Good morning!

In Minnesota

Gov. Mark Dayton intends to ask Minnesota legislators to quickly approve a relief package related to last summer’s severe flooding because an existing disaster-aid account ran dry this week. (AP via Star Tribune)

A coalition of utilities and clean energy advocates say they want to give electricity customers more options for power sources while keeping energy reliable and affordable. (MPR News)

State House Republicans have yanked Rep. Jean Wagenius, a Minneapolis DFLer and longtime ally of environmentalists, from her longstanding spot as lead House Democrat on the committee that oversees state spending on environment and natural resources. (Star Tribune)

The state’s jobless rate is now 3.7 percent, the lowest since 2001. (MPR News)

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce will push for a rollback of automatic inflationary increases in the state’s minimum wage. (MPR News)

A look at four of the most interesting new laws that will take effect in Minnesota on January 1st. (MPR News)

Why are some of Minnesota’s elected leaders so fascinated with a 30 year old legislative session? (MinnPost)

National Politics

An independent panel recommended sweeping changes at the Secret Service, saying the elite protective agency is “starved for leadership” and calling for a new director, hundreds of new agents and officers and a higher fence around the White House. (Washington Post)

Congressional Republicans plan to fight President Obama’s thaw in relations with Cuba by denying Obama funds to reopen an embassy in Havana, stall the nomination of a potential ambassador, vote down a bill to open up travel more widely and ignore requests from the White House to lift a decades-old embargo. (Politico)

Cubans in Minnesota welcomed the diplomatic moves. (MPR News)

Hillary Clinton is studying the mistakes of her 2008 presidential campaign closely as she starts to organize a potential 2016 bid. (New York Times)

While many DFL members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation may have already endorsed Clinton’s bid, Minneapolis Congressman Keith Ellison says he’d welcome Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s entry into the race. (MSNBC)

Was 2014 the year Congress hit rock bottom? (Politico)

Goodbye, Stephen Colbert…(Comedy Central)

 

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce will push for a rollback of automatic inflationary increases in the state’s minimum wage.

Also among the statewide group’s top priorities in the 2015 legislative session, are transportation, tax cuts and health care.

“We see a real problem with setting things on auto pilot,” said Ben Gerber, who manages labor policy for the Chamber. “We elect legislators and hold elections to put people in office to make these tough decisions. And we think that, especially on an issue like the minimum wages, legislators should be making that decision.”

Earlier this year, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a law that increased the $6.15 minimum wage to $8.00 this year, $9.00 in 2015 and $9.50 by 2016. Starting in 2018, the minimum wage will increase automatically based on inflation, unless a future administration determines it would damage the economy to allow the increase.

Gerber said chamber members in rural communities have been particularly concerned with the wage changes. They say it will be a bigger financial burden for them than for businesses in the Twin Cities, Gerber said.

The inflation trigger was a sticking point between House and Senate DFLers as they hashed out their minimum wage bill earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the Chamber will also push for tax cuts, including a trim to the individual income tax, which the group argues hurts small businesses that pay taxes through individual income taxes.

The group agrees that transportation projects need new funding, too.

But where they diverge from Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL lawmakers in the Senate is on how they find the money. Dayton has proposed a wholesale gasoline tax increase, which some argue would offer a more stable funding source than regular appropriations.

But the Chamber says that approach isn’t among its priorities. Instead, it would like to see funding come from savings at the state’s Department of Transportation, general fund money and new user fees that would effectively require the people and businesses that benefit the most from road and transit projects to pay for them.

Some of these funding mechanisms may be a hard sell to DFL lawmakers in the Minnesota Senate. Already, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook says he doesn’t see much room in the state’s general fund surplus to pay for new transportation projects.

Good morning!

In Minnesota

Ramsey County prosecutors have charged four people with running a public benefits fraud scheme that bilked the state and investors out of more than $4 million. (MPR News)

About 135,000 Minnesota adults ages 18 to 64 years old secured health coverage between 2013 and 2014, a jump that cut the uninsured rate for that group to a record low 6.7 percent. (MPR News)

But state officials are still struggling to transfer the enrollment data that insurance companies need to enroll thousands of residents in coverage. (AP via Pioneer Press)

National Politics

The United States and Cuba ended more than a half-century of enmity, announcing that they would reestablish diplomatic relations and begin dismantling the last pillar of the Cold War. (Washington Post)

U.S Rep. Michele Bachmann denounced the move to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba as “inexplicable” and called the lengthy embargo of the Communist-run island effective. (MPR News)

The announcement drew praise from some Minnesota residents and companies who would like to see more opportunities to do business in Cuba. (MPR News)

This will probably be a good year for tax cheats. The IRS will freeze hiring and stop overtime as a result of the budget cuts just passed by Congress. (Politico)

After a veterans suicide prevention bill was blocked in the Senate, 1st District DFL Rep. Tim Walz speaks out. (MPR News)

Republicans in Congress have plenty of nice things to say about Jeb Bush. But influential lawmakers aren’t about to jump on the Bush presidential bandwagon just yet — or bow out of possibly running against him. (Politico)