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Capital Chatter: Bakk demands decision on funding fliers

Senate Taxes Chairman Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, listens to an explanation of a tax bill Democrats pushed through the Legislature in the final minutes of the 2009 session.

ST. PAUL -- The Senate's top Democrat does not believe literature some Republicans handed out at the Feb. 7 precinct caucuses cost just $47.

And Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, demands that the Senate Rules Committee take up the matter.

Fifteen GOP senators planned to hand out fliers printed in the Capitol at state expense. It contained a link to donate to Republican candidates, which Democrats say violates a law that prohibits state-funded campaign material.

Senate GOP Communications Director Steve Sviggum admitted to the mistake and said it was his fault. Sviggum said the Republican Senate campaign committee will reimburse the state.

He and Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said they did not see the Web link listed on the literature.

Bakk said in a letter to Senjem that he thinks the bill should be more than $47 once staff time, materials, equipment and postage expenses are added in.

The DFL leader told reporters that his members paid about $150 each to a commercial printing shop for fliers they handed out at caucuses. That is three times as much as Senate Republicans say fliers cost for 15 senators.

Senjem said he would be happy to talk to Bakk about the issue, but he is not inclined to call a Rules Committee meeting. He said he would prefer to let a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party complaint on the matter play out in front of a state administrative law judge.

If the judge rules against Senate Republicans, Senjem said he is ready to pay any additional costs a judge says are needed.

"We erred," Senjem said.

Ironically, at least one senator never received the fliers from St. Paul. Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, said the envelope with the fliers sent to him was returned due to insufficient postage.

Insurance encouraged

Minnesotans learned in recent days that while floods are less likely than most recent years a drought could expand, prompting state officials to urge farmers to consider buying crop insurance.

Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson and Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said farmers need to consider signing up for the insurance by a March 15 deadline.

"Benjamin Franklin once said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and Minnesota farmers may stand to benefit from that wisdom this growing season," said Rothman, the state's insurance regulator. "If dry conditions persist in the weeks and months ahead, having proper crop insurance coverage could be crucial."

The National Weather Service reports that more than 96 percent of Minnesota faces moderate to severe drought conditions.

Sponsoring a school

Gov. Mark Dayton is renewing the call he made in his 2011 inauguration speech for businesses to adopt schools.

"Improving education is critical to getting Minnesota working again both now and in the future," Dayton said. "Working to improve our system of education must be a shared responsibility that falls not just on our schools, but on partners in our communities as well. I am asking businesses across the state to partner with a local school and develop relationships with their teachers and administrators to find out what they need to be more effective for our children."

The state Education Department offers information about adopting a school at

Better rural calls

Minnesota's U.S. senators say a new Federal Communications Commission ruling should help ensure rural areas receive high-quality telephone service.

The FCC decided to hold telephone companies accountable for high-quality service, even in sparsely populated rural areas.

"Whether you live in Minneapolis or Mahnomen, residents and businesses need access to high quality voice service," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said.

Added Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.: "One rural Minnesota business told me that a significant number of its customers' calls were not reaching them because the out-of-state carrier was not properly connecting the calls. This new rule puts some teeth into our efforts to ensure that carriers are held accountable when they fail to provide adequate service in rural areas."

Farmers can diversify

Minnesota farmers may receive state loans to diversify their operations.

The money is intended to implement environmentally sound farming practices.

The Minnesota Agriculture Department's Wayne Monsen said the program has issued more than $3.6 million in loans to more than 340 Minnesota farmers since it began in 1989.

"These loans have enhanced farmers' ability to respond to consumer demand for local foods, to adopt practices that conserve soil and improve water quality and to see an increase in profitability," Monsen said.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.