- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Dayton ties special session to repeal of auditor changes

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - With a partial shutdown of Minnesota’s government looming absent a budget deal, Gov. Mark Dayton issued an ultimatum Wednesday that he won’t call a special session to finish the work unless lawmakers repeal a recently adopted shift in responsibilities for the state auditor.

Questions over the amount of public school funding and environmental regulatory changes have commanded much of top officials’ attention as Dayton and House Republicans try to strike a deal on three unresolved pieces of the state’s budget before a partial government shutdown takes hold July 1.

But after outcry from the state auditor about a change giving counties more freedom to hire private auditors, Dayton said he’d wait to call lawmakers back to St. Paul until they agree to repeal what he said would “eviscerate” the office he once held himself.

“It just basically wipes out the principal function of a constitutional officer,” Dayton said. “If they believe that the state auditor shouldn’t do what the state auditor is elected to do, they really should take that to the voters of Minnesota.”

The conflict stems from a budget bill financing state government operations which Dayton signed into law. He said he stomached the change but demanded the Legislature go back and fix it, rather than pit thousands of state employees with the prospect of layoff notices with a fourth veto.

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State cuts royalty rates on taconite mined by US Steel

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - U.S. Steel will temporarily pay less in taconite royalties to Minnesota for the ore it extracts from the Iron Range under action taken Wednesday by a board of top state leaders.

The state’s Executive Council, which is made up of the governor and four other statewide officials, unanimously granted the 15-month cost relief that could add up to $4.5 million. Retroactive to April, the relief will reduce payments the company must make to a school trust fund and a few other state accounts.

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said the move cuts the fee that the dominant mining company pays on each ton of ore from about 91 cents to 75 cents in the current fiscal quarter, but that rate will be adjusted based on a variety of inflationary factors and could rise or fall. He backed the recommendation to “help them get through tough times.”

U.S. Steel executive Lawrence Sutherland told the board the break - combined with energy cost savings in a proposal pending before the Legislature - would help it absorb the effects of low steel prices and cutthroat foreign competition.

“We’re in a real battle in our business to maintain our domestic steel footprint as well our iron ore,” he said.

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8 Minnesota health plans propose big premium hikes for 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Eight Minnesota health plans have proposed big premium increases for 2016, ranging from 11 to 74 percent, drawing an angry response from Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday.

For example, Blue Cross and Blue Shield wants to raise prices on some of its plans by 50 to 58 percent. The rate increases are only proposals for now and must be approved by state regulators before they can be finalized, Minnesota Public Radio reported (http://bit.ly/1dN97iY).

“The proposed rate increases from Minnesota’s health insurers are outrageous, given that our state’s health care costs have been increasing by only 3 percent,” Dayton said in a statement. “They underscore the need for a rigorous review of those proposed rates by the Minnesota Department of Commerce before they become final on October 1st.”

Some of the policies will be offered through MNsure, the state health insurance exchange. The proposed increases do not include any potential government subsidies paid to offset the costs.

Under the federal Affordable Care Act, rate increase requests of 10 percent or more must be made public months before approval decisions. The proposed rates were posted Wednesday on the federal website healthcare.gov.

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USDA: Bird flu vaccine not good enough for outbreak

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A bird flu vaccine doesn’t work well enough to approve it for emergency use against the current outbreak that’s shaken the Midwest poultry industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said in a statement Wednesday that the current vaccine is not well matched against the highly pathogenic H5N2 virus and doesn’t provide enough protection.

“The vaccine currently available offers just 60 percent effectiveness in chickens, leaving 4 in 10 birds unprotected. The vaccine’s effectiveness in turkeys is still being studied,” it said.

By the USDA’s count, bird flu has cost chicken and turkey producers more than 45 million birds since early March, mostly in Iowa and Minnesota.

The USDA said it will continue to support efforts to develop more effective vaccines, and will re-evaluate its decision as those become ready for use. The agency said it will carefully consider both the efficacy of any new vaccine and the potential foreign trade losses.

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