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Capitol Chatter: Bakk demands open decision on funding fliers

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

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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 website 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.

Crediting wind

U.S. Sen. Al Franken has urged his colleagues to extend for four years a renewable energy tax credit that especially would help wind-powered electrical production.

The Minnesota Democrat said the tax break would save thousands of jobs, create new ones and cut the country's need for foreign oil.

"If Congress lets the renewable energy production tax credit expire, we will let down the 80,000 people working on wind farms and manufacturing facilities across the nation, and we may cost this country $10 billion in lost investment," Franken said.

In a Senate speech, Franken talked about a letter he received from Terry and Janet Carlson, Parkers Prairie farmers who are developing a wind-power project.

"Our family believes in renewable energy and the benefits it can provide to our local community," the Carlsons wrote. "Besides being environmentally friendly, wind energy has proved to be a great economic benefit to the state of Minnesota and small communities such as ours."

But, Franken said, if the tax credit expires this year as planned, the future of wind power will be uncertain.

"Terry and Janet have good reasons to be concerned," Franken said. "A Navigant Consulting study found that if the production tax credit is not extended, construction of wind turbines will drop by 75 percent in 2013."

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 http://goo.gl/lCeZw.

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.

Franken, also a Minnesota senator, said, "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.

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