- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Star Tribune, April 7

A timely call for a Minnesota bonding bill

The old saw about timing being everything in politics has a state governing corollary: Timing in bonding for capital improvements can make a multimillion-dollar difference. The trick is to take advantage of low interest rates, favorable construction costs and adequate fiscal capacity for more debt service to build needed public facilities at a bargain price.

That’s why this page recommended large state bonding bills during the Great Recession years - advice that was not often heeded as the political appeal of austerity suppressed legislators’ appetites for a bargain.

The construction discount that was available during the downturn has ended. But interest rates remain low and the state’s debt capacity as measured by well-established guidelines remains ample. The trend in construction costs suggests that delay will cost more. That means now is still a good time for a sizable state bonding bill, and next year might not be as advantageous. Gov. Mark Dayton agrees. On Tuesday, the DFL governor sent a well-crafted $842 million bonding bill proposal to the Legislature - where it received a cool reception from the GOP-controlled House, which must originate bonding bills.

“During the interim, the capital investment committee will properly vet these projects,” House bonding chair Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said in a release. That means he intends to send no bill to the House floor until 2016.

We would urge Torkelson to start his vetting now. If he does, he’ll find some projects that ought not wait. Who can read today’s headlines about avian flu in the state’s turkey population and not agree that better veterinary isolation labs at the University of Minnesota are needed ASAP? Who wants to tell the state’s growing population of homeless families with small children to wait another year for affordable housing? Or the cities - and potential employers - of Worthington, Magnolia and Pipestone that they must keep waiting for an adequate water supply via the Lewis and Clark regional water project? (We regret that Dayton’s list omits another urgent need - a facilities upgrade at the federally funded American Indian schools within the state.)

Other projects likely could wait - if the state is willing to eventually pay more or get less. But that’s not the usual preference of politicians who profess to be fiscally conservative, or of the people who elected them.

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The Free Press of Mankato, April 7

Be careful cutting health care

It’s the job of elected leaders to ensure taxpayer money is spent wisely and spending restraint remains a virtue in any arena, but we must be very careful when it comes to cutting health and human service budgets.

That’s because this kind of spending usually has a domino effect. Cutting someone off their health care or requiring them to pay a large increase in their share may seem to be the fair thing to do on the surface where other taxpayers paying their own way are concerned.

But we also risk making those same taxpayers pay more. A loss of health care usually means a loss of preventive care. That usually means people without health care will wait until they are extremely sick before seeing a doctor. By then they often have to get expensive emergency room treatment. We should also remember that any hospital or clinic that takes Medicare patients or that gets other health care funding from the government is required by law to treat people in emergency rooms even if they do not have the money to pay.

The Minnesota House GOP has proposed paying for a $2 billion tax cut with a proposed $1.1 billion cut in Minnesota’s health and human services budget. They GOP caucus hasn’t specified where the cuts in health care would come, and they note that health care spending would still increase over current levels.

But the GOP plan would not fund the existing projected costs for those already on the system or projected to be on the system. The conclusion is that some people would be cut off.

Minnesota has made great strides on insuring low income people who are often shown to have significant health care needs. We’ve expanded medical assistance with funding from the federal government. We’ve sold a lot of insurance policies through MNsure. We’ve also put in place programs where providers are asked to be more efficient.

We have to be very careful to make sure we don’t make cuts that cost us more in the long run.

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Post-Bulletin, April 8

Capitol renovation an ideal time to reconsider artwork

The “Treaty of Traverse des Sioux” is one of the best known paintings in Minnesota, often displayed prominently in the background when the governor makes an announcement in the Reception Room of the state Capitol.

It’s also one of the most controversial pieces of artwork at the Capitol, with some historians saying it inaccurately portrays the 1851 signing of a treaty to secure more than 20 million acres that would make up much of the future state of Minnesota. The painting shows the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands of Dakota and the U.S. government signing the document as equal partners, but historians contend the Dakota were under duress and had little choice. Later that year, Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands of the Dakota signed the Treaty of Mendota. Historians say dissatisfaction with the two treaties and promises broken by the U.S. government were the factors that led to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

The “Treaty of Traverse des Sioux” is not the only controversial artwork at the Capitol, but it capsulizes a debate that’s been going on for years. What should be done about the many pieces of Capitol art that are inaccurate or simply offensive to Minnesota’s Indian tribes?

Now is the opportune time to have that debate. The massive $273 million renovation of the Minnesota Capitol has shuttered two-thirds of the building from the public and prompted the temporary removal of many of its 150 pieces of art, ranging from busts to portraits to the giant murals on the walls in the Rotunda and the Senate and House chambers. Before the art is returned, its historical accuracy and context should be evaluated.

“Nobody sees the world as it is; we all see it as we are. From a Native perspective, there are 10,000 years of documented history in Minnesota before white guys showed up,” said Anton Treuer, executive director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University, who serves on the Capitol Preservation Commission’s art subcommittee. “The absence of real substantive acknowledgment of that is screaming out to me. It doesn’t happen very often that we have a chance to have this kind of conversation. They are going to remodel the Capitol every 100 years or so, and I think it’s an important opportunity to think about what we have and what’s missing.”

The Minnesota Capitol opened to the public on Jan. 2, 1905, with art commissioned by the building’s renowned architect, Cass Gilbert, who went on to design the U.S. Supreme Court. Defenders of the artwork argue it reflects the period during which the Capitol was built. While that’s true, this renovation is intended to carry the Capitol into 21st century and beyond.

The controversial artwork still has its place at the Capitol. Suggestions have been made to place explanatory plaques or interactive displays beside the controversial pieces. Another option is to rotate paintings, moving some to newly created space for art in the basement commons area. All of those of proposals have merit.

U.S. Census Bureau projections say the white population will no longer be the majority in the United States within a generation. When the renovation work is completed in 2017, it would be respectful and historically accurate to include artwork created from the Dakota and Ojibwe perspective, as well as other groups.

When future governors make an announcement, they should be surrounded by art the reflects the history of all Minnesotans.

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