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Potential federal shutdown may attract more attention: Dayton learns

ST. PAUL -- The country's political attention lately has focused on Wisconsin and a battle over public unions.

Coming in a distance second is the potential that the federal government could shut down Friday. But U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said the attention will switch to Washington in the next few days as the Republican-controlled House tries to work with the Democratic Senate and White House to pass another stop-gap budget measure to keep the federal government functioning a few more weeks.

A new budget was supposed to be in place by last Oct. 1, but Congress could not agree on a full budget so it has passed temporary spending measures to keep government open. The current temporary spending plan ends Friday.

Kline, who plans to seek re-election next year, said even as Congress looks at another temporary budget bill, work needs to begin to trim the country's $14 trillion debt and "pull back the runaway spending."

While Kline said he does not think a shutdown is likely, he also could not explain how there will be a compromise between Republicans who want to cut spending now and Democrats who want to maintain current spending for now.

The coming days will be "a showdown," Kline said.

That showdown should attract the country's attention, Kline said.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton met with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, and came away with what he considered good advice.

"He was a very successful governor," Dayton said of his southern neighbor.

Vilsack gave Dayton ideas about streamlining state government. Vilsack worked on government reform while at Iowa's helm.

The ex-Iowa governor told Dayton he plans trips to Vietnam, South Korea and Indonesia to promote agricultural trade. Dayton hopes to visit China, perhaps in August, on his own trade mission and Vilsack offered to help.

Vilsack and Dayton also discussed rural economic development and broadband, "which is of great interest to me," Dayton said.

Several Minnesota and Wisconsin environmental groups are asking for a smaller bridge to cross the St. Croix River near Stillwater, after plans for a larger bridge have been stalled.

The federal government has killed plans for a $640 million bridge to replace the aging Stillwater Lift Bridge.

"A new river bridge can certainly be built for much less than the $640 million projected cost of the current freeway-style bridge proposal," said Jim Rickard of the Sierra Club St. Croix Valley group.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Motorists are hitting Minnesota state troopers at a record pace.

Since Nov. 1, vehicles have hit 31 troopers compared to 13 during the same time last winter.

The State Patrol is trying to get drivers' attention.

"It doesn't matter the road conditions, drivers need to pay attention," Lt. Eric Roeske said. "A majority of troopers have been hit because people were not paying attention or driving too fast. Drivers need to be alert for flashing lights and move over to ensure we can do our jobs safely and the people we are helping are out of danger."

State law requires drivers to be a lane away from a stopped emergency vehicle with flashing lights when on roads with more than two lanes. Motorists must slow down when they cannot safely move over a lane.

University of Minnesota Morris student Josh Preston told a Capitol rally that the higher education funding debate has gone beyond just money.

"We have reached a point in the history of our life as a university, and as a state, that when it comes to budgets we are no longer addressing issues of finance: We are addressing one of our values, priorities, morals," he told hundreds of students in the Capitol rotunda.

Preston said that despite Morris' good education and research reputation, it faces problems.

"As a community of students, faculty and staff we have our share of concerns, concerns that include the fact that Morris professors make significantly less than on average than those of the Twin Cities, less than even Crookston," he said. "How are we able to, as a research facility, going to be able to continue leading the state forward when we can't even pay our best thinkers the salaries they deserve?"

The Morris student also complained about "intellectually lazy, political bait-and-switch" tactic of imposing tuition caps that lawmakers favor because it helps then get re-elected.

Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson has restricted the import of walnut trees and some related products from areas infested with thousand cankers disease.

A fungus carried by the walnut twig beetle causes the tree-killing disease in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington and Utah.

"This targeted quarantine will help prevent the loss of millions of trees and avoid damage to a valuable segment of our state's forestry industry," Frederickson said.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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.