wolves in scoring with 19 as the team posted its first win. Two contests into the season, he was averaging 22.5 points on 54.8 percent shooting, knocking down four of his seven three-point attempts and all seven of his free throws while doling out six assists to go with five steals, nine rebounds and just two turnovers.

Then that player disappeared. Ask Saunders what is wrong and he’ll say that Young misses the injured Rubio. Yes, that is inexorably true, although Young’s shooting percentages are better with Rubio’s replacement, teenager Zach LaVine, on the court then they are when LaVine sits. It also seems logical that Young misses Pekovic, a stauncher, beefy presence who better complements Young’s undersized height and weight at power forward better than the similarly undersized backup center, Gorgui Dieng.

But a more striking and poignant potential reason for Young’s abrupt decline is the death of his mother back in mid-November.

The night before he rushed to her bedside to be present at her passing, Young converted just 2-of-10 shots in his then-worst performance of the season as the Wolves fell to Houston down in Mexico. It would be two full weeks before he returned, a period during which Pekovic and Martin joined Rubio among the significantly injured (none of the three are expected to return this calendar year). During his first game back, Young missed nine of ten field goals and three of four free throws in a loss to Milwaukee. He bounced back with 22 points in a win over the Lakers, but then played a season-high 42:30 as the Wolves were thumped by a second-half comeback from the Trailblazers in Portland.

Then came a road game against the Clippers in Los Angeles on the first day of December, Minnesota’s third game in four nights, and the fourth game Young played in the six days since he’d returned from his bereavement leave from the ball club. After a promising first period, the Wolves were thoroughly thrashed by the talented, physical front line of Blake Griffin and D’Andre Jordan.

In the midst of a humbling third quarter, in which the Clippers extended their 15-point lead at halftime into a 33-point bulge, out-rebounding the Wolves 16-to-6 along the way, Young lost his composure. In contrast to most of the other Wolves, who were listless, Young began overextending himself in silly ways, fighting for balls he had no chance of getting, putting up shots against near-impossible odds while ignoring open teammates, and guarding whatever player happened to be closest to him rather than sticking with a set rotation.

The consummate pro had seemingly snapped. After that flailing and fruitless third period, Saunders rested Young for the rest of the game. Wolves fans haven’t since seen that kind of breakneck energy and passion—for good or for bad—from Young until he belatedly joined the party in a feel-good win over Portland last week and then followed it up with that inspired third quarter against the Wizards. 

Poor numbers

Statistically, Young is probably enduring the worst season of his eight years in the NBA. He was a 50 percent shooter during his tenure in Philadelphia, but that has regressed to 45.7 percent this season. That isn’t because he is attempting more long-range three-pointers either: He is 26.9 percent from that distance, and has converted only 3-for-19 since those opening two games — and just 1-for-15 since returning from bereavement leave.

Shunning three-pointers hasn’t translated into more attempts at the other efficient NBA shot — layups at the rim. In Philadelphia, 42.8 percent of Young’s field-goal attempts were from 0-3 feet away from the hoop. This season, shots at the rim comprise a career-low 34.4 percent of his attempts. Nor is he being judicious on when to go to the hole—his accuracy on shots from 0-3 feet, 61.4 percent, is also a career low among his eight NBA campaigns.

A lightweight power forward who can neither stretch the defenses with the three-point threat nor get into the paint for buckets on a reliably basis is an offensive liability. On top of that, Young’s rebounding percentage is at a career low. On the bright side, he has come near the career-bests he established last season for assist percentage and steals percentage. But that seems small consolation for a player who should be the most NBA-capable performer among Minnesota’s healthy contingent.

By his performance and his body language out on the court, Young can’t wait to get out of town. The glitch in exercising his option at the end of this season is that he won’t be able to take advantage of the high rise in the league’s salary cap that is expected to occur two off-seasons from now, when the enormous influx of new media revenue arrives.

Maybe this is a temporary setback. Maybe the combination of all the injuries, his family tragedy, and a new, suddenly disappointing environment are contributing to a challenge Young will eventually surmount. Maybe he’ll take his option year in Minnesota rededicated to recapturing the versatile skills, unyielding effort and tolerant perspective that made him seem like such a sound acquisition.

But as of now, Thaddeus Young is not the glue guy we hoped him to be. He is one of the crumbs, disintegrating on contact and lacking in caloric content. 

Why we love our standing desks

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 10:31am
Borealis

Like we often do, because great minds think alike, Jen and I decided independently to get standing desks this year. If you’ve read any of the research, they are calling sitting the new smoking, and saying that even if you exercise regularly you cannot overcome the adverse affects of sitting at your work all day. I’ve long been envious of my teacher-husband for the built-in fitness in his day, but I like office work. And at 35, I have a lot of working years left.

We both decided to just take the plunge and buy them for ourselves, instead of repeatedly haranguing our workplaces to get them for us. It is easy to balk at the price – ours were both in the $200-300 range, but once I imagined that little price tag appearing at the bottom of a doctor’s office bill, the decision was easy. Three hundred dollars spread over 30 more working years is a ridiculously good investment in your health.

Courtesy of BorealisOAS_AD("Middle");

I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to hack standing all day, but I haven’t had a problem. Like most office workers I have meetings throughout the day that I sit at, and I join my coworkers for a seated lunch. And I still have an office chair — an exercise ball, actually – that I can use if I want to sit. I don’t wear heels, so haven’t had to alter my footwear, although I am careful to wear cushion-y socks (i.e. tights won’t cut it).

Here are some things that surprised me about having a standing desk:

  • I like it that when people come into my office, it’s easier to talk  because we are standing together, and it’s not the usual awkward uneven power dynamic. (I summon you to my office, where you stand while I sit and receive you…)
  • I didn’t realize how that slight effort of standing up is a deterrent, and how it’s so much easier to pop out to talk to a coworkers one-on-one (or fetch a coffee refill) if you are already standing. It makes my work seem more seamless, instead of trading off sitting phases with standing/moving, I’m always moving.
  • Standing gives me an odd little productivity boost, where I feel a bit like a super efficient airline desk officer. Maybe like how they say you should stand in the power Superman position right before an interview because it gives you confidence, the power position of standing gives you productivity?
  • Standing desks also elevate you from the clutter of your desk also make it much harder to spill your coffee on your keyboard.

The other main reason I got a standing desk is because of neck discomfort and headaches. I have trouble not cranking my neck upward unnaturally when sitting and by midday am usually cracking and massaging my sore shoulders. With standing it’s a lot easier to have good posture, and my neck pain is much improved.

Courtesy of BorealisJen’s original setup; after a few weeks of being startled by people coming in behind her, she
moved it to the other side of her u-shaped desk so her back wasn’t to the door. Also probably
not the best view.

Jen has had her standing desk for nine months and says she doesn’t intend to sit down again, ever. Here are a few observations about her standing desk:

  • I started working again two years after my heart attack — and after three years of hardly sitting at all, it seemed unwise at best (and scary at worst) to start sitting all day. I’d never start smoking, of course, so why start sitting?
  • After the first week or so, I wasn’t even tired at the end of the day. In fact, I never get the mid-afternoon drowsy/foggy feeling anymore. And like Breanne, I never have sore/tired/tense neck and shoulders anymore either.
  • I also noticed that my obliques were sore for the first couple weeks and they aren’t anymore; that tells me that standing at work is a core strengthener too.
  • I have a fatigue mat (like retailers use for checkout staff) and that helps a lot. I do wear heels, every day, and it works fine.
  • I’ve noticed that when people stop in to talk to me we both stand and conversations are faster and more focused. If I have a scheduled meeting, though, we move to my little conference table and I do sit down then.
  • My desk can easily move up and down but I leave it up all the time. If I were to purchase again, I’d get one with some writing space to the side of my keyboard and/or some space to lay a document that I’m referencing – like this one meant for two monitors.
  • For no reason I can ascertain, if I’m talking on the phone, I sit down on my desk. I do this every time. I have no idea why.

If you’re curious, Breanne purchased the all-wood Upstanding Desk ($200 + shipping, although she got a discount after it arrived two months late), and Jen got the Varidesk Single ($275).

This post was originally published on Borealis, by Breanne Hegg and Jen Thorson. Follow Borealis on Twitter: @borealisblog.

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St. Paul City Council votes for rare override of mayor's veto

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 10:17am

It was over pretty quickly. By a 6-1 vote, the St. Paul City Council overrode a line-item veto of the budget by Mayor Chris Coleman. Back in was $345,000 for evening library hours that had originally been victim to cuts made during the Great Recession.

In fact, the council members did it twice, and all in about 10 minutes time — first as members of the city’s Library Board and then as the city council.

Yet as decisive as the vote was — only Council Member Dave Thune voted to uphold Mayor Chris Coleman’s veto — it wasn’t immediately clear whether it would matter. Could the mayor, the council wondered, simply refuse to spend the additional money for its stated purpose?

“My hope would be that he would spend the money, that clearly this was a huge priority of the council,” said Council President Kathy Lantry.

She needn’t have worried. Shortly after the meeting ended, Coleman’s communications director Tonya Tennessen released this statement: “Our understanding is that when the Council appropriates money with specific purposes outlined, we have to spend the money accordingly. They have made their intention clear by overriding the Mayor’s veto. So while we are forced to appropriate the money in this case, the Mayor still believes this is not only fiscally irresponsible, but it is doing a disservice to the residents of Saint Paul who expect and deserve consistency and stability in our library hours.”

Tennessen went on to predict that the added hours could well be cut the following budget year when the city projects a budget deficit of $10 million.

And that was really the issue: how the hours were funded, not that they were added. The council found the money by directing money from the city parking fund into a fund to pay for parking meter repairs and maintenance. That freed up general fund money to pay for adding back Tuesday and Thursday evening hours at city libraries.

As logical as it sounded to spend money from the parking fund on a parking-related expenses, Coleman objected because it was using what is considered one-time money that might not be there in the future for an ongoing expense. He said he feared the city would hire extra library staff and add hours only to have to lay workers off and cut hours when it all becomes unsustainable later.

In his veto letter to the council, Coleman wrote: “Had the additional hours been paid for by a stable and permanent revenue source — perhaps by cutting in other areas — I could have supported such a change.”

Coleman also reminded council members that such funds are often used for one-time expenditures such as economic development projects in each of the seven council wards. “Taking away this flexible source limits our ability to do vital projects across the city that could lead to job growth and revitalization in neighborhoods throughout St. Paul,” he wrote.

The source of money also was why Thune said he voted against the override. The library as a separate legal entity has its own source of tax revenue. He doesn’t favor moving money from general government to the library for operating costs.

Thune joked that some might think his motivations displayed a lack of love for kids and libraries. But he said he had supported the libraries in past votes. “A lot of my friends are disappointed,” he said of his decision. “But I explain it to them and they don’t hate me.”

St. Paul’s budget of $515 million brings with it a 2.4 percent increase in the property tax levy. And except for the library hours, Coleman and the council agreed on nearly everything.

The budget includes several of Coleman’s initiatives, including adding paid parental leave for city employees and alterations in street reconstruction, give more money to arterials and funding to repair the so-called “Terrible 20,” the cities most-damaged roads. The budget maintains the number of police officers and firefighters.

Minnesota unemployment rate drops to 3.7 percent; 6,600 jobs added in November

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 10:08am

Minnesota employers added 6,600 more jobs in November, which brought the state's seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate down to 3.7 percent.

That's the lowest state rate since May, 2001. The national rate is now 5.8 percent.

The figures, released today by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, show that the state has added 51,065 jobs in the past year, with 35,000 of those coming in the past four months.

DEED Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben said:

"The change in the unemployment rate from 4.5 percent in July to 3.7 percent in November is particularly notable given the labor force participation rate held steady during that period, on top of adding jobs to the economy."

The monthly report shows some ups and downs, depending on industry:

Increases in November:

  • Leisure and hospitality, up 6,100
  • Financial activities up 3,100
  • Professional and business services, up 1,700
  • Government, up 1,700
  • Education and health services, up 1,300
  • Manufacturing, up 600
  • Logging and mining, up 200

Losing jobs in the month, though, were:

  • Construction, down 3,500
  • Trade, transportation and utilities, down 3,400
  • Other services, down 1,000
  • Information, down 200

And here's a breakdown of job growth in the past 12 months, by region:

  • Mankato Metropolitan Service Area, up 3.6 percent
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul MSA, up 2.1 percent
  • St. Cloud MSA, up 1.3 percent
  • Rochester MSA, up 0.8 percent
  • Duluth-Superior MSA, down 0.2 percent

Why are Minnesota's elected officials studying a 30-year-old legislative session?

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 9:52am

It seemed like things were turning around in Minnesota. It was the tail end of an economic recession, and revenue numbers were coming in way above projections. In St. Paul, lawmakers were prepared to head back to the statehouse. Democrats controlled the state Senate and the governor’s office, but a new Republican-led caucus was heading into the majority in the House after railing on DFL tax-and- spend policies in the last election. 

And though it had been years since Republicans had a foothold in state government, they promised to work together with Democrats in control of the other levers of state government.  

It was 1985.

Now, 30 years later, a very similar dynamic awaits Minnesota lawmakers heading into the 2015 legislative session. Republicans won the state House from Democrats this fall, but Democrats still hold control over the Senate and the governor’s office. Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Speaker-elect Kurt Daudt are all promising to work together. And as in 1985, Minnesota’s economy is on the mend. The unemployment rate is at its lowest point in years, and the state has $1 billion extra in its coffers to spend.

The similarities between then and now are so striking, in fact, that Bakk has made it a personal project to research the 1985 and 1986 legislative sessions ahead of the upcoming session, which starts Jan. 6.

But he’s not just interested in simple comparisons — trying to study the secrets of success from those sessions. Rather, he’s looking to learn how all that talk of harmony so quickly fell apart. 

The reign of ‘King David’

When the then-Independent Republican caucus took the majority from Democrats in the 1984 election, it was a significant victory. Conservatives had not had outright control in the lower chamber in 12 years. For their leader, the caucus picked three-term Rep. David Jennings, a 36-year-old carpenter from Truman, to lead the Republicans first House majority caucus in more than a decade.  “He was a tall man with a deep voice and he was fairly charismatic,” said Gene Lahammer, a former longtime state Capitol reporter for the Associated Press. 

Jennings had a thin 69-65 majority in the House and knew it wouldn’t take much for minority Democrats to peel off votes if his caucus was fractured, and he faced a test of his power early on. He had proposed an unprecedented 4 percent cap on spending increases over two years, a move Democrats blasted as too low and unnecessary — even while the more conservative members of Jennings’ own caucus said the cap was too high.

But after several caucus meetings, Jennings convinced Independent Republicans to support his position. After that, he had unprecedented control over his caucus. A Star Tribune article from the time called the caucus’ unity “a rare legislative phenomena.” 

Emboldened, Republicans pushed forward with an agenda that called for $1 billion in property and sales tax cuts and a 20 percent cut in personal income taxes. Perpich wanted a smaller cut in personal income taxes and an overall tax reform package that would cost about $600 million. DFL legislative leaders like Sen. Roger Moe, a 40-year-old teacher from Erskine who was then heading into his third term as majority leader, preferred a figure even smaller than the governor or the House was proposing. 

Courtesy of MHSState Sen. Roger Moe

Republicans were also pushing to take so-called “employable people” off of general assistance, a proposal that was the start of a two-year fight over welfare funding in the state. The move irked Perpich, who famously said “I would cut off my hand before I would sign that bill.” The state government funding bill was also tripping up some lawmakers because it included an automatic pay increase for legislators, who made just over $21,000 a year at the time.

After marathon conference committee meetings in May of 1985 to try and reconcile their differences on various proposals, the clock ran out on the legislative session. That forced Perpich to call legislators back for a special session to finish their work. Lawmakers had to set the budget by June 30th or the state’s bank accounts would freeze up. 

Leadership met off and on for weeks until they came to an agreement. Perpich called lawmakers back into session on June 19, and it took three days to pass all of the proposals they needed to. In the end, lawmakers passed a more than $10 billion state budget bill — with pay increases — and cut taxes by nearly $900 million, at the time the largest tax cut in state history. When it came to general assistance, Democrats won. Most people remained on the program while some were shifted to job assistance programs.

Jennings left the session with an air of confidence about the power his new conservative majority caucus. “It was important for us to show that we could run the House and to, if not deliver on all our promises, at least come close to it,” he told the Star Tribune at the time. “We’ve done that.”

A deficit and a farm crisis

The good times didn’t last long. By the time lawmakers gaveled in the 1986 session, they faced a projected $734 million budget deficit and a farm crisis. Farm values had fallen 26 percent in the first six months of 1985, according to a report from the University of Minnesota.

Democrats and Republicans quickly veered in opposite directions in terms of how to solve the problem. Perpich proposed to pay down half of the shortfall out of the state’s budget reserve and the rest by cutting state expenditures. That included cuts to some property tax relief and education aid.

Session Review: Vol. 11, No. 2About 10,000 rural Minnesotans arrived at the state Capitol in January 1986 to rally lawmakers' support for farm relief proposals.

House Republicans called for major cuts in state welfare programs for low-income families, a major restructuring of the Department of Natural Resources and the near-elimination of the Department of Energy and Economic Development.

Their positions put Democrats in a tough political spot: They were proposing to cut property tax relief and education funding while Republicans were going after welfare recipients and economic development programs, which were far less popular. “Republicans have us in a box,” an anonymous House DFLer told the Pioneer Press in 1986. “Politically, they’re on the side of the angels.”

But Democrats decided to publicly fight the welfare program cuts. Perpich called their budget balancing bill “anti-the unemployed, anti-family, anti-rural Minnesota and anti-job.” Childrens’ advocates flooded the Capitol to implore Republican legislators to vote against welfare cuts. Newspaper headlines focused on the impasse over the welfare cuts, which amounted to only about $30 million of the total state budget. 

A chaotic, early adjournment 

In mid-March, after 18 hours on the House floor and marathon conference committee sessions, Jennings called for the House to adjourn sine die. Members were outraged. As Jennings called for adjournment, Jim Rice, a 60-year-old DFLer from Minneapolis, shouted “Heil, hitler!” Dave Bishop, an Independent Republican from Rochester, yelled “you are the most arrogant speaker I've ever served under, Jennings!”

At the time, Moe predicted the swift adjournment would play poorly for Republicans in the upcoming election. “I think he’s going to end up with a lot of egg on his face by walking away without getting his work done,” he told the Star Tribune at the time.

Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical SocietyGov. Rudy Perpich

The Senate adjourned three days later, and Perpich was furious. He quickly called a meeting with Moe and Jennings and offered a compromise: the welfare cuts had to come off the table, but he would call a special commission to look into the issue later. 

Perpich called lawmakers back for a one-day special session in April to enact the agreements they had reached, which amounted to $175 million in savings achieved through various tax changes and cuts to K-12 and higher education and higher education. The rest of the cuts were left up to Gov. Rudy Perpich’s administration via unallotment, a budget balancing tool that gives the governor authority to unilaterally make cuts. He mostly trimmed off state government budgets to balance the budget.

The two years in power took their toll on Jennings, who decided to retire from the Legislature after the 1986 session (though he changed his mind about retiring and was briefly in the mix for the 1986 governor’s race). Later that fall, Republicans lost majority in the House and Perpich won re-election to the governor’s office, leading to all DFL control again in state government. “Republicans overplayed their hand,” Lahammer said. “They were a little over confident.” 

Then and now

Looking at the situation today, lawmakers and political observers concede that there are similarities between the two sessions 30 years apart. But they also point to all the major differences in the personalities that will be running state government.

For starters, all three of the current leaders have worked together over the last two years, Moe said, so there’s familiarity and trust already built up.  “All the personals are all different this time,” he said. “This process is very much a human process.” 

While Moe and Bakk both had reputations as master negotiators in St. Paul, those who worked with Jennings say he couldn’t be more different than Daudt. “David was called, sometimes affectionately and sometimes unaffectionately, ‘King David,’” said Steve Sviggum, who served in the Independent Republican caucus under Jennings and later as Speaker of the House. 

During Sviggum’s tenure as speaker, he created an executive committee within the caucus to dull the ultimate power Jennings had in the position. That could be a key distinction between Jennings and Daudt, Sviggum added. “Daudt has the executive committee to answer to, and he has a completely different personality and completely different attitude toward governing,” he said. “He’s more interested in cooperating and getting along with people.”

And while Gov. Dayton considers Perpich a political mentor — he actually worked in Perpich’s administration during the 1985 and 1986 sessions as head of economic development programs — Lahammer says they govern with vastly different styles. “Perpich was a grandiose governor, almost bigger than life. He was a dealmaker and a product of state government,” Lahammer said. “Dayton is much more of an introvert and has had a more varied career.”

The biggest challenge during those two years for Perpich, as Lahammer recalls, was trying to negotiate with a Republican caucus that didn’t want anything. He said Dayton and the incoming House Republicans could deal with a similar challenge. “Perpich’s style of dealmaking clashed with the new mentality,” he said. “They wanted less and Rudy negotiated in the way of, ‘You give us this and we’ll give you that.’ You’ve got to assume that one side wants something. The House Republicans wanted less of everything.” 

FDA warns expectant couples against medically unnecessary 'keepsake' ultrasounds

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 9:40am

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning this week to expectant parents: Stay away from the commercial ultrasound businesses — now often found in malls and other shopping areas  — that sell “keepsake” ultrasound photos or videos of your developing fetus.

The agency also advised parents against buying and using over-the-counter Doppler fetal ultrasound heartbeat monitors.

Both alerts were published in the agency’s Dec. 16 “Consumer Update.”

Pregnancy ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to evaluate the fetus’ age, growth and development. It’s also a helpful screening tool for certain birth defects. The heartbeat monitors are hand-held devices that use the same type of sound waves to listen to the fetus’ heartbeat.

These ultrasound procedures should be performed during pregnancy only when there is a medical need — and only under the supervision of trained health-care providers, the FDA update stresses.

"Although there is a lack of evidence of any harm due to ultrasound imaging and heartbeat monitors, prudent use of these devices by trained health care providers is important," says Shahram Vaezy, an FDA biomedical engineer, in the update. "Ultrasound can heat tissues slightly, and in some cases, it can also produce very small bubbles (cavitation) in some tissues."

A growing fad

In recent years, nonmedical “ultrasound parties” in which friends and relatives join with the expectant parents to view the unborn baby — often to share in the discovery of the baby’s gender — have grown increasingly popular. So have ultrasound “photo sessions” in which photos and videos are taken and then (in the case of the videos) set to music and sent to friends and family as “keepsakes.” Some companies will even bring the technology into the couple’s home.

But, as the FDA alert points out, during such parties there is no control over how long the imaging session will last, or how many images will be taken, or even whether the ultrasound equipment is being operated properly. Sometimes, such operators may spend as long as an hour to create a “keepsake” video of the fetus for the couple.

FDA officials express similar concerns for the ultrasound heartbeat monitors. Such devices are legally marketed only as “prescription devices,” they point out, and thus should be used by — or under — the supervision of a health-care professional.

“When the product is purchased over the counter and used without consultation with a health care professional taking care of the pregnant woman, there is no oversight of how the device is used. Also, there is little or no medical benefit expected from the exposure,” says Vaezy. “Furthermore, the number of sessions or the length of a session in scanning a fetus is uncontrolled, and that increases the potential for harm to the fetus and eventually the mother.”

False reassurance

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) also strongly discourages the use of ultrasound for nonmedical purposes. They note that such use may falsely reassure women that everything about their pregnancy is OK. “Women may incorrectly believe that the limited scan is, in fact, diagnostic,” the organization explains.

Equally concerning is the possibility that an abnormality in the fetus may be detected during one of these non-medical, “keepsake” sessions.

“Without the ready availability of appropriate prenatal health care professionals, customers at sites for nonmedical ultrasonography may be left without necessary support, information, and follow-up for concerning findings,” says ACOG.

You can read the new FDA consumer update on the agency’s website.