Lori Sturdevant, an editorial writer and columnist, has covered state government and politics for more than 30 years.

Posts about Vikings

Poll provides blame game preview

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: April 30, 2012 - 6:06 PM

Business backers of a new Vikings stadium were taking public pains Monday to temper their rhetoric as they called for legislators to disentangle the stalled stadium bill from other issues and bring it to a vote.

But the March 16-19 statewide poll sponsored by the business-backed Home Field Advantage coalition gives pro-stadium lobbyists a more pointed persuasive tool, should they care to use it.

"If the Vikings were to leave Minnesota because a new stadium was not authorized, who would you feel is most responsible?" the poll asked. Nearly half of the 715 respondents answered, "the Legislature." Only 10 percent would point their fingers of blame at Gov. Mark Dayton. Three out of 10 said they would fault the Vikings; a mere 5 percent would target the city of Minneapolis.

Those aren't mild views, the poll found. Ninety-five percent of respondents said their position was held either "very strongly" or "somewhat strongly." Those findings ought to get the attention of election-minded legislators.

Already released poll results from a larger sample, 1,000 respondents, found that more than three of five Minnesotans support the stadium financing package crafted by the Vikings, Dayton, Minneapolis officials and the bill's legislative sponsors. The poll also found more than seven in 10 respondents saying that keeping the Vikings in Minnesota is either very or somewhat important to them. Those results carry a margin of error of 3.2 percent. 

 

 

Little learners ride stadium bandwagon

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: April 25, 2012 - 4:36 PM

Early education advocates and Vikings stadium boosters have become unexpected allies at the Capitol this week. Modeled after Hennepin County's clever use of Target Field excess revenues to pay for more county library services, the early ed crowd seeks a claim on excess revenues generated for the Vikings stadium, to be used for preschool scholarships for low-income families.

A bill sponsored by DFL Rep. Nora Slawik of Maplewood is expected to be offered as an amendment to the stadium bill when it reaches the House floor, perhaps as early as Thursday.

It's pegged to the expectation that the financing mechanism chosen to pay debt service on stadium bonds would be designed to generate enough excess revenue to keep interest rates as low as possible. In the case of Target Field's 0.15 percent sales tax in Hennepin County, enough has been collected above and beyond debt service needs to allot $2 million per year in recent years to Hennepin County Libraries. The 2006 Target Field legislation included that earmark for the excess at the urging of Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin. 

For Slawik, who is not seeking reelection this year, the Vikings linkage represents a last stab at achieving a longtime goal of early ed boosters -- a dedicated funding stream for preschool scholarships for low-income families. Eligibility would be for those who recently or currently qualify for public assistance under the Minnesota Family Investment Program. 

That approach to improving school readiness was tested in St. Paul and shown to be effective by the now-defunct Minnesota Early Learning Foundation between 2008 and 2011. Ideally, when the foundation's pilot ended, the state would have engineered its continuation and expansion, perhaps with a public-private partnership. But 2011 was a deficit year, and that combined with resistance from some members of the Republican majority to any state involvement with early education to stymie the scholarship effort.

That resistance continues, but 2012 is shaping up as a stadium year. Hitching early ed to that big bandwagon looks like a smart move.  

NFL message: "Next year" won't do this time

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: April 20, 2012 - 2:47 PM

Credit NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II with drawing the right crowd when they appeared at the State Capitol Friday morning. It was the first time, said state Rep. Morrie Lanning, that all four legislative caucus leaders joined Gov. Mark Dayton and the bill's authors at a meeting promoting construction of a new home for the Minnesota Vikings.

Goodell and Rooney likely had plenty of other NFL business on their calendars Friday. But when Goodell's childhood friend Ted Mondale, the Dayton administration's point man for sports facilities, issued a plea for help earlier this week, the NFL leaders got on an airplane to Minnesota. 

That action underscored their message: What the Minnesota Legislature decides in the next few weeks will determine whether an NFL franchise can, as Rooney put it, "operate here successfully." 

Those were carefully chosen words. The NFL officials and Dayton walked a fine line to avoid uttering ultimatims or threats about moving the Vikings. But mention was made of the desire to put an NFL team in Los Angeles. And that, they told the Star Tribune Editorial Board in a subsequent meeting, would not happen via an enlargement of the league. "Expansion is not on the table," Goodell said. 

But the NFL leaders didn't mince words about their timeline. Minnesota politicials have been telling them to "wait until next year" since 2006, they said. In their minds, Minnesota is out of "next years" when it comes to a new, more financially viable facility for the Vikings.

Judging from their public comments after their closed-door meeting, legislative leaders expressed varying degrees of eagerness to deliver the current stadium bill to Dayton's desk. But the fact that they all appeared alongside Dayton and Goodell indicated some willingness to help, and gave the 2012 stadium bill some of its best moments yet at the Capitol.

It also raised the stadium stakes for this cast of legislative leaders. The fate of the stadium bill stands to show the state's voters whether these legislators and Dayton are capable of making a major deal and solving a complicated problem. After meeting with Dayton and Goodell, the four legislative leaders sounded Friday morning like fellows who feel the weight of that responsibility, perhaps more heavily than they did before.     

 

 

 

Racino reappears, and other end games

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: March 30, 2012 - 3:45 PM

The return of a racino proposal, attached to a minor education bill Friday on a bipartisan 10-4 vote in the Senate Finance Committee, shows how unpredictable the final phase of the two-year legislative cycle can be. The last train is about to leave the station, and all's fair for those who are desperate to clamber aboard.

Racino had already been voted down this year in a different Senate panel. It returned in a friendlier committee with a popular purpose and a powerful patron. Sponsored by Senate finance chair Claire Robling, a racino amendment was attached to an education bill to accelerate repayment of last year's $750 million school aid payment delay, a.k.a. "the shift."

Another bill to speed the shift's repayment has cleared more legislative hurdles. But it would draw down about half of the state's skimpy reserve funds, and that's not likely to win Gov. Mark Dayton's favor.

The casino-at-the-racetracks idea still faces long odds (pardon the gambling metaphor), with opposition among anti-gambling legislators in both parties. But it presents a new potential speed-bump in a session that seems a long way from wrapping up its work before Easter, which Senate Majority Leader David Senjem said Friday is still his goal.

Before legislators can claim with straight faces that they've completed the people's business, they need to get a major bonding bill into and out of conference committee, and try to get two very different tax bills into a form that Dayton will sign. They also have to decide whether they will accept vetoes or make adjustments Dayton desires on a host of other measures, including new evaluation requirements governing teacher layoffs.

That's not to mention the push to build a new home for the Minnesota Vikings. It has stalled, but could spring into motion again anytime -- just like racino. As my late friend and mentor Gerry Nelson of the Associated Press taught me more than 30 years ago, "Nothing's ever dead until they've been home three days."

 

Whose sales tax is it anyway?

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: March 2, 2012 - 4:22 PM

Minneapolis Mayor R.T.Rybak was talking stadium at the governor''s office Thursday. But it occurred to me that one piece of his argument has wider application -- to local government aid (LGA).  

Rybak was noting that the deal struck by Gov. Mark Dayton, the Minnesota Vikings and legislative sponsors of a new stadium bill would, in essence, split the existing half-cent Minneapolis convention center sales tax. A portion of it would be "reclaimed" by the state, from whose authority it initially sprang, for stadium debt service. That maneuver could help skirt the Minneapolis charter requirement of spending no more than $10 million of city money on a sports facility without voter permission via a referendum.

The remainder of the convention center sales tax would be the city's to use for whatever purpose it chooses, Rybak said. "This would allow a local unit of government more control over sales taxes collected in the city." 

That would make it a major change in more than 40 years of state insistence that local governments could only collect sales taxes with the Legislature's permission and for Legislature-dictated purposes. (Duluth has been the one exception to that rule, allowed to keep a local sales tax it already had when the rule went into force.) 

Local control over some portion of a locale's sales tax receipts is precisely what some municipal officials around the state have been seeking as LGA has eroded in the past decade.. Those from cities with strong retail sectors chafe at generating robust sales tax proceeds for the state and getting depleted LGA checks in return.

If the Minneapolis City Council gets its hands on even a small fraction of the convention center tax to use at will, other cities are bound to notice. So will the Republican legislators who have wanted for years to shift LGA away from the state's biggest cities and reserve it for strugging cities in Greater Minnesota -- or phase it out entirely.

Whose sales tax is it anyway?

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: March 2, 2012 - 4:22 PM

Minneapolis Mayor R.T.Rybak was talking stadium at the governor''s office Thursday. But it occurred to me that one piece of his argument has wider application -- to local government aid (LGA).  

Rybak was noting that the deal struck by Gov. Mark Dayton, the Minnesota Vikings and legislative sponsors of a new stadium bill would, in essence, split the existing half-cent Minneapolis convention center sales tax. A portion of it would be "reclaimed" by the state, from whose authority it initially sprang, for stadium debt service. That maneuver could help skirt the Minneapolis charter requirement of spending no more than $10 million of city money on a sports facility without voter permission via a referendum.

The remainder of the convention center sales tax would be the city's to use for whatever purpose it chooses, Rybak said. "This would allow a local unit of government more control over sales taxes collected in the city." 

That would make it a major change in more than 40 years of state insistence that local governments could only collect sales taxes with the Legislature's permission and for Legislature-dictated purposes. (Duluth has been the one exception to that rule, allowed to keep a local sales tax it already had when the rule went into force.) 

Local control over some portion of a locale's sales tax receipts is precisely what some municipal officials around the state have been seeking as LGA has eroded in the past decade.. Those from cities with strong retail sectors chafe at generating robust sales tax proceeds for the state and getting depleted LGA checks in return.

If the Minneapolis City Council gets its hands on even a small fraction of the convention center tax to use at will, other cities are bound to notice. So will the Republican legislators who have wanted for years to shift LGA away from the state's biggest cities and reserve it for strugging cities in Greater Minnesota -- or phase it out entirely.

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