Daily Digest: Stadium money for veterans?

Good morning, and happy Thursday. It’s been a busy 24 hours. Here’s the Digest.

1. Lawmakers want to tap stadium fund for veterans homes. A reserve account established to ensure debt gets paid on U.S. Bank Stadium is proving an attractive target for state lawmakers, who see it as an avenue to speed construction of a few long-sought veterans homes in greater Minnesota. House Republicans have proposed shifting $30 million from that account, mostly to use as a state match toward skilled nursing facilities for veterans in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston. The account, fed by some corporate taxes and proceeds from charitable gambling in bars and restaurants, sits at almost $40 million now and could triple in a few years, according to projections. The reserve comes into play if established revenue streams to pay for annual debt payments on the Vikings stadium fall short. Those payments are roughly $30 million per year. Gov. Mark Dayton and his administration voiced support for the goal of adding more capacity to the veteran care system but said they weren’t convinced the proposed approach is the right solution. (MPR News)

2. Phifer calls it quits in the 8th. Leah Phifer, who led on every ballot at last Saturday’s 8th District DFL convention but was unable to secure the party’s endorsement, said Wednesday that she will not continue her campaign into the DFL primary. “My goal, since first declaring my candidacy in October 2017, has always been to win the DFL endorsement, bring new voices to the table and strengthen the party,” said Phifer. “A divisive primary season would only serve to weaken the party and distract from the issues affecting the people of the 8th District.” While Phifer made a strong showing in DFL caucuses, her support was not enough to reach the required 6o percent in the five-way battle for party endorsement to replace retiring U.S. Rep Rick Nolan. She has also been lagging some other candidates in fundraising, ending March with less than $19,000 on hand. The other candidates who have said they will compete for the DFL nomination in the August primary are state Rep. Jason Metsa, former State Rep. Joe Radinovich, North Branch Mayor Kirsten Kennedy and former Duluth TV News anchor Michelle Lee. (MPR News)

3. Supreme Court rules against Otto. The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled against State Auditor Rebecca Otto in her challenge of a law that limited her office’s authority. Otto challenged a 2015 law that allows county officials to bypass the state auditor’s office and hire private accountants to conduct their annual financial reviews. She argued the law was unconstitutional and undermined the core function of her office. A district court judge and the Minnesota Court of Appeals had previously ruled against Otto. In an opinion Wednesday affirming the earlier court of appeals ruling, the Minnesota Supreme Court said the law does not violate the separation of powers clause or the single subject clause of the constitution. The court said the Legislature “left untouched the bulk of the duties conferred on the State Auditor,” including audits of cities, towns, school districts and other political subdivisions. (MPR News)

4. The court also ruled Hennepin County illegally kept information private. Hennepin County violated state open records laws by failing to comply promptly with a request for information on the sheriff’s use of biometric technology, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. In August 2015, open government crusader Tony Webster requested information about Sheriff Rich Stanek’s office use of high-tech tracking methods to identify faces, irises and fingerprints. The court faulted the county’s procedures for responding to records requests through the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. But the court declined to consider the question of whether government agencies can refuse data requests on the grounds they are too burdensome. The seven justices agreed that previous court hearings and documents revealed “substantial evidence of the county’s missteps and failures in responding to Webster’s request at every juncture.” (Star Tribune)

5. Downey ends gubernatorial campaign. Former Minnesota Republican Party Chair Keith Downey ended his race for governor on Wednesday, saying that while he still believed in his message, “the opportunity for me to win in November has closed.” His announcement came a day after campaign finance reports showed ex-Gov. Tim Pawlenty with a massive fundraising lead over Downey and other GOP contenders. In his statement Wednesday withdrawing from the race, Downey acknowledged Pawlenty’s recent, official entry into the race had changed the dynamics dramatically. “I have fought hard, not because I dislike or disrespect my Republican opponents, but because we need to be stronger if we are to win elections and then govern according to our convictions,” Downey said. Along with Pawlenty there are three other Republicans still in the race: Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stevens, and Naval reservist Phillip Parrish. (MPR News)

Finally, I made a mistake the other day when I wrote that U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis won the Republican endorsement last weekend. The 2nd District Republican convention isn’t until this Saturday. I got ahead of myself and regret the error.

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