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Capitol Chatter: 'Not exactly a pen-pal letter'

ST. PAUL - The end of the 2012 Minnesota Legislature approaches amid strong partisan disagreements.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, called a recent letter from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton "snarky."

Dayton's letter to Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, placed the blame squarely on them if a Vikings stadium, public works funding and Capitol building restoration fail this year.

"Whether they pass or not will be your decision and your responsibly, not mine," the governor wrote.

"His letter was not exactly a pen-pal letter," Zellers said in an interview.

After last summer's budget-impasse induced state government shutdown, state leaders said that with the big money issues behind them that they could work together this year.

There have been episodes of togetherness, but Dayton's comment that Senate Republicans are "unfit to govern" better explains the Capitol mood.

Dayton and the leaders say they like each other personally, but that has not spilled over into many policy compromises.

When Republicans took over legislative control early last year, Zellers said that he was confident that a close personal relationship would lead to a budget compromise in time to avoid a shutdown. That did not prove true last year, and there is little pressure on Dayton and leading lawmakers to compromise this year, so the rest of the legislative session could be an interesting spectator sport.

Warm winter weather many Minnesotans welcomed contributed to welcome state budget news.

Minnesota Management and Budget reports employment recovered more quickly in Minnesota than other states. Warmer weather "likely played a role," the agency's latest budget report says.

Minnesota has recovered more than 52 percent of the jobs lost in the recession, compared to about 40 percent nationally.

For service business, such as retail, employment has rebounded to nearly what it was before the recession that began in 2008, but what economists call goods-producing industries, such as manufacturing, still have nearly 3 percent fewer employers than in pre-recession days.

The Minnesota Management and Budget report shows that in the past two months state revenues rose 4.4 percent more than expected just a month and a half ago. Of the $106 million increase, $60 million came from higher income tax receipts and $27 million in improved sales taxes.

Health care is a political issue that will not go away.

President Barack Obama's Affordable Health Care Act, something Republicans like to call Obamacare, is a major issue in races such as western Minnesota's 7th Congressional District where Republican Lee Byberg challenges veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson.

"Whether you want Obamacare to be the law of the land, or to repeal it, is a fundamental difference between Peterson's world view and my own," Byberg said. "Obamacare is a fundamental assault on individual freedom and limited government, and it should be repealed."

Byberg criticized Peterson for not voting to repeal the health law.

"I think the Supreme Court will strike the law down," Peterson told the Marshall Independent. "Then what happens? That could change the whole debate."

The congressman said parts of the law are good, and it is not wise to repeal the entire act because up to 50 million Americans would be left uninsured.