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Capitol Chatter: Tuesday report to spell out state finances

Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget announces on Feb . 28, 2017, that the state had nearly $1.7 billion more to spend than it had expected. A new state budget forecast comes on Tuesday, Dec. 5, with the latest projections. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
Don Davis of Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL — Tuesday, Dec. 5 is a big day, at least under the Minnesota Capitol dome.

It actually will be big stuff for all Minnesotans, but they barely will notice. On Tuesday comes the first of two "budget forecasts" in the next few months.

It may be a ho-hum moment for many, but the two announcements are key to how much money state officials will have available to spend for the rest of the current budget cycle.

Monthly state government revenue figures have been falling, although slowly, many of the past several months. Tuesday will be the day when those revenue figures are paired with state spending and a guess at how the national economy will do for the next year and a half.

When all of those factors are put together in one report, Minnesota political leaders will have a pretty good idea about how they can manipulate the state budget when lawmakers return to town on Feb. 20. Maybe.

Economists often are not right when predicting the economy, and thus how much the state may have to spend. But this time it may be even tougher.

In the forecast earlier this year, the company Minnesota uses to help predict the national economy figured Congress would have passed a tax cut bill well before now. That issue just was being debated and until the president signs a final measure, how it affects the overall economy will remain in doubt.

Chairman Jim Knoblach of the Minnesota House Ways and Means Committee said in a recent interview that a tax bill's impact will not be considered for Tuesday's forecast. Obviously, any major tax bill such as Republicans are pushing will affect the economy, so that provides question marks regardless of that Tuesday's report says.

Knoblach said it appears the economy still is growing, but more slowly than was predicted last February.

The economy has a direct impact on taxes, which affects how much money the state collects from it citizens through taxes. While it also affects state spending, that is less dependent on the economy.

Spending, however, will be the figure to watch Tuesday because it is tougher to track.

The number within the number to watch is how much health and human services programs are spending compared to the most recent forecast. Those areas can vary widely.

With tax debate coming so close to the forecast, Tuesday's numbers will be a bit suspect. But, Knoblach said, a new forecast expected in early March could be more accurate if a federal tax law is in place.

Still, leaving question marks in Tuesday's forecast may be better than baking into the state's financial planning something that may — or may not — happen in Washington.

Groping on billboard

Motorists on a packed Los Angeles freeway on Thursday saw a billboard with U.S. Sen. Al Franken reaching out as if to grab a scantily clad woman.

A conservative street artist known as Sabo modified the original billboard, promoting "The Greatest Showman" movie due to premier Dec. 20, The Hollywood Reporter reported. The photo of the Minnesota Democrat looked much like a 2006 one in which his heads hovered over the breasts of a sleeping woman who was on a USO tour with him.

Sabo is known for modifying Hollywood posters, but the Franken billboard may have been his biggest effort yet.

The Reporter said that Sabo did his work before sunrise Thursday.

Sabo told the newspaper that he did not ruin the original billboard. Photos of the billboard make it appear that the Franken cutout is suspended by ropes and clamped to the billboard's edge.

Several women have accused Franken of sexual misconduct, including forcibly kissing a woman on a USO tour and grabbing women's buttocks while being photographed with him.

Stras awaits vote

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras awaits a committee vote and then a full U.S. Senate vote to know if he will join the federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Stras, nominated by President Donald Trump, had been forced to wait for a Senate Judiciary Hearing after Franken refused to back him. Eventually, committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, opted to ignore Franken and took Stras before the committee.

Franken has said he fears Stras will make decisions tainted by his conservative views. Stras, however, said he is "objective and open minded" and will consider each case on its merits.

If the full Senate eventually approves his nomination, the 43-year-old justice would have a life appointment.

Trump earlier floated his name as a potential U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

'Return the money'

Republicans and their allies are asking Minnesota Democrats to return nearly $1 million Franken and Garrison Keillor raised for them.

There is little evidence Democrats will comply.

Republicans say that since Keillor and Franken face sexual misconduct allegations that any money they donated to other politicians or parties is tainted and should be returned.

The two are among the biggest Democratic fundraisers.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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