Passage of Vikings stadium bill looks bleak, vote wanted by leaders

By Howard Lestrud, ECM Online Managing Editor

Gov. Mark Dayton is hopeful that the “People’s Stadium” will get a vote in the House and Senate and possibly pass by one or two votes.

Dayton expressed a guarded optimism about passage of a Minnesota Vikings stadium bill when he visited with members of the ECM Editorial Board at the State Capitol Friday, March 16.

The Editorial Board was at the Capitol on Friday to visit with Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, House Majority Leader Matt Dean, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk and Senate Majority Leader David Senjem. The Editorial Board also met with State Economist Tom Stinson.

Dayton admitted that financing for the stadium may be a stumbling block. He said the electronic pull tab proposal is the only option left standing at this time.

The governor did not shut the door on the Arden Hills site, either. He said if a bill does not pass this session of the Minnesota Legislature, the likely option would be to come back next year. He emphasized that all sites are back in the mix if nothing is done this session.

Asked if he would call a special session for the Vikings stadium this year, Dayton used this likelihood: “If a meteor were coming straight at Minnesota and it seemed like the Legislature would save us, then I would call them back.”

Dayton said he knew Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was frustrated and it could get to the point where he would sell the team and then the new owners would move the team.

Changing topics, the Editorial Board pointed Dayton toward state constitutional amendments that may be on the ballot in November. The marriage amendment has already been approved for the ballot and it is very likely that the voter ID amendment will be there, too, Dayton said.

Dayton said he believed it was necessary to have bipartisan support for the voter ID bill before it will pass. He said using constitutional amendment strategy to pass legislation was a poor way to legislate.

Talking about the payback of education funds, Dayton said he prefers to grow the economy before using reserves. The Republican leadership has proposed using reserves to pay the education funding back.

On a lighter note, ECM Capitol Reporter Tim Budig asked Gov. Dayton if he supported a movement by some Andover elementary students to have the black bear named the Minnesota mammal. Seemingly uninformed about this proposed legislation, Dayton said, “I thought the gopher was our mammal.”

Talking about the economy, Dayton said Minnesota is leading the economic recovery of the country and has unemployment 2.8 percent below the national average. “We must do better, however,” he affirmed.

Dayton was asked about gridlock between the two major political parties. He said he did not have a solution but always thought compromise was the way to try to solve it. “It takes two to tango but we are not tangoing,” Dayton said.

Asked what surprises he has seen during his two years in office, Gov. Dayton said the intransigence of the Legislature has surprised him the most. He said the leadership seems to look at compromise as a weakness.

Dayton mentioned that it may be unprecedented to have all new leaders (Governor, House and Senate) in place at the same time

Here’s some nuggets from other meetings the Editorial Board had during the day:

Kurt Zellers, Speaker of the House and Matt Dean, House Majority Leader
Asked to explain his stance on a Vikings stadium bill, Speaker Zellers said, “At the end of the day, it has to be a good day for taxpayers.” He said the general fund cannot be a backup for electronic pulltabs.

Zellers said he was not an advocate for a stadium bill. He said he wants the bill to have a fair hearing. He said he will never tell members to vote “no” on an issue.

Both Zellers and Dean praised their freshman class and said they believed their folks had come a long way. Zellers complimented Rep. Dan Fabian for leading the way on development of the permitting bill. Zellers and Dean also said the freshman class has taken on education reform.

Speaking about membership votes, Leader Dean said he wishes members to first, vote their conscience; second, vote for their constituents and third, vote the caucus.

“We march in a row, shoulder to shoulder,” Dean said. “We might not always vote the same.”

Both Zellers and Dean said voter ID should be in the constitution. Voter integrity has to be above reproach, Zellers said. He said the voter ID might be a retina scan when his 5-year-old becomes of voting age.

Zellers was asked what surprised him most during his service as speaker. He said the “ebbs and flows of the day” surprised him the most. “It is really a roller coaster.” He also complimented his majority leader: “We are a damn good team.”

Sen. Tom Bakk, Minority Leader
Sen. Bakk said he was concerned about the institution of the Senate and was concerned about the scandal surrounding Michael Brodkorb and former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch.

Bakk said he believed Sen. Koch would have won re-election. She has chosen not to run.

Koch was “thrown under the bus,” said Bakk. He said Sen. Geoff Michel owes the Senate an apology. “He straight out lied,” Bakk said when referring to Michel’s claim that he did not know about the scandal until last December. Bakk claims Michel knew about it Sept. 21.

An ethics complaint was filed Monday by Sen. Sandra Pappas against Michel. Bakk said Sen. Michel was one of those who signed an ethics complaint against former Sen. Dean Johnson.

Bakk said the Republicans take caucus positions “all of the time.” He said when the Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time in 38 years, they won and didn’t know what to do. “They had no clue about organizational procedures,” Bakk said.

Addressing other issues, Sen. Bakk said the right to work push for a constitutional amendment is locked in referral. Bakk said the Republicans gave labor a score to vote. He called this move “one of the bigger political blunders he has seen.”

Talking stadium, Bakk echoed what Gov. Dayton said, saying that Arden Hills and Ramsey County was still in the picture. “I understand that it’s rough politics; the governor wants this and don’t underestimate a governor when he wants something,” Bakk said. Bakk also said he believed a new football stadium needs a roof.

David Senjem, Senate Minority Leader
Sen. Senjem said work is being done behind the scenes to keep the Viking stadium issue alive. “If we can resolve the funding and Minneapolis support,” Senjem said something might be passed. He also said he did not believe Arden Hills was out of the picture.

Senjem did say, “some type of a referendum” would likely be required. “This thing has been around for 10 years; my hope is that we could gain a decision on it before we leave to go home.

“If we don’t have the votes, I don’t think we will bring it forward,” said Senjem. He is one of the signers for the bill. He said he was surprised Minneapolis hasn’t resolved itself. “They may kill it over there,” he said.

The temp has picked up in the Senate, Senjem said with 244 bills heard last week and 40 committee meetings held.

Talking about constitutional amendments, Senjem said the House has to be more assertive on the right to work legislation. “We (Senate) are on the bubble also,” he said.

Voter ID will likely be passed and placed on the ballot, Senjem predicted. It goes to the rules committee this Friday. “It will find its way to the ballot,” he said.

Asked to comment on his role as majority leader, Senjem remarked, “It is what it is and you never know what the next door knock will bring and the challenges that are inside.”

Senjem spoke briefly about the Michael Brodkorb lawsuit and said he believed the Senate Republicans acted ethically.

Tom Stinson, State Economist
Stinson, who is employed by the University of Minnesota and contracted to do work for the state, said he doesn’t think the economy is “just going to take off and add lots of jobs” but he says he believes the unemployment rate will continue to change.

Stinson predicted that it will be late 2013 before Minnesota gets back to the number of jobs it had.

Speaking about educational paybacks by using reserves, Stinson said it does not seem “to be financially responsible.” He said “to spend money before you have it in hand doesn’t seem to be a good financial practice.” Short-term borrowing has also been mentioned as a solution. Stinson does not think that is a good financial practice.

Will there be tax reform? Stinson said doing it piecemeal is not a way to do it. He said it should be done every 20 or 25 years.

The next economic forecast will be in late November or early December. The last forecast showed a sizable surplus.