FFM Bulletin - 6/1/11

Scott County Knows When to Fold ‘Em

Commissioners in Scott County recently ended their longtime relationship with a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm and are apparently rolling back their federal lobbying efforts. Said board chairman Tom Wolf, “We don't know that we were getting a lot, and that's why we decided to cut it."
Last year the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota released a report on local governments in Minnesota who used tax dollars to, well, lobby for more of your tax dollars – this time, from your nation’s Capitol. Unlike lobbying costs spent to exert pressure on state government officials in St. Paul, local units governments are not required to publicly report their federal lobbying costs. Our investigation showed that Scott County spent $60,000 last year and $815,000 from 2006-2010.
One year ago, Scott County Administrator Gary Shelton called the costly program “money well spent.” Fortunately for taxpayers, a reevaluation of the program stemming from increased transparency and public dissent has led to the end of this program for now. 

Duluth’s NorShor Theater: “Pay Bill, Not Play Bill”

Last year we referred to “The Money Pit” as the best show playing in Duluth’s NorShor Theater.  And with costs climbing even higher on this expensive, historic theater building that has been shut down since last September, it doesn’t appear relief for taxpayers will be playing anytime soon.
The Duluth Economic Development Authority purchased the Duluth NorShor Theater in 2010 for $2.6 million with plans to renovate and revitalize the historic theater. After spending $4.5 million in improvements, the city found that the outdated theater did not meet standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). When the city’s economic development authority purchased the rundown, historic theatre, we at the FFM predicted Duluth would have to spend an untold amount to renovate the theater and to make it ADA-compliant. For those taxpayers keeping score, Duluth has already spent over $7 million on this theatre.  But wait:  there’s more.
The most recent renovation expenses include a new roof and a “no-frills effort” to meet ADA requirements, with a combined cost of over $3 million. City Councilor Todd Fedora said in a recent Duluth News Tribunearticle that taxpayers will sink an additional $7 million into the theater by the time its finished, not including the original cost of purchasing the theater. A request for authorization (that’s government-speak for spending millions more of your tax dollars) will be sometime in June. Stay tuned for upcoming showtimes from Duluth and the NorShor Theater.

Zellers: Dayton should apologize for “rash” comments – MN State News Exclusive

Minnesota State News caught up with Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) to get his reaction to Governor Mark Dayton’s recent controversial comments about freshman GOP legislators. Last Tuesday, the governor blamed the budget impasse on the “extreme right-wing caucus members” in the House and Senate, charging that new legislators in particular “seemingly understand little about government and care even less.” 
Read the entire response from Speaker Zellers on MN State News:

FFM Investigates:

FFM recently featured two key “Accountability Alerts” to keep you informed about government spending and regulations and to hold government accountable.  This important news feature is led by FFM Investigative Director Tom Steward. Read our latest below: 

  • MN Rural Phone Companies Face Increased Scrutiny After “Free” X-Rated and Conference Calls
    Its “dialing for dollars,” and its making a few Minnesota rural telephone companies very rich. It’s all due to a regulatory loophole that allows millions of dollars to flow to a handful of small Minnesota phone companies.
    Read more…
  • Northstar Year 2: lower expectations, HIGHER SUBSIDIES
    The number of riders for the first year of Northstar service fell far short of expectations. Since then, Metro Transit has lowered its projected number of passengers, which has raised the amount of its projected taxpayer subsidy to operate Northstar in 2011 to 84 percent. 
    Read more…

Innovative high school in Yuma, AZ receives attention

Education reform remains a hot topic even as most high school students leave the classrooms for the summer. It also gives us a chance to highlight schools that have been pioneers in K-12 reform.
The Carpe Diem School in Yuma, AZ is a very successful blended model that is being visited by lawmakers, state superintendents, foundation officials and others interested in transforming education through technology. The school considers itself a “hybrid” program that includes on-site teachers and computer-assisted instruction. Their innovative approach has attracted significant attention for its success, especially for student achievement.

A video funded by the Jaquelin Hume Foundation, a free-market philanthropy group focused on K-12 education among other topics, was released that showcased the success of the Carpe Diem school. Please follow the link below to watch the video and see a school that really works.



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