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Capitol Chatter: Lawmaker says property tax change will be fixed

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ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota House Republican promises that a property tax change that especially hurts rural Minnesota will be repaired next year.

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"We are going to do some fixes on that," Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said. "We just are not ready to say what that is going to be."

Howes did, however, say that part of the way taxes will be made more acceptable is that a property tax refund program may be used to give more money back to those whose taxes rose because of the little-known change made earlier this year.

Lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton earlier hits year dropped the homestead market value credit program, which lowered many Minnesotans' home property taxes. They replaced that program with another one designed to do much the same thing. However, local governments say the new program will push up property taxes on lower-value homes and shift taxes that homeowners paid onto businesses and industries.

Poor, rural communities are affected much more than suburbs.

"It may come down to a war between suburbs and rural Minnesota," Howes said, but he added that House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, has promised there will be a fix after the Legislature convenes on Jan. 24.

When Forum Communications recently sought comments from House leaders on the tax situation, repeated requests for comment were not fulfilled.

Under the new law, Howes said, one Cass County resident he knows would pay $280 in property taxes to the county, up from $28.

The figure might seem miniscule to a Twin Cities resident with a more expensive house and higher taxes, but Howes said the Cass County resident gets few government services: no water or sewer, no library charges and no paved road in front of his house.

"Up there, we are paying for what we get," Howes said. "That is why it is so much lower."

Gambling fight

Minnesota's American Indian tribes are fighting proposals to use state-run gambling to help fund a new Vikings football stadium.

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association says its casinos employee 20,550 people, mostly from rural Minnesota. Combined, that makes it the sixth largest state employer, behind state and federal governments, Mayo Clinic, Target Corp. and Allina Health System.

Executive Director John McCarthy of the gaming group said that is a good reason for the state to avoid any actions that might put tribal jobs at risk.

In recent days, a few trial balloons have been floated to allow racetracks or other Twin Cities-area locations to add slot machines, with some proceeds going to help finance a stadium.

"The numbers are very clear: MIGA jobs are a huge factor in Minnesota's economy, especially in rural areas," McCarthy said. "The state should be looking for ways to preserve and protect those jobs, not put them at risk with bad policy decisions."

Voting a crime?

An organization backing proposals to require Minnesotans to show photo identification before casting ballots says 113 people have been convicted for illegal voting in the 2008 election.

Those convicted were felons not eligible to vote.

"As far as we can tell, this is the largest number of voter fraud convictions arising from a single election in the past 75 years," said Minnesota Majority President Jeff Davis. "Prosecutions are still under way and so there will likely be even more convictions."

Those who do not favor photo IDs criticized the report.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's office blamed Minnesota Majority for then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a bill that would have required election officials to notify felons when they lost voting rights.

The liberal TakeAction Minnesota group agreed with Ritchie's office, saying there would be no problem had Pawlenty signed the 2009 bill.

The Second Chance Coalition, meanwhile, took another approach. It suggested that more than 60,000 Minnesota parolees and probationers should be given the right to vote.

"Our system is confusing," coalition founder Sarah Walker said. "Individuals who have never been to jail or prison are denied the right to vote. Too often, they are unaware of laws. Rather than celebrate participation, we are punishing."

Speedy cases

State Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey says he has a way to resolve discrimination cases more quickly.

Also, the Human Rights Department will begin investigating all cases that are filed. In the past, the department had dismissed some charges without investigating, citing budget restrictions.

"If we are going to be committed to ending discrimination in Minnesota, we should be investigating all legitimate complaints," Lindsey said.

Some cases will be moved to the "rocket docket" for quicker resolution.

"These might be cases in which we see that there are very few issues to resolve, and a limited number of witnesses to interview," Lindsey said. "It makes sense to move these cases through quickly, rather than placing them at the back of the line."

Blog, newsletter start

Gov. Mark Dayton failed in landing a radio show like his two predecessors, but now has two new ways to directly talk to Minnesotans: a blog and a newsletter.

The blog is available at mn.gov/governor/blog and for the newsletter to be delivered via email, Minnesotans may visit mn.gov/governor.

Dayton already tweets and has a Facebook page.

New China plan

Gov. Mark Dayton plans to reschedule a China trade mission for spring or early summer of next year, his office says.

It was postponed from earlier this year when a state budget stalemate forced a government shutdown

Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon has been in China in recent days with other lieutenant governors and six governors are headed to China to take part in the second U.S.-China Governors' Forum.

Rosenstone's day

Steven Rosenstone Wednesday will formally become chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

The morning installation session will be in the Capitol rotunda and include Gov. Mark Dayton and leaders of the higher education system. It will be streamed live at www.mnscu.edu.

Dayton honored

The University of Minnesota Alumni Association honors Gov. Mark Dayton Thursday with its "advocate of the year" award.

"Gov. Dayton has time and again demonstrated his passion for higher education, and he has gone above and beyond in advocating for the University of Minnesota this past year," said Phil Esten, president and chief executive officer of the association.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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