News Day: RNC acquittals / More Michelle / MN tax and budget wrangling/ Ethanol, books, coffee, more

I’m writing on the fly this morning — literally — and hoping to post when we land in Newark, so advance apologies if I miss any late-breaking news. I’m out of town until Wednesday, so Monday-Wednesday blog posts may be shorter, later, or just a little different.

Not guilty for RNC protesters Two more RNC protesters were acquitted by a Ramsey County jury Thursday. That continues a solid winning streak, with no protesters yet convicted at trials. The jury evidently found police testimony not credible. Another RNC trial is still going on, with Sean McCoy facing misdemeanor charges of parading without a permit and fleeing a police officer. Some lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild suggest that St. Paul city attorney John Choi should just throw out all of the remaining misdemeanor cases. (He’s already decided that hundreds of arrests lack a basis for prosecution.)

Attorney Bruce Nestor notes that there have been a handful of guilty pleas, including a few for felonies, such as slashing bus tires. Some misdemeanor defendants have been tempted by the liberal offers made by the prosecutor’s office, reportedly including pleas to petty misdemeanors or continuance for dismissal, which results in no criminal record. But many defendants, like the two acquitted on Thursday, refuse on principle to plead guilty.

Nobody likes Ann Or, more precisely, nobody likes House Taxes Committee Chair Ann Lenzcewski’s tax proposals, according to Politics in Minnesota. T-Paw, predictably, dissed the proposal, which would eliminate the income and corporate tax benefits of his JOBZ program, along with mortgage interest deduction and the K-12 education credit. Lenczewski points to stats showing that wealthy MN taxpayers get a disproportionate share of the credits she wants to eliminate. Senate Tax Chair Tom Bakk said he does not “see the Senate going in that direction.”

Bakk himself has a tax proposal that has been criticized as little more than another sales tax, and that also includes an internet download tax that is going nowhere.

In another tax story, MinnPost reports that school districts want to keep on getting property taxes from wind farms in their districts. Last year they got $146,000 in taxes on wind energy production (out of total wind energy tax collections of $2.4 million), but the school wind tax benefit is scheduled to end July 1.

Look for more tax news next week, when Representative Paul Marquardt, chair of the Property Tax and Local Sales Tax division, announces his property tax plan.

For more analysis on budget and taxes, check out Minnesota Budget Bites from the MN Council on Nonprofits.

More Michelle Rep. Michelle Bachmann may be vying with former Gov. Jesse Ventura for the title of most quotable (and strangest) MN politician. Her latest, according to Andy Birkey at MnIndy includes “everything from gay marriage and abortion to taxes, immigration and Mountain Dew.”

Promoting ethanol Corn growers and ethanol manufacturers are petitioning the EPA to raise the permissible ethanol level in gasoline from 10 to 15 percent. Their case is bolstered by a new study by a NoDak-based Windmill Group researchers, reports Finance and Commerce. The study says the move would save or create 3,095 MN jobs and generate $586 million a year in MN economic activity. (No word on who paid for the study.)

Ethanol is big business in MN, which ranks fourth as a producer (following Iowa, Illionis and Nebraska.) But it’s not as attractive a fuel as it was when gas pump prices were at $4/gallon, and environmental critics say the amount of petroleum, water and energy inputs used to produce ethanol makes it less enviro-friendly.

Jailhouse blues After an earlier story pointing out the lack of prisoners to fill newly-built MN county jails, Gov. Pawlenty called for sending county jail inmates to state prisons. He called it removing a burden, but the two stories seem contradictory. And now NPR is reporting that other states are trying to save money by decriminalization: taking away jail time as a possible penalty for lesser offenses. In New Hampshire, says NPR, they are “trying to distinguish between people society is mad at and people society is afraid of.”

If an offense carries no jail time, says NPR, there’s no right to a public defender, cases move more quickly through the system, and the court system saves money. This is an issue that brings together both sides of the political spectrum:

“Criminal punishment is the greatest power that government regularly uses against its own citizens. So from a conservative standpoint, any great power needs to have very clear limitations on it,” says Brian Walsh, a senior legal research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. … “The idea that more criminal law is always better, harsher sentences are always better — that’s not a conservative principle.”

Coffee, but no books The Roseville library is closing for expansion on March 31, reports MinnPost, but the Dunn Bros. coffee shop will stay open through April. A temporary library site will open May 2 near Fairview and County Road C, north of Rosedale. The Roseville library, the busiest in the state, is scheduled to reopen in spring 2010.

If you’d rather brew your own, check out Jay Gabler in the TC Daily Planet, with the first of a three-part blog, titled “How to make coffee that will impress the hell out of your guests.”

“A lot of thirst for blood” Israeli soldiers’ testimony, leaked to Maariv and Haaretz newspapers, paints a disturbing picture of excessive force, shootings of civilians, and destruction of property, reports the NYT.

When asked why that elderly woman was killed, a squad commander was quoted as saying: “What’s great about Gaza — you see a person on a path, he doesn’t have to be armed, you can simply shoot him. In our case it was an old woman on whom I did not see any weapon when I looked. The order was to take down the person, this woman, the minute you see her. There are always warnings, there is always the saying, ‘Maybe he’s a terrorist.’ What I felt was, there was a lot of thirst for blood.”

Some 1,300 people were killed in the Gaza war, including about 10 Israeli soldiers, some of whom were killed by “friendly fire” from other Israeli forces.

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