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Senator Utke,
Last night I was reading your email update and almost replied.  Then I decided it’d just be a waste of my time as you seem so convinced that you are doing the right thing already.  But then a neighbor here in Clearwater county called and, when your proposed legislation came up in conversation, they mentioned they were going to call your office on it – and they used some words that weren’t very Minnesota Nice about what they thought of you, but I won’t repeat those here.  

That conversation encouraged me to not only contact you regarding this issue, but also to copy Keith Ellison as the Attorney General may have something to consider on your three bills, none of which happen to agree with my beliefs of what is right, and which I actually believe are ineffective (1708), unAmerican (1757), and probably unconstitutional (2011).  I give you points for using scare tactics and false statements in your message to constituents but some of us rural folks don’t cow to the fear mongering but instead think logically about what you share and can smell the BS.
Find my responses below:

S.F. 1708, Not apparently SF 1708

Note: Not sure how Paul’s bill fits exactly. As you will notice from the above links, the second appears to be a bill related to health care while the first
says this (in a completely different format to the other links to Senate bills in this blog but which ironically is much clearer than the email verbiage quoted below from Senator Utke):
SF 1708 requires that the state pay the full amount of any refund owed as a result of overpayment of property taxes on state-assessed properties. Under current law, the commissioner of revenue is responsible for assessing railroad, and utility and pipeline operating property. If a railroad or utility company appeals an assessment, and the Minnesota Tax Court holds that the property’s market value is lower than it was initially valued, a refund of the overpayment of property tax is ordered. The amount of the refund is charged to all the different taxing jurisdictions that imposed a levy on the property. This proposal requires that the state, instead of the local taxing jurisdictions, pay the full amount of the refund. An open appropriation from the general fund to the commissioner of revenue is provided to make the necessary payments. [Yeah, much clearer than his words to constituents which begs the question… Why? Why not simply say that the State of Minnesota will be liable for the refund on over-payment, rather than something about a warrant being required for payment from the counties?]

You report: “This bill addresses an issue that is very important to our local counties, cities and townships.  The Minnesota Department of Revenue sets the assessed value for state-wide infrastructure like pipelines, electric power lines, communication infrastructure and more.  Since 2012 the state assessed values have seen large increases and now Minnesota is assessing a value that is 25-35% higher than our surrounding states.  These utility companies all do business in many states, so they know when the values have grown to unreasonable levels.  Our utility companies are now taking the Department of Revenue to Tax Court and are winning.  Current law would have our counties, cities and townships responsible for paying back these overcharges.  Our counties, cities and townships do not participate in the assessment process nor do they participate in the defending the assessment in tax court.”

While I agree that finances are always a concern, I believe most of us appreciate the many benefits that government brings and so we don’t mind paying our taxes. It seems a small amount to pay for roads, schools, snow removal, administrators, and services for the veterans, disenfranchised, elderly, disabled, and marginalized. These taxes even pay for people like you to be doing what you do.  So we expect that to be representative of ALL of us. 

And, yes, we want corporations to pay their fair share too – which it seems they often fail to do.  Taxes on the corporations, especially pipelines, are such a pittance of their income, that Minnesota SHOULD be charging them a premium to make billions in profits while risking our land, water, and air to the pollutants that ONLY THEY control. Citizens have no ability to control their maintenance and safety practices, only the oil companies do. And you don’t want to get me started on the latest propaganda Enbridge is spewing everywhere about their 99.999% safety record.  What a crock!!  I was in Quality Control for years in the steel industry and I have never heard of a company with that kind of safety record unless it’s a medical device company where they use 100% testing to assure the safety of each product.  And even THEY still have failures.  We all know that Enbridge has one of the worst reputations in the industry for safety so it’s laughable that they would use a safety record in their advertising. They are counting on the gullible, the time-constrained, and the already-on-board to believe this figure without a thought.  But they offer no transparency in the source for this figure.  Any scientist or industry employee can see the ridiculousness of this number. I believe we should challenge them on it and THAT IS A JOB YOU COULD WELL SPEND SOME TIME ON AS A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE PEOPLE.  Please let me know if you decide to take up the cause.

You further say in your email on the bill “This bill requires the commissioner of revenue to issue a warrant for payment of any judgement made against our local governments related to utility property tax over-payments,” but what does that do exactly to protect the county?  Give them a 30-day reprieve to push out their re-payment?  Enbridge is looking for about $20M in recompense over the span of years in question from Clearwater County alone! That’s more than THREE ANNUAL BUDGETS worth of funding for our county!  I fail to see from your report what this bill does to protect or help our county.  It seems only to add another layer of bureaucracy to an already over-burdened system of paperwork and decision-making.

S.F. 1757

You report: “This bill says that the Commissioner of Commerce is prohibited from using appropriations to the Department of Commerce to fund activities related to or supporting the appeal of the Public Utilities Commission order issuing the certificate of need for the Line 3 Replacement project.  We have one department of state government suing another department of state government over political issues.  This is not a good or proper use of any taxpayer money!”  Really???

It looks more to me like you can see that there is a very REAL possibility that the scientists at the DOC will succeed in their suit against the PUC, currently being revealed to have made their decision in fallacy and outside their jurisdiction.  As was evident in the StarTribune LTEs this weekend, Minnesotans comprehend that the RISK of Line 3 FAR OUTWEIGHS the unnecessary “benefit” Enbridge is trying to sell.  And, as severe flooding in the Midwest and global catastrophes around the world make clear, it is time to end fossil fuel infrastructure.  It is time to move to renewables.  Just because you want a win for Enbridge doesn’t mean as a legislator that you can stop the judicial from carrying out their well-researched and important work.  Any win for Enbridge, who have divested of their renewable assets, will be a loss for Minnesotans and the planet as a whole.

Our system of three branches of government will hopefully prevent your attempt at trying to work-around the system – a maneuver I’m frankly sick of seeing from desperate Minnesota Republicans on Line 3.

S.F. 2011

You write: This bill is known as the Worker Safety and Energy Security Act.  It addresses issues that we are seeing more of each year and that relates to those that trespass and attempt to do damage to critical infrastructure.  Critical Infrastructure includes powerlines, pipelines, railroads, mass transit, airports, etc.  With this bill penalties are increased including restitution.   
Prosecutors already have some tools to go after valve turners and others who damage critical infrastructure, but the fact that vandals and trespassers keep turning valves in our state means that current laws are not deterring them.”

Oh, so much is truly wrong about your reporting here…  First, the name of the bill would more aptly be “The Criminalization of Free Speech Act”.  And there is a REASON we’re seeing more public outcry each year regarding the way the fossil fuel industry is literally, and almost single-handedly, KILLING OUR PLANET.  When industry and government refuse to act in ways that protect WE THE PEOPLE having a liveable planet, WE THE PEOPLE speak up.  This is the foundation of our democracy, in fact, the MAIN WAY much of the needed change has happened throughout American history when elected officials act in ways that are not much better at representing the people than corporations are at being “people”.

And what does this language in your bill even mean? “A person who is found criminally liable under section 609.05 based upon an underlying violation of this section and who is not a natural person shall be liable for a fine in an amount up to ten times the fine allowed for the underlying violation.”  How can a “person” be “not a natural person”??? Can you not write in plain layman’s terms what you really mean?  No, you cannot.  Because to do so would reveal the fact that WE THE PEOPLE are “natural people” while “not a natural person” refers to a “legal” person, or “an individual, company, or other entity which has legal rights and is subject to obligations,” which gets at the root of much of what is wrong in our current government, CORPORATIONS are NOT PEOPLE.  But it does make me wonder who you are targeting in your legislation… I do notice that you allow for free speech on behalf of laborers, so it must be some other kind of citizen.  Perhaps you can clarify to me who these natural and not natural people might be.

You calling the efforts of civically-engaged Americans like the Valve Turners an “attempt to do damage to critical infrastructure” shows again your attempt at fear-mongering and your misrepresentation of the facts.  These conscientious citizens are not attempting to “damage” infrastructure but to PREVENT the damage being done BY the infrastructure.  They use safe methods of taking action, which to date have resulted in the oil company itself turning off their pipelines.  As the court in Clearwater County showed in acquitting them, there was no case to be made against their actions!

Your attempt to support the utilities in this bill shows only how corrupt our current government is, embedded with corporations that are doing work that is damaging not only to the land, air, and water, but to the very PEOPLE you are supposed to represent.  Calling these citizens “vandals and trespassers” is an age-old way of misdirecting the public from seeing the real criminals, in this case, a foreign oil corporation that wants to risk Minnesota’s beauty to make big profits while giving as little of the riches to Minnesota as possible.  And if the citizens of this state knew the true risks, Enbridge’s true safety record, and the truth in how the entire process ran roughshod over the very people from whom we stole the land on which we now live, they surely would support these “vandals and trespassers”.  

As the global community, including many Americans who are behind the curve (let’s not go down the path of discussing our educational system at this point, though that topic does warrant discussion), awakens to the climate crisis which has been unfolding for decades, and for which almost nothing has been done by politicians and CEOs, you may find your own awakening to the truth.  Spoiler alert… It’s time to move to renewable energy which will bring thousands more jobs than your friends at Enbridge.

PLEASE begin to work on ideas that ENHANCE our FUTURE, like renewable energy systems that bring lots of jobs, and ABANDON your outdated ideas like promoting the dying fossil fuel industry and using fear-mongering to control people while giving free reign to corporations.  America is changing and you need to change with us.

Thank you for your consideration.

Jami Gaither

Alida, MN