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'Very delicate' negotiations are underway for new state park land

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ST. PAUL -- Talks to buy land for a Lake Vermilion state park are on hold, the state natural resources commissioner told a legislative committee, but hope remains that a deal could be completed.

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Commissioner Mark Holsten said he wants $20 million set aside for land purchase to remain available.

"We are involved in a very delicate business discussion with U.S. Steel," he said. "The timing has to be right for the two parties to be involved in a business transaction."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty made it a priority to establish a Lake Vermilion state park in northeastern Minnesota. U.S. Steel appeared ready to sell off the land it owns for private development, but Holsten said talks may resume.

One factor in the negotiations' suspension is that one part of the Department of Natural Resources is in the midst of making regulatory decisions on a U.S. Steel facility while another part of the department is trying to buy 2,500 acres from the company for the park

Tax levies up

Property tax levies look like they are going up 3.5 percent across Minnesota.

The state Revenue Department reports that is less than the three-year average of 6.9 percent (property taxes went up 5.6 percent last year).

Revenue Commissioner Ward Einess credits a property cap promoted by his boss, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, as the reason property tax levies are being kept "relatively modest."

"It's clear that the property tax cap has imposed some fiscal discipline on local government spending, even after many jurisdictions experienced reductions in local government aid this year," Einess said.

The levy limit went into law last year and caps how much counties and cities with more than 2,500 residents can raise taxes. However, there is no limit on how much property taxes may rise to support public safety and a few other needs.

Average city levy increases are reported to be 5.4 percent, followed by school districts and counties at 3.2 percent and townships at 2.1 percent.

Duluth's levy is expected to increase 11.26 percent, second only to Minneapolis in the state's large-city category, the Revenue Department reported.

Quist running

Former state Rep. Allen Quist has launched his campaign against U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in southern Minnesota's 1st Congressional District.

A conservative Republican, Quist said that he will deliver a simple message: "If people like what Congress is doing, they should vote for the incumbent. But if they believe, as I do, that Congress is headed in the wrong direction, then I will be the alternative."

Quist said a primary goal will be to cut government spending. "Just the stimulus bill by itself added over $10,000 of new government debt for every family of four in our nation," he said.

He is a St. Peter-area farmer and recently retired as a Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato instructor.

Walz, a Mankato area Democrat, is expected to seek a third term.

Democrats said the Quist candidacy offers a too right-wing solution.

"The Republicans recruited the perfect 'party of no' candidate in Allen Quist," DFL Chairman Brian Melendez said, adding that Quist just will deliver "more heated rhetoric."

Powers to challenge

Democrat Dan Powers plans to challenge four-term U.S. Rep. John Kline in next year's election.

Powers lives in Burnsville and owns a small remodeling business.

"As a small business owner I found out how hard it can be to run a business and what obstacles can be placed in your way by government," he said. "As an independent contractor I saw the holes and traps that can snare even the diligent. I have felt how health care costs have soared with no end in sight. It is time for a change."

Powers faces a tough task. Kline has won his last three re-election bids with at least 56 percent of the vote in the district in the southern part of the Twin Cities and in more rural areas to the south of that. Kline has become the top House education Republican.

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