Moe makes Capitol return

Former state Rep. Frank Moe,who represented the Bemidji area from 2004-08, returns to the State Capitol on Thursday.
According to Bill Hudson’s report on the WCCO-TV 6 p.m. cast tonight, Moe is leading an effort to sled dog from Ely to St. Paul with a petition of 10,000 signatures asking lawmakers to support a bill setting forth strict environmental standards before approving any heavy metals mining in northern Minnesota.
Apparently aimed at PolyMet, the petitioers seek support of a “prove it” bill which would require proof of environmental safeguards put in place before construction. Thousands of tourism jobs are more valuable than a couple of hundred mining jobs, Moe told Hudson.
While a Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmaker in Bemidji, WCCO labeled Moe as an “environmentalist” in its report.

Tax extension means $360 to Beltrami workers

In a flurry of announcements issued Thursday from the office of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., came one that outlined by couny what workers could expect as left in their pocket if the payroll tax cut is epayroll tax cut is extended throughout 2012. Congress, if you remember, extended the tax cut for only a two-month extension in December
“During these challenging economic times, the last thing middle class families need is a tax hike,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “This will allow Minnesotans to see how the payroll tax cut directly impacts them, and highlights the need for Democrats and Republicans to come together and extend this critical tax cut to help boost the economy and support Minnesota families.”
Klobuchar, on her website, has a county-by-county tabulation of what extending the tax cut means.
For instance, Beltrami County, with a median average salary per worker of $21,620, that average worker would see $360 in savings by having the tax cut extended to the end of the year from its scheduled end Feb. 29. A family with two wage-earners would save $721.
Minnesota’s median annual wage per worker is $31,502, or about $10,000 more than it is in Beltrami County. Statewide, the wage-earner would save $525 with the extended tax cut while a two-wage earner family would save $1,050.
In the region, Clearwater’s median annual wage of $23,828 yields $397 in savings to individuals and $794 to two wage-earner families; Cass’ annual median wage of $23,824 yields $397 in tax savings per worker and $794 to the two wage-earner family; Hubbard’s median annual wage of $25,050 yields $418 in savings to individual workers and $835 for two wage-earner families.
Klobuchar said the figures come from the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Comittiee,
Republicans would argue that extending the tax cut would do more damage to the ecocomy, but these figures make it clear that middle-class Minnesotans would receive real dollars to pay real bills.
The figures also show that in Beltrami County, more than a tax cut is needed. Companies with high-end wages are needed to raise the median wage in the county.

Farmers closely monitor wolf plans

The state of Minnesota is now in charge of managing the state’s gray wolf population, but has yet to agree on how best to do it.
A Minnesota House committee debated wolf management plans on Thursday but took no action. One bill, authored by Rep. David Dill,DFL-Crane Lake, calls for a wolf hunting and trapping seasons, with hunting starting no later than deer opening and trapping in January. A state Department of Natural Resources proposal would have a hunting and trapping season from Nov. 24 to Jan. 5, or until 400 animals were harvested.
Hopes are to start the seasons this fall.
Minnesota farmers and ranchers plan to watch closely how the Legislature, which opened Tuesday, and Natural Resources Department implement control of the gray wolf, which the federal government delisted from the endangered species list last fall.
Wolf management is one of a handful of issues that include property tax and government reform that farmers and ranchers will push in the 2012 Legislature, Chris Radatz, director of public policy for the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, told me.
The federal government delisted the wolf several years ago and the Minnesota Legislature approved a management plan that split the state into two zones and allowing a wolf hunt in areas of high wolf populations. A federal court, however, overturned the federal government decision to delist the wolf. Conditions were met, and the wolf was delisted last fall.
“One of the big issues we will be dealing with is the wlof issue,” Radatz said. “At the federal level there have been so many challenges to it. Previously they (the DNR) had to wait five years before any kind of hunting or control season could be put in place. That permission was taken out last year, so we expect to be working with the DNR to see what can be put together to allow a hunting season possibly for wolves.”
There was about 3.000 gray wlves in Minnesota in a census taken several years ago, a number which has grown since. It is possible to have a hunting season as soon as this fall.
“The population’s up there in certain parts of the state,” Radatz says. “It makes some sense. … People need to understand that even if there is a season, those numbers are still going to be monitored … and there’s not going to be an effort to put them back on the endangered species list. The population will be monitored so there’s a stable population to make sure they can survive yet control some of them that are obviously hurting various parts of the state with livestock kills.”
Another problem, he said, is an inadequate compensation fund maintained by the Department of Agriculture to reimburse farmers and ranchers for livestock killed by wolves. “There’s two issues with compensation – the last I heard that fund may be running out of money, and the other problem is that now they are under state control, the federal trapping program is no longer funded.”
Previously, farmers with problem wolves could request a federally licensed trapper to trap the wolves. The Minnesota Farm Bureau will work to keep that federal program, Radatz said.

Dayton denies bonding for Red Lake schools

The Red Lake Reservation School District came out the biggest loser among local public works projects in Gov. Mark Dayton’s capital bonding recommendations released last week. The School Board requested – and the state Department od Education concurs — $32.52 million in2012 for facilities Improvements. Dayton zeroed the item out – recommending nothing for the project – in his $775 million bonding bill.
Republicans aren’t enamored with the size of Dayton’s bill, and halve that amount.
The Red Lake program, first developed in 2002, has sought capital bonding from the state ever since, but has had requests either ignored or vastly cut. Having a DFL governor deny funding, with a GOP Legislature with a track record of denying aid to Red Lake, virtually kills the funding for ths session
Red Lake seeks funding for continue renovation of and addition to Red Lake High School and Red Lakew Middle School, including demolition of the original elementary school and the adjacent portable building currently used for administratve offices. Construction includes new district/student services areas, a high school media center, technology labs, physical education/fitness space, replacing locker rooms, and completion of a common kitchen and cafeteria.
The proposed construction will replace a small, outdated vocational facility with a new self-contained vocational center that would also be used by alternative, adult, and community education programs. A fifth- grade wing would be added to the middle school to reduce construction costs at the Red Lake Elementary School by reconfiguring the middle school program. Old vocational spaces would be converted to a middle school hands-on learning lab including shop, technology, fitness and nutrition. The heating/ventilation system serving the entire building would be completed.
The project also includes parking lots, sidewalks, water management, landscaping and an
environmental studies area. Total cost of that portion of the project is $22.77 million.
At the Red Lake Elementary School, the planned project will expand and renovate areas supporting core programs such as music, art, special education, physical education, and food service area. Administrative
space will be reconfigured to provide visibility to the main entrance and greater building security. Six classrooms will be added to accommodate increased enrollment in early grades and an addition will connect the elementary school to the Red Lake Early Learning Center. This would enable shared food service, physical education spaces, and media center. The estimated cost for that portion of the project is $7.97 million.
At Ponemah Elementary School, the current media center will be renovated and expanded to provide appropriate space for technology for educational and student support. The current media center is small and lacks technology. Site improvements will be completed to provide safe bus and parent drop-offs and improve parking, playgrounds and fields. The project is estimated to cost $1.84 million.
The Red Lake proposal is ranked first of three Department of Education requests, with none funded by Dayton.
Another loser in the bonding battle is Bemidji State University, which had its request to seek funding for a new business area denied by the Democrat governor. BSU requested $3.3 million in this bonding bill for planning and design, and are prepare to ask for $13 million in the 2014 bonding bill to construct new spaces for business classes.A business building would be created with an addition and renovation of an existing building.
“The business and accounting programs have grown consistently for each of the past eight years. Current building is a detriment to meeting current and future expectations of business and accounting students and has no space conducive to growing partnerships with business and industry. Maintaining
current enrollment and continuing growth would become difficult without having an up-to-date facility. These programs are enrollment drivers for the university,” states BSU’s project proposal about delaying funding.
BSU, however, would share in repair funds for all state campuses.
Also not funded in Dayton’s bill is a $3 million request for a Lakeland Public Television Media Center building.
A big winner in Dayton’s bonding bill is Itasca State Park.Dayton included $4.06 million t o constrct a 10,800-square-foot student center, renovate the lakeside laboratory, and demolish structurally unsound buildings at the Itasca Biological Station at Itasca State Park, The University of Minnesota-run campus will house classrooms, labs, a computer lab and library, auditorium and work stations. The Ubiversity is providing an additional $2.03 million to the project,
The bill does provide $1 million to Northome for an utility improvement project and $1.28 million to federal Dam for a sanitary sewer collection system replacement.
Republicans, who control the Legislature, will go much lower than Dayton’s $775 million proposal.
“The governor came out with his recommendation …, a $755 million proposal. That figure falls within the limit of what Minnesota Management & Budget says is our budget capacity, but I feel it is more than we should spend. If a family has a credit card with a $5,000 maximum, that does not mean they should max it out,” Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, chairman of the House Capital Investment Committee, said Friday.

“I currently plan to put out a bonding bill in the $350 million to $500 million range,” he said. “The governor’s proposal appropriates $20 million to asset preservation for both the University of Minnesota ad Minnesota State Colleges and University systems. I would like to double the amount of funding because it is important to maintain our facilities and correct problems before they end up costing us even more.

“For instance, I was touring Itasca Community College when a door was opened and black mold was discovered on the walls. I need to find out from the governor if his plan specifically appropriates funding to fix this problem because we can’t subject students to those conditions,” Howes added.

“I also will recommend funds be used for improving the state prison in St. Cloud. The prison is a century-old facility which has taken on the entry-point role in the state’s system, something it was not originally designed to handle. Improvements are needed to ensure the prison can accommodate the increased prisoner load it has encountered both at the ‘intake’ facility and also in its infirmary. This is a real safety issue and we need to do what is reasonable.”

Not much will be done on bonding proposals until March.
“I intend to wait at least until after next state economic forecast comes out Feb. 29 to release my plan,” Howes said..” That will give us a fresh idea of where our state economy stands and may impact what we spend. The hope our falling unemployment rate means we are headed in the right direction, but we also can’t get ahead of ourselves in case our economy stalls again.”

Retiring … but not done

It was a sad day when I learned that my medical conditions  would prohibit me from working full time at the                 pioneer, at least until next March. Over 30 years I’ve worked in several positions at the Pioneer, but have enjoyed my last position the most — covering politics and writng editorials/handling the Opinion page.

It started in late March when what I thought was the flu but turned into pnumonia with eventual respirtory failure.  Being diabetic, I also had extremely high blood sugar numbers, enough to put me into a diabetic coma for two day and was helicoptered to Fargo. After recovering and using a walker, I planned to return to work on June 7. The day before, however, I had a bout of low blood sugar, fell and badly broke my left leg. That again sent me to Fargo and surgery. I am now at Neilson Place waiting for the order that will allow me to put weight on the leg. In trying to stabilize my diabetes, my doctor is recommending veery limited hours to work until March, hours too low to continue my position at the Pioneer.

While “retiring” from the Pioneer, I am not done. The Internet is a wondewrful thi8ng. There much I can do from home to stay connected. Dennis Doeden and I have talked about me doing a weekly political column. When I am mobile again, I do plan attending local political events and news conferences. I am also exploring other Internet options, and I am especially interested in agriculture and food policy reporting for a major news outlet. I also will do some proof reading and page design for a regional religious newspaper. All this mostly from my home!

Of course, I also plan to spend more time with organizations I belong to — Bemidji Sunrise Rotary, Sons of Norway and Beltrami County Farm Bureau.

So, I am closing a 30-year career at the Pioneer, at least for now.

It would be nice to meet with people whom I have covered over the years and with readers of the Pioneer as I celebrate my retirement from the Pioneer with a party noon-2 or 3 this Saturday (Aug. 27) at Northview Manor, where I now live. That’s 1805 30th St. NW.

For those who want to contact me with political events or tips, I am on Facebook and Twitter and at bswenson@paulbunyan.net

And, thanks for all the memories!

Beltrami Republicans favor Pawlenty for pres, Bachmann for Senate

eltrami County Republican Chairman Ken Cobb addresses the county convention on Saturday morning.

It’s early yet, but the Beltrami County Republican Party, at its annual convention Saturday, took straw polls in both the 2012 presidential race and the 2012 U.S. Senate race, a seat now held by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat.

With 46 voting delegates, former Govs. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas tied for the county GOP’s early choice for president, each getting nine votes or 19.6 percent. Huckabee is no surprise, as he led delegate preference during the 2008 Beltrami County Republican precinct caucuses.

Pawlenty, however, does surprise as his finish in Beltrami County is about double his polling statewide in preference polls conducted by the media. He is a favorite among county Republicans, however, for his no-new-taxes stance and his strong support of the Bemidji Regional Event Center, now The Sanford Center. That, even though he never did visit Bemidji again after declaring his lame-duck status nearly a year and a half before he left office, and after he got into a pissing match with Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann, a Republican running for House 4A, over Bemidji’s Local Government Aid allocations.

Finishing third in the straw poll, with four votes each or 8.7 percent, were U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Donald Trump got two votes and Sarah Palin none.

As Klobuchar closes out her first term, Beltrami County Republicans would sooner like Bachmann to replace her as Minnesota’s senator. Bachmann tallied 10 votes or 21.7 percent among delegates to land in first place.

Tied for second with seven votes or 15.2 percent were former Gov. Pawlenty and former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, a gubernatorial candidate last spring. And the GOP’s pick to run for governor, Rep. Tom Emmer, took fourth with six votes or 13 percent. Former House Speaker Steve Sviggum and new U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack followed with four votes each, or 8.7 percent.

Former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, whose seat was taken by Al Franken, won favor of three delegates or 6.5 percent to take the Klobuchar seat.

The convention had the usual speakers, with local newcomer legislators John Carlson and Dave Hancock. Cravaack, who ousted Jim Oberstar, was supposed to keynote the convention, but was held back in Washington as the U.S. House debated the continuing resolution to take the federal government to Oct. 1. Cravaack will instead keynote the party banquet on May 6.

In an unsual twist of words, Kath Molitor, once party chairwoman, won re-election as co-vice chairman for the 8th Congressional District. She also will be one of two delegates to the State Central Committee, which elects the Minnesota Republican Party officers.

For that post, she said she wanted to correct the party “dirties” that have ruled the party. She was asked what she meant by “dirties,” and she refused to go into details because a reporter was present. Nonetheless, she referred to the party making decisions on who should run for what, and those decisions should come from the bottom up.

Molitor seemed to refer to a time when a candidate was pushed onto local Republicans, a candidate they didn’t support. “They should be listening to us, not us listening to them who to run,” she said.

What comes to mind is the 2006 election when 7th District Republicans endorsed Michael Barrett for 7th District Congress, a candidate from Little Falls who put high on his agenda having Red Lake Band of Chippewa’s sovereign status tested in court, especially over ownership of Upper Red Lake. It’s an issue that is sensitive to local Republicans, who don’t fare well on the reservation as it is. They were able to cancel a Barrett appearance in Bemidji, knowing that it would see heavy protesting from Red Lakers.

Beltrami County Republican Chairman Ken Cobb described Molitor’s goal as to “break up the old men’s club,” something which Molitor agreed. The 47 county delegates applauded at that.

Newly elected 7th District county GOP Co-Vice Chairman Al Berkowitz made an odd statement in his speech for the post. He told of a quote from Adolf Hitler, “Give me one generation and I own the country.” He then told delegates that their children and grandchildren must remember that quote to avoid it from happening. Does that mean that Mr. Berkowitz is equating Hitler with the nation’s liberals?

It will be the Democrats turn this coming week. On Monday night, the Beltrami County DFL will hold its annual Presidents Day fund-raiser, with guest speaker House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. Next weekend, at Northern Lights Casino, Democrats from three congressional districts will hold a daylong workshop Saturday, followed by a Saturday night banquet presumably with a host of state Democratic higher-ups. No word if one of them is Gov. Mark Dayton.

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Dayton optimistic over revenue forecast

Gov. Mark Dayton is interviewed outside his office last week.

ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton has been working overtime on his biennium budget, due to be released Feb. 15. Even on weekends.
In the end, he promises a balanced budget that will include “revenue increases on the progressive end of the income tax and that will be fair and responsive,” the DFL governor told me last week in the small conference room outside of his State Capitol office.
It was Bemidji Day at the Capitol on Tuesday, and I was granted an exclusive interview with the governor after he addressed the Bemidji delegation in the Governor’s Reception Room.
There may be other good news, though. The state faces a $6.2 million budget deficit which may shrink by $600 million come the February revenue forecast, due out only a few days after Dayton issues his budget.
“Revenue the first two months since the November forecast, especially the most reliable according to the state economist, that measures state withholding, which means people are actually back to work and we hope for an uptick on a permanent basis, is running about $25 million a month ahead of the projections,” Dayton told me.
“Immediately I put my pencil to paper and said that would be, over the course of a 24-month biennium, would mean $600 million additional dollars,” he said. “I caution that I can’t depend on that and obviously any forecast this far into the future is somewhat speculative, but yet I think that the forecast at the end of February will show revenue improvement over the November one, and exactly how much it’s going to be is something for the oracles.”
We spent much of our time conversing about the late Gov. Rudy Perpich, under which Dayton served as commissioner of energy and economic development. I was struck at how much it seems the new governor holds the old governor in respect, and was the subject of my Pioneer article in the Sunday paper, Feb. 6.
As it turns out, Dayton is the first Democrat to occupy the governor’s office since Perpich left it in 1991, 20 years ago.
“Perpich used to always have something in his drawer that had a number he wrote down and he always professed to pull it out … and a couple of times I saw it on paper that it was very accurate,” Dayton said about Perpich’s guesses at revenue forecasts.
“I never dared, as commissioner, to ask whether he had more than one piece of paper in there,” Dayton said.
“The law requires me to present a budget and then two weeks later there’s a revised forecast,” he said. “To me, that’s really ridiculous, but that’s what the law requires me to do. Being a law-abiding citizen, I’m going to follow the law even if it defies a bit of common sense.”
We also reminisced about Perpich, who died in 1995. I started at the Pioneer during the Quie administration and covered the 1982 gubernatorial race which saw Perpich rise through the DFL primary as a dark horse and then to recapture the governor’s office he lost after rising from lieutenant governor when Gov. Wendy Anderson appointed himself to the U.S. Senate.
Dayton remembered Perpich’s run for re-election in 1990, making his re-election announcement on a Sunday at where the Mississippi River begins at Lake Itasca.
“He did you the favor when he announced he was running for re-election in 1990 and he gave you the shortest trip of any of the Capitol press corps,” Dayton told me. “He went to the Headwaters and got his 20-second announcement in and he wouldn’t answer any questions. There were some irate members of the Capitol press corps. It was on a Sunday, too, as I recall. There were definitely some not-very-happy faces there.”
All the Capitol press crowded onto the little beach right by the Source of the Mississippi sign in Itasca State Park when Perpich bounded in and did his announcement, which actually ran for 17 seconds, and then bounded back up the trail to the parking lot, press corps in tow. The only question he did answer was one I asked on the fly. Most of the Capitol press crew were still on the beach, tearing down their equipment.
I remember we filed a story and photo with AP before the Capitol press crew even got far down the highway, headed south.

First remarks by Gov.-elect Mark Dayton

Remarks made by Gov.-elect Mark Dayton Wednesday:
This morning I received a telephone call from Representative Tom Emmer conceding the election for Governor of Minnesota. The day after the election, I received a similar call from Mr. Tom Horner. I thank them both for their gracious concessions, and I congratulate each of them on their principled and honorable campaigns.
I know from my own experience how difficult it is to dedicate your life and your family’s lives to the indescribable demands of a major statewide campaign; yet face a result, which is not what you have worked so long and hard for. It takes integrity and character to make the telephone call that each of them has made, and I admire them for doing so.
I want to thank all of the election officials throughout Minnesota, who worked hard on November 2nd and thereafter to assure and uphold the integrity of this election. I salute the State Canvassing Board, Secretary of State Ritchie and the four Judicial Members, for their leadership to assure all Minnesotans of the election’s honesty and accuracy.
And I salute Representative Emmer, who by his concession this morning re-affirmed the essential principle that in our democracy there can be a close election, which is re-examined and recounted carefully; yet then, all accept its result – so our that democracy can continue to function. That is a profoundly important legacy of your campaign, Representative Emmer, for which all of us owe you our respect and our gratitude.
I want to thank briefly just a few of the many, many people, without whose help I would not be standing here today. My two fantastic sons, Eric and Andrew Dayton: without your love and support, I could not have undertaken this campaign. After Andrew and Eric appeared prominently with me before the cameras on primary night last August, many people advised me that I would do better in the general election, if the people of Minnesota saw less of me and more of them! Their advice was excellent. You were both terrific campaigners; you’re extraordinary young men; and I am so very proud of both of you.
I thank my superb running mate, Minnesota’s next Lieutenant Governor, Yvonne Prettner Solon, who is away on a long-planned and much-deserved vacation. We forged an excellent partnership, which will enable our administration to better serve the people of Minnesota.
Words can never express the gratitude I feel toward my incredible campaign staff, led by the best Campaign Manager anyone ever had, Dana Anderson; my outstanding Deputy Campaign Managers, Katie Tinucci and Adam Prock; terrific Finance Director, Katie Clark; and everyone else.
To Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and former Representative Matt Entenza: I am deeply grateful to you and other DFL leaders, who helped unite us all after our primary; to my family and friends, both personal and political, supporters and contributors; and to the many thousands of campaign workers and volunteers, who during both the campaign and the recount, contributed your time, your talents, and your enthusiasm. You made the difference! Thank you!
Most importantly, I want to thank the people of Minnesota who voted for me and have given me this chance to work for you, and to work with you, to build a Better Minnesota. To my fellow citizens, who voted for other worthy candidates, I will work equally hard for you. I was elected to serve ALL of Minnesota, to the very best of my ability; and I promise that I will do so.
To the 201 State Legislators, I extend my congratulations on your victories and my sincere willingness to work with you. We were all elected by the people of Minnesota to serve ALL the people of Minnesota. You were elected on your platforms and principles; I was elected on mine. I believe the collective wisdom of the electorate is that they want part of what each of us offers – and they want us to work together to solve the state’s budget crisis; put them back to work; put government to work for them; and for all of us to work together to build a Better Minnesota.
I pledge my willingness to work cooperatively and constructively with the legislature and its leaders of both parties, with local officials, with the business community, with labor, and with other civic leaders, to fulfill the People of Minnesota’s mandate. Doing so will require good will, hard work, and sincere willingness to listen to and learn from one another, to find our common ground, and to create shared solutions.
If we simply disregard and defeat each other’s proposals, and try to make each other look bad in the process, we will only cause unwanted gridlock and deadlock. More importantly, we will fail the People of Minnesota. They deserve our best and our success, because they need and deserve a Better Minnesota.
I will provide more details soon; but first let us share our best ideas and reach swift agreement on them to immediately improve Minnesota’s economy, help provide jobs for the Minnesotans who need them, and help create new and better jobs for our children and grandchildren. That is the first job, for which the people of Minnesota elected us to our jobs.
Let us work with Minnesota’s businesses, who are the principal job creators and the backbone of our economic growth. Let us work with Minnesota’s workers, farmers, teachers, and public employees, who manufacture the goods, grow the food, and deliver the services, upon which all of us depend.
Let us work together to reform how government works so that there is more accountability to taxpayers; so we can assure them that every one of their hard-earned tax dollars is being spent wisely and effectively. And I will continue to insist that those state and local tax dollars be collected more progressively, so that all Minnesotans pay their fair share for the essential services all Minnesotans need.
Finally, for today, I want to again thank the People of Minnesota. You know that we face very difficult decisions ahead. I know that they will not all be popular with all of you. So I want you to know that I will always do my very best to make the best possible decisions that I truly believe will create a better future for all of you, for your children and your grandchildren. I ask for all of your ideas, all of your talents, and all of your help. And I ask that we all work together to create a Better Minnesota for all of us.

Is the recession over in Bemidji?

If personal observances are worth anything, it looks like the Great Recession is over. Maybe even the aftershock recession has run its course.
I’m not an early riser, so I missed the 4 a.m. store openings, but when I went shopping at 10:30 a.m., the local mall was packed with people scurrying about, many with carts brimming full with packages. I shopped at one mall anchor and saved $70 on two shirts.
Items were stacked in the aisles at JC Penney, making it difficult to navigate around the people, let alone those plugging the aisles with shopping carts. Worse, it took 15 minutes to checkout, despite a four-register station set up at the store entrance from the mall. A store employee directed traffic, and offered a candy cane from a basket he held while walking down the line, which reached deep into the store.
Most of the mall seemed that way, and I heard similar stories at other big-box retailers such as Wal Mart and Target.
The mall parking lot was a full as I’d ever seen it.
A look at some statistics seems to prove the point. The Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, in its December edition, shows a turnaround in sales tax revenues from mid-2009 to mid-2010. The city levies a half-cent sales tax, which is dedicated to improving parks and trails.
Once $9.8 million is raised, the sales tax switches over to pay for Bemidji Regional Event Center construction.
January’s city sales 6tax collections were 6.3 percent lower than that of January 2009, from $120,457 this year to $128,577 in January 209. February figures showed a 5.3 percent decline.
But sales tax collections clicked up in March and have been positive ever since. March 2010 collections at $143,508 were 2.5 percent more than the same month in 2009 at $120,433.
Similarly, April collections were up 4.1 percent, May up 5.9 percent, June up 8.4 percent, July up 8 percent and August up 7.1 percent, from $155,269 to $157,658.
The figures show that in retail trade, the economy is moving in the right direction. The key will see how much merchants make during this holiday season, which is usually make-or-break for many small businesses which may see half their annual profit in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
If Black Friday is any indication, it will be a good holiday season for the Bemidji community.

What’s next for Peterson in agriculture?

Don’t expect a lot of policy change with the U.S. House Agriculture Committee come January.
Sure, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, won re-election to an 11th term, but he will lose the chairmanship of the U.S. Agriculture Committee with the Republican takeover of the House. This past year, he has been working on the 2012 Farm Bill, trying to squeeze savings out of the measure, knowing President Barack Obama won’t be budgeting any increases. Now that the Republicans are in charge, one can certainly expect no new money.
“At the end of the day, they can’t pass a bill if they take over without me supporting it, and if I was in charge, I can’t pass a bill unless they support it,” Peterson said about a week before the election in a meeting with local legislators and a handful of students at Bemidji State University.
Now that the Republicans did win the House, Ag Committee ranking minority member Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma takes charge of the committee while Peterson is relegated to minority lead. The switch doesn’t mean a great deal in policy changes, other than the influence of the overall Republican philosophy.
“It’s more regional, it’s more commodities, versus each other than it is partisan,” says Peterson. “They take over, it will make my life simpler. And we’ll take care of the 7th District.”
He told me that he had more problems with Southern conservative Democrats over cotton and rice programs than with Republicans. When he took over the committee, he said he went to Republican offices and asked what they wanted and tried to work that into the bill.
Still, it won’t be easy.
Peterson had already identified $6 billion that can be cut from the current farm bill and still keep the bill’s baseline for 2012. “We aren’t going to ask for new money — we’re going to live with what we got,” he said.
One change Peterson sought, which he tried but couldn’t get in the 2008 Farm Bill, is a new standard reinsurance agreement with insurance companies, which Peterson said were getting too much money on crop insurance. He had the Risk Management Agency work with the companies.
“The companies signed the agreement, and we took $6 billion out of crop insurance,” he said. Of that $4 billion was used to lower the federal deficit.
“We’re the only committee, the only agency in government that’s reduced the deficit,” Peterson said. “Nobody else has done this. If the rest of the government reduced the equivalent of what we did in relation to our budget, it would save $2.3 trillion for the next 10 years.”
Peterson said agriculture stepped up to the plate to take some excesses out, and is something all agencies can do. “I’ve told all the committee chairmen, told the speaker, told everybody else, that as soon as you guys cut $2.3 trillion, come back and talk to us and we’ll be willing to consider some more.”
Of course, that will now be up to Ag Committee Chairman-designate Lucas and Speaker-designate John Boehner.
“I got it set up, on our side, to protect our baseline,” Peterson said. “I’m not sure that will be the case if the Republicans take over. There may be more pressure to reduce the baseline. We’re going to have a hard time making this work, because we’ve got food stamps, conservation, energy, rural development, all these other components, some of which don’t have baseline.”
There will need to be some juggling around to make it all work, similar to what he did with the 2008 bill. “I had to find money for a new energy program that we didn’t have before, find more money to put into food stamps, which turned out to be a really good thing to do given the fact we got into a recession right away and really helped people.”
In an interview, Peterson said the general public doesn’t understand what they get for the few dollars put into agriculture.
“The best deal in America for consumers and the American people is the little bit of money they spend on the farm program and what they get back for it,” he said. “They get the cheapest, safest, most abundant food supply in the world. Our people spend half as much of their income on food as anyplace else.”
Americans spend about 9 percent of their income on food, while the next highest nation spends 16 percent, he said.
“I would argue that because we have this safety net, we’re able to do this,” he said. Food prices would be 50 percent higher without the farm bill safety net for farmers. “So for the little bit of money we’re spending, we’re getting a good deal.”
Asked by a student at BSU if he’d switch parties, the conservative Democrat laughed and said no.
“That’s not going to happen,” he chuckled. “I have problems with some of the people in my party — I think they’re too far off to the left, too ideological. But I’ve learned how to deal with them.”
But if he switched parties, “then I’d have a whole different bunch of ideologues,” he said.
“I’m a Democrat, I believe in things Democrats believe in — education, getting our kids a good education, giving them an opportunity to make something out of their life, take care of folks who are down on their luck,” Peterson said. “That’s what Democrats are about.”
Still, Peterson will admit that he votes with Boehner 65 percent of the time.

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