At Legislature, ‘ Lot Of Things Are In Flux’

By Danielle Nordine

This year’s Minnesota legislative session could extend into late next week, but some clarity emerged Thursday showing key votes could come soon.

The House and Senate do not plan to meet again until Monday. The House had planned to vote on a public works borrowing bill Thursday night but a last-minute dispute forced it to adjourn for the weekend.

“A lot of things are in flux,” Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji, said. “We want the best deal for Minnesota, and if it takes another weekend to hammer out the details, that’s probably a good thing.”

The delay will push the session well past Republicans’ self-imposed deadline of last Monday. Lawmakers already have passed a GOP tax plan and plan to consider Vikings stadium construction Monday and could take up a public works finance plan then, issues most lawmakers agree should be resolved before the Legislature leaves for the year.

The fact that lawmakers are still working does not bother some.

“When negotiations get serious, haste is often an enemy,” Hancock said.

Others want to get the work done and leave the Capitol.

“It’s time to go home to our new districts,” Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said.

Under the state Constitution, lawmakers have just four days in session left to pass bills.

“We need to use our days wisely,” Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said.

After some contention and a quickly retracted new proposal from Republican leaders, the House on Monday plans to debate a stadium construction bill proposed by Republicans Rep. Morrie Lanning of Moorhead and Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont.

The plan funds the state’s contribution to the project by allowing for electronic pulltabs and bingo.

Its future is unclear.

“There’s been so many games played along the way,” Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said.

Lawmakers pointed out a number of amendments likely would be added, or at least discussed, when the stadium bill hits the floor that could significantly change the plan.

Howe proposes utilizing user fees to fund the project.

“I think it has broad support,” he said.

The stadium project likely has pushed off adjournment, Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said. “I think the stadium made it too difficult to finish up,”

The House and Senate passed a tax-relief this week, a priority for Republicans. But Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton has said he will not support the GOP plan because it dips into state budget reserves to offset tax cuts, mostly for businesses.

A couple hundred union workers rallied at the state Capitol on Thursday to encourage lawmakers to pass a stadium construction bill, chanting “build it” outside House and Senate chambers throughout the day.

“It would mean jobs right away,” St. Paul carpenter Brian Beedle said.

Construction workers were some of the hardest hit by the recession, he said. “The contractors are hungry.”

Many agreed, saying it is a prime time for a bonding bill for construction and repair projects.

“If not now, when?” Tomassoni asked.

Interest rates and contracting fees are low and there is high unemployment in the construction trades, he said.

“We need to get the infrastructure taken care of,” Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, said.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said he is concerned there has not been much accomplished this year.

“The ‘do-nothing’ moniker kind of fits,” he said.

“We need to change the discussion,” Howe said of the stadium bill. “It shouldn’t be ‘take it or leave it; for the state or for the Vikings.”

“I’d like to see a much bigger bonding bill passed,” Tomassoni said.

“The fact that they’re all standing on their own is a good thing,” Tomassoni said of taxes, stadium and bonding projects.

It is time for a vote on stadium, Tomassoni said. “The time for speculating if they’ll leave is over,” he said of the Vikings.

“It will put a lot of people to work,” Carlson said of a stadium project.

“The case is very strong for a sizable bonding bill,” Lourey said, adding the proposed one is smaller than he would like to see.

Lourey said the bonding bill is a high priority but said he was frustrated by the lack of public discussion on the projects to be included.

“I’m one that’s going to work real hard for a stadium,” Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, said.

Persell said he is looking for “reasonable” plans when it comes to stadium and bonding bills. He said he likes talk of including state Capitol repair funding in a bonding bill.

Rep. Bruce Vogel, R-Willmar, said both stadium and bonding plans will need bipartisan support, which he thinks will be possible but difficult.