Good morning, and congratulations for making it to Thursday, which some people consider the best day of the week. Let’s take a look at the Digest.
1. Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman declared himself a candidate for Minnesota governor Wednesday, taking the number of hopefuls to 10 so far. Huffman, who has been on the county board since 2012 and was a city councilman from Shoreview before that, said he would begin a statewide tour as he competes for the Republican endorsement. He promoted himself as a can-do official with a track record of results, citing several economic development projects underway in his area as evidence. “You think about what happens in DC and St. Paul certainly seems to be headed that same way, where very little gets done. Lots gets talked about but very little gets done that helps us on Main Street,” Huffman said, adding, “I have experience. I have know-how. I have the ability to get things done.” (MPR News)
2. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the state’s transportation commissioner are sending conflicting signals on whether Dayton has given up his push for a higher gas tax and whether he will accept a Republican transportation plan. In an interview with WCCO Radio Tuesday Dayton said he no longer sees his proposed gas tax increase as “viable,” given strong Republicans opposition. Dayton remains concerned about the Republican proposal to use auto-related sales tax revenue, which is currently going into the general fund, but he expressed a willingness to accept it. But Zelle said Wednesday the governor was merely showing the same willingness to compromise that he showed last session, when a transportation agreement remained out of reach. Zelle stressed that Dayton’s budget proposal, which includes a gas tax increase, is still on the table. He also doesn’t believe that the governor was accepting the Republican alternative. (MPR News)
3. Fees that help pay for health and recreation centers, school newspapers, student government, collegiate athletics and other campus groups would be optional at Minnesota’s public colleges and universities under a measure moving at the Capitol. It’s included in a broader, $3.2 billion higher education budget bill that the House passed earlier this month. Lawmakers are now working to finalize a spending plan for public campuses that they will send on to Gov. Mark Dayton. Some university administrators and students say making the fees optional could just push those charges onto tuition bills, or threaten the livelihood of vital student groups and services. (Star Tribune)
4. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison predicted Wednesday that his fellow Minnesota Democrat, Congressman Tim Walz, will be Minnesota’s next governor. “I’m not advocating; I’m simply predicting,” Ellison said of Walz during an appearance at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Ellison, the Minneapolis lawmaker who recently was picked as deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, also predicted that Democrats will regain control of the U.S. House and Senate next year. “We’re going to have a reverse Trump-effect in 2018. It’s going to be good,” he said. He said he would run for his Minneapolis seat again next year. (Pioneer Press)
5. Syria still has up to three tons of chemical weapons, Israeli defense officials said Wednesday in the first specific intelligence assessment of President Bashar Assad’s weapons capabilities since a deadly chemical attack earlier this month. The estimate came as the head of the international chemical weapons watchdog said laboratory tests had provided “incontrovertible” evidence that victims and survivors of the April 4 attack in northern Syria were exposed to sarin nerve gas or a similar banned toxin. Israel, along with the United States and much of the international community, has accused Assad’s forces of carrying out the attack, which killed at least 90 people, including dozens of children. A senior Israeli military official said Israeli intelligence believes Syrian military commanders ordered the attack, with Assad’s knowledge. Briefing reporters, he said Israel estimates Assad still has “between one and three tons” of chemical weapons. (AP)