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  • 30.06.2014 Alexandria Tobacco Users Are Unhappy With New Law

    There is a certain irony to it, some have said.Smokers in Alexandria will have to leave local discount cigarettes stores to light up the products they just bought there.At least 25 feet from the stores to be exact, starting Jan. 1 after the Alexandria City Council passed an ordinance Oct. 4 banning smoking cigarettes in businesses previously exempt from state and local smoking cigarettes bans, including bars and buy cigarettes stores.And some tobacco users are not happy."They think the City Council way overstepped their boundaries," said Vonne Neal, owner of Alexandria's Smoke Shop." With...

  • 09.11.2012 Southern Board Bans Tobacco

    All of Southern University’s campuses will ban cigarettes store starting in January, the Southern Board of Supervisors decided.The move makes Southern the first college system in Louisiana to ban all cigarettes products. Nicholls State University became the first public college in Louisiana to become tobacco free at the beginning of this calendar year.Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. said the new policy is about promoting healthy lifestyles and setting a quality standard for all of higher education.“We’re going to look at it as the beginning of a cultural...

  • 18.10.2012 New Jersey Considers New Taxes On Non-cigarette Tobacco Products

    Little cigars, which are taking increasing space on area tobacco-shop shelves, are shaped and smoked just like cigarettes. But because New Jersey taxes them differently, they cost nearly one-third the price.Over the past several years, increased state and federal taxes have helped turn some smokers on to less-taxed cigarettes store products, local shop owners and anti-smoking cigarettes groups say.New Jersey has a $2.70 tax per cigarette pack, and the federal government has a $1.01 excise tax it enacted two years ago.That sixth-highest cigarette tax in the country may entice more smokers to...

  • 10.09.2012 Free Patches For Smokers

    Quitting smoking cigarettes just got a little easier. For a limited time, the California Smokers' Helpline is sending callers from Nevada County free nicotine patches. Eligible cigarettes store users who call 1-800-NO-BUTTS and enroll in the free telephone-based cessation program will receive a free two-week starter kit of patches, while supplies last.The patches are an FDA-approved treatment proven to help smokers kick the habit. They release nicotine into the bloodstream through the skin, reducing withdrawal symptoms and slowly weaning smokers off nicotine. Nevada County was one of 34...

  • 09.09.2012 Films Subsidized By State Promote Smoking

    California taxpayers subsidize major motion pictures that depict smoking cigarettes, which promotes the unhealthy habit and undermines efforts to keep young people from lighting up, according to UCSF researchers.In a report published Tuesday in PLoS Medicine, the researchers say the state and other governments may be violating their own health policies and goals when they subsidize or offer tax credits to makers of movies that directly or indirectly promote smoking cigarettes."We have a situation where governments today are now spending taxpayer money to sell discount cigarette online to...

The Minnesota Budget Deal

The deal that ended the government shutdown in Minnesota was terrible both in how it was negotiated and in what it produced. While initially all parties who negotiated it described it as bad, increasingly they are defending it, seeking to find beauty in its ugliness. Yet let’s call this effort what it is—putting lipstick on a pig!

A Bad Budget Process

The government is shutdown. Barricades block access to the capitol. The legislature is suspended. The press and public are barred from observing negotiations. The opposition is kept in the dark. Once a deal is struck and the legislature is allowed to meet the public is given little notice about their deliberations which take place in the dark of the night. Members are restricted in their debate; they have no time to read the bills. They are told to vote for the bills and ordered to be finished by dawn. Sound like politics in a dictatorship or former communist country? Welcome to Minnesota.

From the week before the shutdown to the ugly end last Wednesday, Minnesota was a model in anti-democratic politics that violated all accepted norms of transparency, openness, and accountability. The Republican leadership and Governor Mark Dayton insisted on secrecy to allow for candidate debate, demonstrating hostility to democracy, a contempt for process, and an indifference to open government. What they did is possibly also illegal, violating Minnesota Statutes §13.D, the Open Meetings Law. Were a local government to have done what the legislature and the governor did it would violate the law. The process was bad.

And A Bad Budget Deal

But did the ends justify the means? Did the bad process produce a good result? Except for the delirious who have to salvage something out of it, no one likes the deal struck. But there are two types of dislikes. One is where everyone has to give but the final product is good for the state. The other is where everyone gives and it is bad for the state. The deal struck is the latter.

The budget deal is bad for Minnesota. Nothing was done to address the long term structural deficit the state faces; it is more budget gimmicks. K-12 faces more shifts and possibly borrowing from schools that never gets repaid. Minnesota’s competitive economic edge has historically resided in its highly educated workforce. Yet the budget deal sacrifices long term welfare and economic good for the state, continuing a repeated raiding of education money that questions how much of a priority Minnesota really places on schools.

The tobacco settlement money gets robbed, diverting it from the stated purpose to address health costs and education surrounding smoking cigarettes. The borrowing here off the tobacco money means increased debt for the state. Thus, Minnesota continues to borrow and shift debt to the future in ways similar to what federal government has done for years. It is no different than paying off one credit card with another. In 2013 Minnesota will be back to the same place it is now. Minnesota is effectively deficit spending but budget tricks and borrowing hide that reality.

In short, long term problems and needed investments are sacrificed to end the current shutdown crisis. The governor and the legislature shut Minnesota government down to reach this deal? Given how bad it was, maybe it would have been better to continue the shutdown.

The Leadership Crisis

But why such a bad deal? One can point to political gridlock, dueling claims of political mandates, ideological polarization, and a host of other issues. But ultimately the blame comes down to a lack of leadership among the three principals–Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers, and Governor Dayton.

But why the lack of leadership? One answer is that all are inexperienced. None of them had ever been responsible for moving a budget through the legislature. For Koch and Zellers, they are new leaders heading up caucuses for the first time in years in the majority, composed of many new members and rookie committee chairs. They were not up to the job. For Dayton, the lack of leadership was surprising given his resume. Yet his experience in executive positions is distant, his relationship with the DFL party has always been fragile, and this was his first time shepherding a budget through the legislature.

Terrific, Minnesota’s political leadership this year were rookies and JVs.

So here is the leadership deficit: If this is the best deal Dayton, Koch, and Zellers can negotiate, with a process that was undemocratic and possibly illegal, then that questions their ability to lead the state and their parties. The three should have never let Minnesota get to this place.

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