Construction trade union members greet lawmakers
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Legislature Thursday followed a familiar pattern, one marked by announcements of floor action that didn't play out according to plan.
In this case Republican leaders said they expected to take up the public works construction bonding bill in the House Thursday evening. And, time permitting, if the House passed the bill it would move to the Senate for debate and passage.
Instead both chambers adjourned shortly after 7:00 p.m., and leaders announced they wouldn't be back in session Monday. That's the same day GOP House leaders have set aside for a debate on the Vikings stadium bill.
Legislators have until May 20 to adjourn for keeps, but they only have five remaining "session days," days when the full House or Senate are in session. By law they can't take a vote on the final session day, so that leaves four House and Senate sessions to wrap up all of their work.
In the case of the bonding bill, legislators decided to postpone to deal with objections raised by Governor Mark Dayton that could ultimately result in a veto.
He was unhappy that the University of Minnesota system didn't fare well in comparison to the system of state colleges an universities known as MNSCU. The Republicans who crafted the final bonding bill gave MNSCU $145 million, compared to $54 million for the U of M.
DFL lawmakers and Dayton were very disappointed that Republicans stripped all the local projects from bill, including the Southwest Light Rail, St. Paul Saints stadium, and civic center renovation projects in Mankato, Rochester & St. Cloud.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Republican Majority Leader Matt Dean announced Thursday they were scrapping their Plan B stadium concept, which called for a roofless version that would've used taxpayer-backed general obligation bonds to finance the public share.
Zellers announced that the original stadium bill will be taken up on the House Floor Monday. That bill envisions legalizing electronic pull-tabs and electronic bingo to finance the public's portion of the stadium.
The Speaker revealed for the first time Thursday that he doesn't plan to vote for the stadium bill in it's current form, but pledged not to impede any fellow GOP members who wish to support the plan.
"The stadium absolutely, unequivocally, is the Governor's number one priority this session," Rep. Zellers told reporters.
He added that it will be up to Dayton and the Vikings to round up the 68 votes they'll need to pass the bill, but said the Democratic governor hasn't done much to endear himself to Republicans this session.
"At just about every turn, with a few exceptions, our priorities have either been disrespected or dismissed."
The GOP's relationship with Dayton has been frayed since they rejected his Public Utilities Commissioner Ellen Anderson and sent a Voter ID Amendment over his objections.
Earlier in the week House Minority Leader Paul Thissen of Minneapolis pledged to deliver 34 yes votes for the stadium, which is 34 of 62 Democrats. He called on Zellers to match that number, by finding 34 votes in the pool of 72 Republican House members.
Minnesota Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley told KARE Thursday that the team was still attempting to shore up the votes in the House, to hit the magic number of 68.
Taxes in Play
The Senate passed the final version of its Tax Bill Thursday afternoon, and it arrived on Governor Dayton's desk Thursday night. By law he has until Monday at midnight to take action on the bill, which includes elements he both likes and dislikes.
"The governor needs to sign this bill," House Tax Chair Gregg Davids told reporters. "It's a great bill and it will create more jobs ultimately than the stadium and the bonding bill combined."
The bill features a property tax freeze on businesses and cabin, which is intended to free up more private capital for investments in expansions that could create more jobs.
But Dayton asserts the state will be hard pressed to replace that revenue with a $1.1 billion deficit already forecast for the 2014-2015 fiscal year. And the size of that tax break -- the difference between what the state would collect versus what it would take in without the freeze -- will grow with time due to inflation of property values.
That's why Dayton suggested a one-year freeze that would only effect the current budget cycle's receipts. But Senate Tax Chair Juliette Ortman said it wouldn't be meaningful to private companies if it was a freeze they could count on in coming years.
"All tax bills have tails," Ortman said, referring to the budgeting jargon for long-term costs of a change in spending or taxes.
"We've done our best to keep the tails on this bill down to a minimum, so it should be very easy for Governor Dayton to sign this bill."
Initially negotiations with the Dayton over the tax bill held up final floor action on the stadium, and some Republicans have suggested that Dayton could help the stadium along by signing the tax bill.
"I can't say it will make people vote for the stadium, but it would certainly create a lot of good will on our side of the aisle in the House," Rep. Davids said.
Dayton has flatly said he will not trade a tax bill signature for a stadium, because a project that large and significant deserves to be weighed on its own merits.
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