Today on the MPR News Update: Light rail construction is ahead of schedule, the poverty rate in Minnesota is leveling off, our two biggest cities pass budgets and levy increases, and communities in outstate Minnesota look for ways to move forward under changing - and permanent -- demographic and cultural changes.
TWIN CITY BUDGETS: The Minneapolis City Council approved the city's 2013 budget Wednesday night after a brief and non-contentious public hearing at City Hall. This year's levy increase, 1.77 percent, is smaller than past years. And over in St. Paul, a newly-approved $500 million budget includes a $1 million contingency fund to improve the police department's troubled crime lab.
SCANNELL PROBE: The Cook County sheriff has asked state authorities to investigate Cook County attorney Tim Scannell after a family obtained a restraining order to keep him away from their teenage daughter. In a statement released by his Minneapolis attorney, Scannell apologized to his northern Minnesota constituents for what he is calling a 'breach of trust.'
NEW MNDOT CHIEF: Gov. Dayton has appointed Jefferson Bus Lines CEO Charlie Zelle to be the new state transportation commissioner. He replaces Tom Sorel, who resigned on Dec. 1 to become the CEO of AAA Minneapolis.
AHEAD OF SCHEDULE: Work on Minnesota's largest public infrastructure project is ahead of schedule. Central Corridor light rail planners say the second year of construction on the line connecting St. Paul to Minneapolis went much smoother than the first. Residents and businesses weary from the chaos of light rail work can rejoice in one thing: Next year, there will be no more torn-up streets.
MINNESOTA POVERTY: New information about poverty from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the economic recovery in Minnesota might be ahead of the rest of the nation. And while poverty rates in the state have increased significantly since 2007, the most recent data show poverty rates have leveled off.
UNIONIZING CAREGIVERS: Workers who provide home care to the elderly and disabled say they want to form a union, but they'll need legislation passed to allow them to organize.
JUNK FOOD STAMPS? Currently, it's legal to buy pop, chips, and cookies using food stamps, as part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. But increasingly, public health experts concerned about obesity are raising questions about that policy, pitting them against longtime allies in the hunger prevention community.
MAKING CONNECTIONS: Outstate Minnesota's Latino population--from Mexico mainly, but also the Caribbean and Central and South America--has grown dramatically over the past two decades, drawn largely by the food industry. In some communities, Latinos make up a quarter or even a third of the population. Yet, in many places, people describe communities that have only begun coming to terms with demographic changes. Luisa Trapero, one of the few Latinos elected to local office anywhere in outstate Minnesota, is trying to help bridge that cultural divide. Her story is part of our new special report: Making Connections.
INORITY WHITES: White people will no longer make up a majority of Americans by 2043, according to new census projections. That's part of a historic shift that already is reshaping the nation's schools, workforce and electorate, and is redefining long-held notions of race.
DRUG LAWS: Supporters of medical marijuana face a tough road in Minnesota where Gov. Mark Dayton has said he won't sign anything relaxing the state's drug laws without the backing of law enforcement officials, who are showing no signs of budging.
FORECLOSURES: U.S. home repossessions rose to a nine-month high in November, even as the number of homes starting on the path to foreclosure declined to the lowest level in six years.
THE DRY MUDDY: Water levels on the drought-plagued Mississippi River are expected to keep dropping over the next several weeks, according to a new forecast that comes amid worries that barge traffic soon could be squeezed along a key stretch of the vital shipping corridor.
THE END OF THE WORLD: IT'S A TIMING THING: A small asteroid came relatively close to Earth on Tuesday, and a larger one is passing by at a greater distance today. Today's Question: If an asteroid were to strike Earth within an hour, would you want to know?