- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

Star Tribune, March 26

Tribe’s contribution is a nutrition boost for American Indians

There’s a reason that one of the first buildings visitors see on Minnesota’s Leech Lake Indian reservation is a diabetes clinic. And that on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation, one of the landmarks rising from the prairie is a large, modern kidney dialysis center.

When it comes to population health, the data points on American Indians are bleak. Their life expectancy is 4.2 years lower than the U.S. average, according to the federal Indian Health Service. Heart disease is a leading cause of death. They also are more likely to die of diseases such as Type 2 diabetes or complications from it.

These serious medical conditions have a common risk factor - obesity. Not surprisingly, Indians are also more likely to become obese than are other ethnic groups in the United States. With a 2014 Minnesota Department of Health report linking health concerns in Indians in part to the loss of traditional tribal foods, a population health initiative focusing on nutrition is sorely needed.

That’s why a new philanthropic push by Minnesota’s Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is so critical for the future of tribal communities in Minnesota and across the nation. Minnesota is one of 14 states that is home to more than 100,000 Native Americans.

This week, the southern metro Mdewakanton Sioux Community, which operates two lucrative Minnesota casinos, announced that it is endowing a new national campaign “to improve Native American nutrition.” A $5 million contribution from the tribe will launch the Seeds of Native Health initiative to “promote best practices, expand education and encourage the development of new solutions.”

The tribe, which has become a philanthropic force in Minnesota and in Indian Country, has smartly worked in partnership with leading organizations that have done pioneering work in nutrition, fitness and wellness: the University of Minnesota, the Colorado-based First Nations Development Institute and the New Mexico-based Notah Begay III Foundation. Notah Begay, a Navajo, is a well-known professional golfer, TV commentator and Stanford University graduate.

These organizations bring expertise in working with tribal communities and reputations that will help attract future financial support for this initiative. While the $5 million is a generous sum, public health campaigns require long-term investments and energy to sustain them. In addition, in a nation where junk food is often cheaper and easier to access than healthful foods, improving nutrition anywhere is an uphill battle.

Leadership is needed, along with specialized knowledge about which nutrition practices and campaigns work best for tribal communities. The U.S. government spends less than $1 million annually on American Indian nutrition education. Given the public health crisis on the reservations, that amount is inadequate. The Mdewakanton Sioux Community has taken a strong step to fill the funding void and help find solutions.


The Free Press of Mankato, March 24

GOP road plan filled with potholes

While every Minnesotan can appreciate the desire and wanton need for the Republican Party to carry the mantra of no new taxes, when it comes to road funding we should instead focus on no new unnecessary spending and no risky borrowing.

The Republican plan for repairing and replacing crumbling roads and reducing congestion relies too much on strategies that will cost us more in the long run as roads deteriorate further. It calls on borrowing more than $2 billion, adding to a debt structure the GOP itself often called onerous in the last few years.

It also calls on raiding the general fund in an unprecedented proposal that creates risk that nursing homes, schools, college tuition might be negatively affected by our game of catch up on long neglected road funding.

Even Gov. Mark Dayton and Democrats would rather not pay a higher gas tax. Who would? But sometimes, the tough decisions have to be made, and as we have said many times, the cost of fixing a road increases exponentially as we wait.

The Republican plans calls for diverting some money from sales taxes collected on auto repair and other items instead of a gas tax. We’re not sure how that’s different than a gas tax. The consumer pays, in most cases, either way.

In fact, a gas tax is more likely to be passed on to businesses in the supply chain of gasoline where there are many wholesale buyers, sellers and brokers. Many gasoline retailers use gasoline as loss leader, so may be willing to absorb a gas tax in this highly competitive market where free market influences will dictate market share, not price, as a priority. Consumers might be shielded from a gas tax increase.

Auto repair shops would likely have no incentive to eat the tax. They all have an itemized bill. Consumers would pay.

We applaud the Republican Party and its partner the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce for urging MnDOT to be 15 percent more efficient and counting the savings for road funding. Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle committed to a 15 percent plan a long time ago.

The Republican/Minnesota Chamber plan is also good in that it finally takes a 10-year look at the problem. The groups seem to be acquiescing to agree to the numbers: $7 billion to $8 billion for roads and bridges. Hopefully, talk of a new study has gone by the wayside at our urging.

So the Republican plan is headed down the road to fixing our roads, but its way forward is filled with fiscal potholes that if left unchecked, will cost us more in the long run.


Post-Bulletin, March 25

Evidence points to bipartisan cooperation

Some observers of the Minnesota Legislature have concluded the partisan differences are clearly emerging at this point of the session, and these rifts foreshadow a combative end to the session.

At first glance, we can understand why political pundits are foreseeing a divisive conclusion leading up to the adjournment scheduled for May 18.

On Monday, House Republican leaders announced a $7 billion plan to repair our roads and bridges without raising taxes. Last month, Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled a much larger $11 billion proposal that would tax gasoline at the wholesale level, resulting in an estimated 16-cent per gallon bump at the pump. The governor’s plan also would increase vehicle registration fees and impose a half-cent metro sales tax increase. The DFL-led Senate has put forward a similar transportation plan.

Last week, Dayton outlined how he wants to spend the state’s $1.9 billion budget surplus. The plan contrasts with a proposal that’s been gaining momentum with Republicans who want to give the cash back to Minnesotans in the form of tax cuts.

From the emphatic rhetoric of the Republican majority in the House and the Democratic governor, it’s easy to predict an impasse, especially with the not-so-distant memory of the 20-day state government shutdown in July 2011.

But we believe the principals in this year’s negotiations will keep the drama to a minimum as they work out their differences. Dayton, near the end of his news conference on his budget priorities last week, said he was willing to negotiate, even if it meant making concessions he didn’t like. “Compromise means you agree to things you don’t agree with,” he said.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, a Republican from Crown, impressed us with his negotiating skills during the last two sessions as the House minority leader. We fully expect him to continue to live up to his reputation as a conciliator now that he’s the leader of the majority party.

Dayton’s most difficult adversary during this session might be someone from his own party. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, a Democrat from Cook, has a history of dust-ups with the governor, most recently when Bakk opposed Dayton’s plan for pay raises for two dozen members of his Cabinet.

Instead of being discouraged by the partisan posturing, which is to be expected with nearly two months left in the session, we’ve been heartened by recent events in the Legislature.

Last week, a bipartisan effort moved through the House as Rep. Tina Liebling, a Democrat from Rochester, and Rep. Joe Schomacker, a Republican from Luverne, both introduced legislation to increase state reimbursement for Minnesota’s nursing homes. Daudt announced his caucus budget plan includes $160 million for nursing homes, far above the $25 million Dayton has earmarked for nursing homes in his budget.

Two weeks ago, the Purple Caucus, a bipartisan group in the Senate, declared its list of legislative priorities, such as increased funding for K-12 education, more dedicated funding for transportation and enhanced protections for children. The caucus, which was co-founded by Sen. Jeremy Miller, a Republican from Winona, and Sen. Roger Reinert, a DFLer from Duluth, has grown to 23 members - more than one-third of the Senate’s full body of 67 - since its inception two years ago with just six senators.

We suggest that the skeptics used to seeing a pugilistic end to the session look past the rhetoric and focus on the actions. There’s plenty of reason to be encouraged.

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