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‘Historic’ changes possible at the Minnesota Legislature — if they can finish in time

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‘Historic’ changes possible at the Minnesota Legislature — if they can finish in time

Minnesota lawmakers could pass some historic legislation Sunday, including eliminating taxes on Social Security, easing the cost to schools for special education, and raising the pay of caregivers in the struggling long-term care industry.

But they have to act fast. Lawmakers have until midnight Sunday to agree on $4 billion worth of tax cuts and $4 billion in new spending.

They struck a deal on tax breaks Saturday, but sticking points remained on spending plans for key areas like crime and education. If they can’t get past those sticking points, it’s possible that the tax deal won’t become reality.

The money would be spent over the next three years and comes from the state’s record $9.25 billion budget surplus as well as future tax collections that are anticipated to exceed expectations.

Gov. Tim Walz, GOP Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller and DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman announced the grand bargain Monday. Members of bipartisan joint committees have spent the last week ironing out the details of the spending plans.

Final bills appeared to be coming together Saturday as both the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party-led House held marathon floor sessions, committee meetings, and closed-door talks.

“It’s crunch time,” said Sen. Miller, R-Winona. “Time is short.”

EMERGING DEALS: TAXES, HEALTH, BONDING

Leaders of the conference committee working to cut taxes announced they had come to agreement Saturday.

The plan would eliminate state income taxes on Social Security, cut the lowest tax tier rate by a quarter of a percent and increase credits for renters and homeowners. The tax breaks would reduce revenue by about $1.45 billion next year and roughly $1.22 billion a year going forward.

Lawmakers continue to debate on how to spend $1 billion on health and human services programs.

Senate Republicans want to put most of the new money towards raises for caregivers and aid to the long-term industry, which faces dire financial struggles in wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats want help for long-term care, but also want to increase aid to lower-income residents to help for things like childcare.

Finally, non-budget years are typically when lawmakers approve an infrastructure bill, and talks between the House and Senate are progressing. The $1.5 billion agreed upon for the so-called bonding bill will likely focus $1 billion on requests from state agencies and $400 million for community project requests. Rather than focus on eye-catching new construction, the list of projects being winnowed by lawmakers is focused on fixing and maintaining assets like roads, bridges, and state- and college-owned buildings.

“It may be the only bill that passes this year,” said Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, who chairs the Senate’s capital investment committee. The bonding bill is the only part of the grand bargain not tied to the other parts.

STICKING POINTS: CRIME, SCHOOLS

Figuring out how to spend some $450 million in public safety has proven difficult. While there’s general agreement on increasing funding for the courts, the “order” side of the law & order equation has threatened an impasse.

While House Democrats have repeatedly said they want to hire and recruit more police officers, they’ve focused recent days of talks on another priority: a suite of spending that includes grants to local nonprofits to deploy “violence interrupters” and other forms of crime community-based crime prevention efforts that don’t involve badges and guns. They’re also pushing for money for more investigators to improve the rate of solving crime.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have zeroed in on their top priority: more cops. In theory, both sides could get some of what they want, but by Saturday evening, they were struggling to not talk past each other.

Lawmakers are at odds on how to spend $1 billion more on education. There are differences on how much to put toward boosting funding to cover districts’ special education costs. Many special education services are mandated by federal regulations, but there is no accompanying stream of federal funds to pay for them — a longtime financial sore spot for school administrators.

Leaders of the education committee also remain divided on how much to spend on mental health services for students and how to improve young students’ literacy.

In both education and crime Saturday evening, key figures began making public pronouncements to the media and on the floor of the chambers — a telltale sign that talks are at risk of stalling.

Miller and Hortman had already begun to get their hands into some of the nitty gritty of the sticking points Saturday night, potentially with Walz involved as well.

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Sainted & Tainted: Half of my summer is gone because you didn’t yield

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Sainted & Tainted: Half of my summer is gone because you didn’t yield

Tainted & Sainted

Tainted: June 3, between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. at Johnson Parkway and Sixth Street. The male driver in a black pickup didn’t yield to me and crossed into the bike path where I fell under the bike to avoid hitting your truck. All you did was sit in the truck and say you’re sorry. You left as soon as I got off the street. Half of my summer is gone because of this.

Tainted: Whoever designed this bike path. Hardly anyone stops at the stop sign. Just stop at the corner. Many close calls to me and I’ve told all to stop. Maybe put a yield sign or stop signs on the west side of Johnson. They don’t know how to yield.

Sainted: To the one driver who asked if I was OK. Much appreciated. Felt fine at the time but did break my elbow.

Barb Anderson, St. Paul

 

Tainted

I think It would be desirable if those responsible for the St. Paul skyway system could maintain uniform hours for the operation of the system.

They have posted operating hours indicating a close of 11 p.m., but this is contradicted by one posting indicating a 12 p.m. closing. The reality is that neither apply as I discovered this past Saturday when returning to my apartment from a downtown restaurant.

The location in the general vicinity (east) of the Subway operation was closed at 10 p.m. This is not the first time this has happened to me. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect uniform operating hours to be observed.

Roger A. Godin, St. Paul

 

Sainted

An incredible Sainted to Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater. I had surgery this past Tuesday and had never been there before. The care I received was phenomenal. The staff was incredible and compassionate.

I was on the first floor and it was like a party when they came in for vitals, etc. Kelly always referred me to as The Boss. Thank you for such kindness and for helping me through such a painful surgery. And an even bigger shout out to my personal paramedics Shawna S. and Mary F.  Thank you both so much for everything. I’d be lost without you.

Laura McGinn, St. Paul

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ASK IRA: Could another Heat run at Kevin Durant be in the cards?

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ASK IRA: Could another Heat run at Kevin Durant be in the cards?

Q: Ira, we’ve been burned by Kevin Durant before. We can’t be fooled into fool’s gold again. – Ian.

A: Look, this whole Brooklyn Nets-will-implode storyline is so bizarre, so speculative, so seemingly preposterous that perspective needs to be toned down all around on the possibilities of both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant departing. But to your question, this also is an opportunity to address the notion of the Heat being “burned” when coming up short in free agency, including when Pat Riley and Micky Arison traveled to the Hamptons in an attempt to woo Kevin Durant during 2016 free agency. It was the same narrative when the Heat “came up short” with Gordon Hayward (and even to a degree the supposed previous “failure” to nab Kyrie). Being mentioned in such speculation means your franchise has earned the respect of players and agents. That is a good thing. The Heat get into the room (unless it’s LeBron’s Las Vegas suite). And if Kevin Durant does attempt to work his way elsewhere, they likely will be back in the room.

Q: Nikola Jovic seems a bit slow footed when I watch his clips. I’d like to see him get serious playing time in Sioux Falls, so he can adjust to the NBA speed. – James.

A: But I’m not sure the G League game, which can be helter skelter at times, is the preferred tempo, either. This could be more along the lines of Omer Yurtseven’s rookie season with the Heat, where it will be mostly developmental, with some as-needed time as warranted/merited. Remember, Nikola Jovic will become the youngest Heat player ever to appear in a game in the franchise’s 35 seasons. That has to be about patience, for more than just foot speed.

Q: Ira, you listed players the Heat passed on to get Nikola Jovic. Who would you have preferred? – Anthony.

A: So basically you’re asking me to trump my preference in the moment at the 2020 draft for Desmond Bane? I’m not sure there is anyone in that category this year. But of those selected after Nikola Jovic (who I think can turn into an inspired choice), I do believe that Patrick Baldwin’s skillset could still yield something special and was curious about E.J. Liddell as a Heat fit. But I don’t believe there is a reason for second guessing when you’re talking about No. 27.

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‘Everything’s gonna get caught’: Orioles outfielders Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins share favorite parts of each other’s defense

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‘Everything’s gonna get caught’: Orioles outfielders Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins share favorite parts of each other’s defense

Presented the choice between the two highlight defensive plays he made Thursday night — a fourth-inning throw to the plate to prevent a run and his rally-killing diving catch across the right field line in the eighth — Orioles right fielder Austin Hays made his decision based on sound logic.

“I’d probably say the throw because the dive hurt a lot worse,” Hays said with a smile. “It was totally worth it because I caught it. But I’d like to not have to dive on the warning track ever again.”

But speaking as an observer, center fielder Cedric Mullins went the other way.

“The throw, for him, was pretty easy,” Mullins said. “That [dive] definitely crushed some spirits out there.”

The difference of opinion is perhaps one of the few ways Hays and Mullins aren’t in sync when it comes to outfield defense. Having played together since 2017 as minor leaguers, the pair has developed an innate ability to communicate with each other before and during plays.

Thursday, along with Hays’ highlights, Mullins ranged into right-center field for a handful of impressive catches, with Hays also finishing in the vicinity. Add in a well-tracked catch in left from Anthony Santander, and the result is what manager Brandon Hyde said “might have been the best defensive game from an outfield group that I’ve seen in the big leagues.”

“It’s two Gold Glovers,” Hyde said. “You see them doing a lot of nonverbal [communication] while they’re running to the ball. They know each other so well now. When you play next to a guy, you know their mannerisms, you know what balls they can get to and what they can’t, where they’re playing, so there’s some comfort.”

Mullins said with a wave of his hand, he can let Hays know what areas he has covered based on positioning. Both noted that if a ball is hit between them and one can catch it with a dive, it usually means the other can get to it standing up. That cue helps them avoid collisions, with one moving up to make the catch while the other veers deeper into the outfield as backup.

“It’s a really big peace of mind for an outfielder to know that the other guy is always going to be there,” Hays said. “I think we’ve built a lot of trust with one another.”

Hays said that trust is a byproduct of years of games alongside each other, with those instincts becoming second nature “once those plays happen over and over and over and over again.”

That aggregate time together means they have both seen the other blossom into standout defenders in their own way. Hays praised Mullins’ jumps, routes and speed. Mullins is in the 72nd percentile in the majors in outfield jump, 84th percentile in sprint speed, and 91st percentile in outs above average, according to Baseball Savant.

“He’s as good as they come for center fielders,” Hays said.

His favorite play by Mullins happened last year, when the All-Star slid on the warning track in right-center field at Camden Yards to rob Nelson Cruz of extra bases. With experience playing center field in Baltimore, Hays knows the challenge of that play.

“That’s one of the most difficult plays for a center fielder, when you’re running wide open,” he said. “That gap gets small right there before it jets out to where it’s 373 [feet]. I think that’s probably the most impressive one I’ve seen him make. He robbed Gary [Sánchez of a home run] last year, but I still think that the one where he slid on the track up against the wall, that’s just such a difficult play.”

Mullins said picking one of Hays’ best plays is a tough task because “the list keeps piling up.” He settled on the highlight that impressed him most recently: After Mullins lunged at a ball as it caromed off the new left field wall at Camden Yards, Hays chased it down and threw out Jesse Winker at third base as the Seattle Mariners outfielder tried to stretch the hit into a triple.

It’s one of Hays’ six outfield assists, which entered Friday as the second most in the American League and highlighted the arm that most impresses Mullins about Hays’ defensive acumen. Since 2016, Hays is responsible for the Orioles’ five hardest-thrown outfield assists, with the top three coming this year.

“He came behind me, picked it up, threw him out at third while I was just kind of my knees watching because at that point, I’m like, ‘It’s all you, man,’” Mullins said.

Hays’ favorite among Mullins’ plays came June 1, 2021. Mullins’ preference among Hays’ highlights was June 2, 2022. It’s just another example of them in lockstep, working in tandem to secure outs for the Orioles’ pitching staff.

“We just have a lot of faith knowing that everything’s gonna get caught,” Hays said. “If there’s something I feel like is out of reach for me, he’s gonna catch it.”

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