News Day: Following the (Governor’s) money / Liberian plea / EFCA job creation / Legislature looks at hijabs, foreclosures / more

Following the money for T-Paw staff The Governor’s staff is paid by money from other state agencies, reports Mark Brunswick in the Strib. The office takes money to pay for $30,000 of senior policy adviser Josh Gackle’s $72,000 annual salary from the Ag Department, PCA, DNR and at least four other agencies. The accounting practice shifts money from other state agencies to pay for parts of at least five other T-Paw aides, reducing his office budget.

[Governor Pawlenty] has said he will reduce his office budget by $360,000 a year, or 5.1 percent, and he points out that his office is planning for 38 full-time equivalent positions for the next two budget years while previous administrations had 55 positions at their peak.

The arrangements that pay for Gackle and the other staffers will continue to help make this apparent frugality possible. So-called interagency agreements reduced the governor’s office budget by more than $700,000 last year, about 19 percent.

Liberian plea As Liberians in MN and elsewhere face a March 31 expiration of immigration status, lawmakers finally stepped up last week to ask for an extension of status. Liberian refugees have lived in this country under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) since 1991, and MN is home to a large Liberian community, including many citizens and permanent residents, along with the refugees. The TC Daily Planet reports on efforts by Liberians and allies to resolve their precarious status.

Past-due in MN The Mortgage Bankers Association reported 54,384 past-due mortgages in MN as of 12/31/08, reports Eric Black in MinnPost, giving MN a six percent delinquency rate. The sort-of good news: MN is 11th best, with 38 states doing even worse and a national rate of 7.88 percent.

MN anti-foreclosure bill “One in eight American homeowners is now in some stage of foreclosure. Minnesota lawmakers are considering a bill that would require lenders to negotiate with struggling homeowners to help more of them save their homes,” reports Jessica Mador on MPR.

The Homeowner-Lender Mediation Act is modeled after last year’s Sub-Prime Mortgage Foreclosure Act, passed by the legislature and vetoed by Governor Pawlenty. That act, as described by MnIndy provided:

Homeowners must have a subprime or negative amortization loan; it must have been originated before August 1, 2007; it must be for an owner-occupant property; the owner must have lived in the residence six months prior to foreclosure, and intend to live there for the duration of the deferment period. If they meet these criteria, homeowners then must file an affidavit for foreclosure deferment with the lender, and then pay either 65 percent of the payments due when the homeowner defaulted, or the minimum monthly payment when the mortgage was first created, whichever is less.

Backing down on hijabs Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud) announced that he will back down on a bill that would have barred drivers’ license photos of Muslim women in head scarves. Seems someone convinced him that if passport photos and the Dept of Homeland Security can live with hijabs, maybe MN doesn’t need to worry either. (Religious Jews, Sikhs and others were also concerned about the proposal.)

MN Job Watch Workers at St. Paul’s Ford plant voted to approve contract concessions including ” freezing wages, cutting cash bonuses, allowing payments to a union-run trust for retiree health care to be paid in stock and elimination of the “jobs bank” program that paid laid-off workers most of their salary,” reports Gita Sitaramiah on MPR. While some workers opposed concessions, 75% voted for the proposal, which was backed by UAW brass, in light of Ford’s $14.6 billion loss in 2008.

The Strib reports that somebody out there is hiring. “North Star Resource Group, the Minneapolis-based financial services firm, plans to hire 50 college interns and 50 full-time employees in 2009.”

Unfortunately, notes AP, more employers are cutting hours, hiring only part-timers, putting people on unpaid leaves, and reducing pay.

EFCA creates jobs – for Republicans Anti-union operatives are in a growth industry, reports Politico. With EFCA back on the table, ” the battle has provided a welcome stimulus to a seriously depressed industry: Republican political operatives.”

“Card check,” as its opponents term the bill, is a conservative hot button like abortion or the Fairness Doctrine, only more lucrative. Both sides agree on the stakes — increased union membership and higher wages — and the titans of industry are scared enough to spend tens of millions of dollars opposing it.

One key provision would lower the bar for unionization, triggering union representation when half the workers in a workplace sign cards indicating their support, rather than measuring that support in a single vote. Another would lock employers into binding, federally mediated arbitration if a contract agreement doesn’t come swiftly.

Too little, too late for stimulus? From Josh Marshall at TPM to Paul Krugman in the NYT, respected analysts say the stimulus is too small, and the Obama administration needs to get cracking on another bill. Marshall points out that the Obama budget, and presumably the stimulus plan, are based on an assumption of an average unemployment rate of 8.1% during 2009 – but we hit that rate already in February and the numbers are going up. The Washington Post reports:

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