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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

January 15, 2014
Associated Press

St. Cloud Times, Jan. 14

Suit adds to saga around new stadium

If you're surprised by yet more drama in the Vikings stadium project, then perhaps you also think the Vikings are set at quarterback for the next several years.

Seriously, that a stadium opponent filed a last-minute lawsuit Friday to stop the sale of state bonds for the project — and that the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority returned legal fire Monday — are just the latest installments in an almost $1 billion saga marked by more steps going wrong than right.

The best rank-and-file Minnesotans can hope for in this latest legal battle is that the state Supreme Court rules quickly and follows the letter of the law.

Obviously, a ruling that allows the project to move ahead so that Minnesotans can put the entire debacle behind them is preferred. But if not, really, the stadium backers have only themselves to blame.

Witness debates about a site — Minneapolis, Arden Hills, even Los Angeles.

Follow that with highly unrealistic claims about e-pull tabs paying the state's $498 million bill.

And then there is an array of legal battles — about the stadium, land around it and some not at all related. Those have highlighted everything from owner Zygi Wilf's ruthlessness as a businessman to his minimal personal investment in the stadium.

So again, two more court battles should surprise no one.

As Twin Cities media has reported, three well-known stadium opponents on Friday asked the Supreme Court to prevent the state from selling bonds to fund the public's portion of the $975 million project.

The sale was scheduled for this week. The money is needed to pay bills that start coming due by early February and continue as the project gets rolling.

The trio of opponents are renewing an objection rooted in the city of Minneapolis contributing $150 million raised through city taxes not approved in a referendum, which the city's charter requires.

Doug Mann, the lead opponent, filed a similar suit last year, which a judge rejected in November. That ruling indicated the requirement of a city referendum was at the discretion of the Legislation, and in this stadium bill, the Legislature rescinded such a requirement.

Mann rekindled his argument days before the sale of bonds, which stadium proponents contend jeopardizes the entire project's timeline and costs.

In fact, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority on Monday asked the court to require the opponents to post a $49.7 million bond to cover any losses the project suffers if the suit is unsuccessful.

As of Tuesday morning, there was no word about when the court might act. Minnesotans weary of this stadium project that now borders on a debacle can only hope it's sooner than later.


Mesabi Daily News, Jan. 11

New normal on school closings

There is a new normal when it comes to closing of schools for weather in Minnesota, the fourth coldest state on average in the country and the northern most state in the lower 48 states.

The decision by Gov. Mark Dayton to close all K-12 schools last Monday was made the previous Friday, based in weather projections that proved true.

It was very, very bitterly cold for a few days of the week. Low temperatures were in the 30 below zero to 40 below range and highs for about a 72-hour period did not rise above the mid-teens below zero. Meanwhile, wind chills reached 50 below zero to 60 below.

But the governor's decision was not met with unanimous approval.

Let's face it, many people 50 years old and up never had a day off school because of the cold.

It's Minnesota. It gets cold in the winter. You bundle up. You deal with it. The first two are plain and simple facts. The last two are frequently heard comments from the "I walked a mile uphill both ways in below zero weather to school" generation.

But those were days when weather was, well, weather. Even extreme winter weather was, well, just extreme winter weather.

But now weather has become a 24/7 made-for-television reality show. And public pressure is often formulated and fueled by the over-abundance of weather coverage.

Meanwhile, we have become far more of a litigious society. Too many people are just waiting to file lawsuits with dreams of riches in their heads.

The irony, of course, is that even though school children are much safer today in weather events because of better and more immediate communication through new technology, cold weather is now viewed by officials as not just an annoyance or major inconvenience but as good reason to close schools for the safety of the kids.

Is that a good thing or not? Have we become too soft and thus are sending the wrong message to the youngest generation?

That's a debate that will continue.

But one thing is for sure — there is a new normal when it comes to cold weather and school closings.


St. Paul Pioneer Press, Jan. 11

An 'Unsession' task: Undo overly onerous licensing rules

In Minnesota, you can work to save peoples' lives with far less training than it takes to become a barber, according to a report from the national Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm focused on economic freedom.

That bothers Lee McGrath, executive director of its Minnesota chapter, and it should give state residents -- and their lawmakers -- pause.

The institute's "License to Work" study noted the recent standard of only 26 days of education and experience to become an Emergency Medical Technician in Minnesota. "But to be a barber, well, that takes 700 days," McGrath said.

The EMT standard has recently changed from a set number of hours to a competency-based requirement, but the contrast remains. It's just one of many examples of inconsistencies in Minnesota's maze of occupational licensing regulations -- another fitting topic for legislators' consideration as they answer Gov. Mark Dayton's call for an "Unsession" this year to undo laws, regulations and practices that burden people and hinder efficiency.

The institute's attention to over-licensing focuses on lower-risk jobs that nonetheless require extensive education and experience. There will be debate about some of them, but McGrath's argument is worth considering: The government says there is only one path to the profession, and the government determines the path.

The report calls Minnesota's occupational licensing laws among the nation's most burdensome for some occupations.

Fire and security alarm installers here each face education and experience requirements of three years, compared with a national average of 486 days and 535 days, respectively. Horse trainers face the second-most-stringent requirements among the 20 states that license the occupation -- two years versus a national average of about three months.

Such regulation comes at a cost:

It's a drain on employment: Licensing is a barrier to entry into a profession, McGrath said. It increases unemployment by 0.5 percent to 1 percent, costing Minnesota 15,000 jobs over 10 to 15 years, according to estimates from Professor Morris Kleiner, a labor policy expert at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Consumers pay more: Licensing reduces the available pool of suppliers of a service. "When you have fewer suppliers, you have higher prices because there's less competition," McGrath told us. Kleiner estimates that Minnesota consumers annually pay $3.5 billion more for services because of current occupational licenses.

On these pages, we favor more-open competition and more-free markets. Over time, market competition weeds out bad providers, McGrath told us, better than occupational licensing laws do. The latest technology is on his side, with the speed of social media and crowd-sourced reviews of local service providers helping to hold them accountable.

"A thoughtful regulator will say that competition, reputation and market forces are insufficient to protect public health and safety," and that individual consumers need the government to help, McGrath told us.

But government's only route is before the fact, by restricting entry to the profession, he said. Government is going to make sure the person meets the minimum training requirement "before he's set loose to sell services to the public."

In working toward reform, McGrath acknowledges tough going against established interests, including license holders eager to protect their turf. "This is classic special interests," he told us. "This is the political challenge. The people who have these licenses, who are the beneficiary of fewer competitors, who are the beneficiary of higher prices" are the people represented by trade associations that show up at the Capitol.

"Unsession" consideration of licensing would help people who would benefit from more competition, he said, "people who are currently unemployed and don't have any political clout to go down and advocate for repealing unnecessary regulations."

Reforms merit consideration, "since I interpret the Unsession as a place where we're dealing with principles over politics -- one hopes," he said. So do we.



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