Legislators returned to the Capitol in St. Paul on Tuesday to resume a legislative session that ended last year with a budget breakdown and a record three-week state government shutdown.
The House and Senate were gaveled into session at noon, beginning the second year of the biennial Legislative session that began in January of 2011. A proposed stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, a long list of capital projects around the state and plans to stimulate employment and reform government are among the high-profile topics to be discussed.
Tuesday also marked the return of Sen. Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, for the first time since she stepped down as Senate Majority Leader Dec. 15. She did so after being confronted by Senate colleagues for having a relationship with a Senate staffer, and was replaced by Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, called for a short session so legislators can return to their redrawn districts and campaign. "Let's go home on April 2nd, people,'' he said. That would be six weeks before the constitutional adjournment date.
This year’s session does not carry the weight of a budget deficit, such as the gaping $5 billion hole that triggered last year’s partisan meltdown. The state enjoys a modest surplus, and both Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature are expected to stay away from the tax-vs-cut drama of 2011.
That leaves the Vikings stadium and the capital projects bill – known in the building as the “bonding bill” – as the two big-ticket items of the session.
Dayton has championed a stadium project, with costs to be split between the team, the state and a local partner. His attempts to push a project into position for a pre-Thanksgiving special session failed. It is unclear how much support any proposal – and there are still several on the table – could win in the Legislature, whose members all face re-election in November.
Dayton has played an important role in shaping the debate over where the stadium should be built. On Monday, he told Vikings owners that the only workable option this year is to rebuild on the site of the Metrodome in Minneapolis, where the team has played since 1982.
The governor has proposed a $775 million bonding bill, but legislative leaders are sure to want to pare that number down. In so doing the Capitol will be filled with lobbyists and legislators trying to keep their pet projects in the money.
Legislative leaders vowed to focus on reforming state government and creating jobs, a broadly-defined mandate that includes reducing property taxes for businesses, placing a moratorium on further state rulemaking and challenging tenure for teachers.
All sides are hoping for a relatively short session. Not only is this an election year for all 201 legislators; by Feb. 21, a court panel is to release maps of new legislative and congressional districts. That creates a push for legislators to begin campaigning in the new areas.
The session can run until the constitutional deadline on May 21. If an important issue arises or remains to be dealt with -- such as the stadium -- Dayton can call legislators back into special session.