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Capitol Chatter: Dayton thrilled with Minnesota’s economic progress

ST. PAUL - Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton fared well in the first year of his second and final term.

When asked about the past year, he immediately turned to the economy: "Overall, three and a half percent unemployment and projects being announced every day, we have made good progress."

The comments came days after he chastised the media for not reporting enough of the good news. The 3.5 percent unemployment rate is low compared to most states and the countrywide numbers, and it got fairly light coverage recently during a heavy news period.

While most of the economy is good, he singled out taconite mining and farming as two segments with problems. He has worked with state and federal officials on the mining issue, going as far as to bringing President Barack Obama's chief of staff to Minnesota in an effort to talk the federal government into protecting the American steel industry.

Dayton did admit that he is running late on drawing up a public works construction bill. He took time off to be with his father, Bruce Dayton, before he died this fall and then more than a week for back surgery to improve his walking.

The governor promised to work between the holidays to help catch up.

He said that he has not decided on an amount to borrow for construction projects, but more than $3 billion worth of requests have come in. The proposal is due to be released by Jan. 15.

In his last meeting before Christmas with reporters, Dayton faced a bundle of problems, including dealing with the federal government on driver's licenses and reacting to a Black Lives Matter Minneapolis protest.

But the governor remained upbeat, opening his news conference with: "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas."

When a reporter asked what he was doing to achieve that goal, he replied: "Praying. That is above my pay level, way above."

State pays quietly

The state paid off a $537,000 fine to the federal Internal Revenue Service this fall, but it was not made public until a few days ago.

The Star Tribune reported the IRS levied the fine over 2010 and 2011 violations in which the state "accidentally" bought its own bonds, financial documents used to pay for construction projects such as roads, new buildings, land purchases and the like.

The state buying its own bonds violates IRS rules. State budget officials discovered the transactions in 2012 and told the IRS.

"I'm not happy about it," Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget told the newspaper. "I'm not happy that it happened, and I'll do everything I can to make sure it won't happen again."

Frans became commissioner last January. State and local governments must follow complex IRS rules to retain their bonds' tax-free status.

To Cuba and back

Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson recently led a delegation to Cuba to see what trade Minnesota farmers and agri-businesses could expect with the island country.

"Several signs point to Cuba as a great potential export market for Minnesota farmers," Frederickson said. "However, trade is a two-way street and we explored some of the future ways we can work together to create the biggest benefit to both of our agricultural economies."

Congress would need to remove current trade restrictions for Minnesota to increase Cuba trade. Some trade already occurs, but on a limited basis.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has been vocal about opening trade with Cuba and she has a bill pending to do just that.

The state Agriculture Department says several Minnesota farm products could be sold to Cuba, including potatoes, poultry products, soybean products, corn, animal feed and processed foods.

The commissioner’s delegation toured farms and markets in Cuba. Delegation members also met with Cuban government officials and agricultural research leaders.

All counties online

All of Minnesota's 87 counties have moved from only paper-based court filings to electronic records.

Chisago and Isanti were the final counties to allow court users to electronically file and serve documents online. The switch, part of eCourtMN, has been years in the making.

"Our transition to electronic case records has been rightly called the largest transformation in the 150-year history of Minnesota’s judicial branch," Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea said. "Through eCourtMN, we are producing new efficiencies in our justice system, making it easier for our users to complete their business with the courts and expanding on-demand access to information for the public and our justice partners."

MNsure notes savings

MNsure officials have said for months that Minnesotans could save on health insurance costs by tapping into federal subsidies.

Now, they say Minnesota residents who bought insurance through MNsure saved more than $48 million in insurance premiums this year. That is a 50 percent increase from 2014.

"These tax credits act like instant discounts off monthly health insurance premiums, and it’s not too late to take advantage of these credits for 2016," MNsure CEO Allison O’Toole said. "Minnesotans have until Jan. 31 to enroll."

An individual earning up to $47,080 a year, or a family of four earning up to $97,000, likely would qualify for some form of financial aid.

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By Don Davis, Forum News Service

Don Davis covers Minnesota government and politics for Forum News Service. Read his blog at http://capitolchat.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @CapitolChatter.

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