News Day: Contract or furlough? / Crippling health care / Taking away the children / Comic relief, more

Contract or furloughs or both? State workers who are members of AFSCME and MAPE “won’t be required to take unpaid furloughs under a tentative two-year contract reached Wednesday with the state, according to the unions,” reports the Strib. That was the first read on the contract agreement, and seemed to be good news, since T-Paw had been threatening/demanding 48 unpaid furlough days over the next two years, which works out to a little more than five weeks per year.
But wait — T-Paw’s spokesperson, Brian McClung, jumped in to say the contract makes no guarantees and state government retains its “existing ability to furlough employees if necessary.”

Crippling health care in MN The PiPress details testimony by health care leaders that describes the crippling impact of T-Paw’s plan to remove as many as 93,000 Minnesotans from state-subsidized health programs. Twin Cities health care providers have cut more than 1,500 jobs since last fall, as uncompensated care in the sate rose to an estimated $601 million in 2008. Hospitals said the influx of uninsured patients would mean massive losses and would require cuts in services:

Fairview said its training of medical students would decline, and all of the hospitals said they would scale back mental health care.

CentraCare Health System in St. Cloud said it would shut down dialysis centers and a nutrition center that keeps diabetics healthy and out of the hospital. …

Rural hospitals might close. Outreach medical and dental clinics could be consolidated.

Outrage of the day: Immigrant’s citizen child taken by court A Missouri judge terminated an undocumented immigrant mother’s parental rights because she “abandoned” her U.S. citizen child when she was arrested and jailed. The judge gave her two-year-old son to a local couple because they “made a comfortable living, had rearranged their lives and work schedules to provide Carlos a stable home, and had support from their extended family.” The New York Times reported:

“The only certainties in the biological mother’s future,” he wrote, “is that she will remain incarcerated until next year, and that she will be deported thereafter.”

It is unclear how many children share Carlos’s predicament. But lawyers and advocates for immigrants say that cases like his are popping up across the country as crackdowns against illegal immigrants thrust local courts into transnational custody battles and leave thousands of children in limbo.

MN Budget News Steve Perry says the DFL was “knocked back on its heels” by the narrow margin of House committee votes for its omnibus tax bill. While some DFLers are scared of public reaction to changes in the mortgage deduction, Rep. Tom Rukavina clearly lays out a principled critique (he ended up voting for the bill):

“The bill has a lot of good, progressive things in it,” he continued. “But I’m someone who sees sales taxes and cigarette taxes and alcohol taxes being somewhat regressive–especially cigarette taxes–on the poorest of the poor. I’m an old Farmer-Labor progressive, and I still think the fairest tax is the income tax, and the income taxes, starting with Ronald Reagan when I first got here, were cut. Under George Bush they were cut. And those taxes have been replaced with unfair, regressive taxes. Gov. Pawlenty has made his no-new-taxes pledge by shifting taxes onto property owners.”

The devil, as usual, is in the details. While opponents beat the drums about the mortgage interest deduction, Rep. Lencewski’s proposal to move from an unlimited mortgage interest deduction to a limited mortgage interest credit actually gives a bigger break to families earning less than $150,000 per year, but gains $344 million for the MN treasury by reducing the credit for higher-income, bigger-house residents.

Comic relief Because we need it, right? Stephen Colbert explains that there’s no reason we can’t regulate harmful practices in a way that pleases everyone.

Another great source of quick cash – payday loans. If you need money now, you can borrow against your next paycheck at an annual interest rate of only 400 to 800 percent. Now that’s a great deal for anyone who gets a weekly 2000 percent pay raise. Now, Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez has introduced the Payday Loan Reform Act of 2009. Now Gutierrez used to want to ban payday loans but now he sees the better choice is reasonable regulation and he’s changed his mind for the best possible reason — he simply had no choice.

According to Gutierrez, these payday companies are very powerful. Their influence should not be underestimated. And he should know. A payday loan company was the biggest contributor to his reelection campaign, giving over $10,000. Now, they meant to give only $20, but out of habit charged themselves the usual interest. Now, if the Gutierrez reform act passes, it will end the era of 800 percent interest rates. They’ll be strictly limited to 780 percent. Now folks, I like this bill because it legitimizes the payday loan industry by dragging it out of the darkness and into the anemic firefly flicker of nominal oversight.

Unemployment claims up In the week ending April 18, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 640,000, an increase of 27,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 613,000, according to this morning’s news release from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Getting into a new home Jean Hopfensperger reports in the Strib about a new Minneapolis-St. Paul website that “allows potential home buyers for the first time to click on any of the 80-plus neighborhoods in the two central cities and learn about every financial incentive available — from federal stimulus deals to small fix-up loans.” The site is also supposed to allow a prospective homebuyer to “gauge the “walkscore” for any house she checks out, which measures the home’s proximity to nearby coffeehouses, parks, schools and other amenities. She can watch embedded video, click on dozens of related links, view testimonials from neighbors — and upload her own.” Unfortunately, the reality falls a little short of the promise. When I tested it by looking for info on my St. Paul neighborhood, I got — nothing at all. I didn’t see any embedded videos or testimonials or the promised Facebook and Twitter connections, but maybe they are coming. For most neighborhoods, though, there’s a lot of great info, and this is a good resource for current residents as well as prospective homebuyers.

Birthday in court Rosemary Williams, the south Minneapolis woman whose eviction has become the focus for anti-foreclosure activism, was in court Tuesday. Her pro bono attorney, Jordan Kushner, raised a novel argument that eviction would mean a vacant house and that vacant houses create a public nuisance. The judge granted Williams’ request for a jury trial. Putting her case in context:

Last week, the state Senate’s Economic Development and Housing Budget Division voted against a proposed one-year moratorium on foreclosures, angering local activists who contend that the current economic crisis demands a more radical response. Nationwide, the number of foreclosures increased 24 percent in the last three months. Over 800,000 households received a foreclosure notice from January to March, according to the Associated Press.

Good news for MN college students? The MN House of Representatives passed a bil that would use federal stimulus funds to cap tuition increases at two percent a year in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and $300 per year (about three percent) at the University of Minnesota. According to the PiPress, the House bill also includes a hiring and pay freeze for MNSCU and the U of M and a ban on human cloning projects. (Where did that come from?) Stimulus = hiring freeze? Somebody’s not clear on the concept.

World/National headlines
• More than 60 killed in two attacks in Iraq today. New York Times At least 22 people were killed and more than 50 wounded in a suicide bombing in central Baghdad, according to NPR. (BBC says at least 28 dead.) Victims were collecting humanitarian aid near Tahariyat Square in the central neighborhood of Karradah.

Washington Post: Military reservists may be asked to volunteer to fill U.S. civilian positions in Afghanistan, including agronomists, engineers, accountants and other experts.

The “morning after” contraceptive, aka Plan B, was approved by the FDA for over-the-counter sale to seventeen-year-olds, overturning Bush admin political dictates. Washington Post

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Pakistan’s leaders of “surrendering large tracts of territory to the Taliban” and said Pakistan’s instability is a “mortal threat” to world peace. New York Times

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