Two more weeks could pass before the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority receives construction cost estimates for the proposed $975 million Vikings stadium, chairwoman Michelle Kelm-Helgen told legislators Thursday.
"Coming to these numbers has been a little more difficult than we had originally anticipated, and it certainly is taking more time," Kelm-Helgen told members of the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Sports Facilities. The estimate could arrive within two weeks, she said. Groundbreaking will take place soon afterward.
Even the lowest proposed bids from subcontractors have been higher than expected, she said slowing the arrival of the "guaranteed maximum price" from Mortenson Construction, the stadium's construction manager. In the meantime, the commission is trying to stretch their dollars, focusing on cheaper, "relatively minor" design changes in areas such as paint or materials on smaller fixtures. However, there will be no "value engineering" of the major aspects of the stadium, such as its massive pivoting glass doors or cathedral-like glass roof, she said.
Despite the delay, Kelm-Helgen said the Commission is on track for the stadium's July 2016 opening and vows to stay within budget.
Thursday also marked the closing of a $17.1 million land deal for an adjacent plaza that's home to the Downtown East light rail station that will provide a vital link between the stadium and a proposed $400 million development by Ryan Companies that includes a three-block park and office space. The development will be crucial for sealing opportunities to host major events like the Super Bowl, Final Four and college football National Championship.
The purchase hit a snag last month when the owners, Minneapolis Venture LLC, filed suit against the authority claiming negotiations over the land purchase had grown “perplexing and unproductive.” The company wanted $24 to 26 million for the property. They reached a deal last month.
Vikings Vice President of Public Affairs Lester Bagley told the Commission that they're "very close" to beginning construction, and that "groundbreaking is just around the corner" once the budget is in line.
The usual suspects appear in the line up of big spenders on Minnesota lobbying, according the report on 2012 lobbying just released by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.
"The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce reported the largest total disbursements during the period. The largest total disbursements for administrative action lobbying was reported by Xcel Energy Services Inc. Lobbyists for Education Minnesota reported the largest total disbursements for legislative action lobbying, and lobbyists for the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors reported the largest disbursements in attempts to influence metropolitan governmental units," the report said.
View the entire report here, which will show how much each group spent.
It will also show the lawmakers and officials who accepted small items of value -- including plaques or meals -- from lobbying groups. Their total haul? $7,165.
Four Republican state representatives and two conservative groups announced a lawsuit on Monday against Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, alleging he overstepped his power in launching the state’s online voter registration website in September.
The petition, which will be filed in Ramsey County District Court, demands the website be suspended until it can be “openly and publicly vetted” by the Minnesota State Legislature, Dan McGrath, Minnesota Majority president said at a news conference.
McGrath and the lawmakers said they were not against online voter registration—only that it should not have been single-handedly implemented by Ritchie.
“Online registration could be the best thing since sliced bread; it could be the worst thing since the plague. We don’t know,” Said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who is listed as one of the plaintiffs on the lawsuit. “At this point it simply doesn’t matter. The Minnesota Legislature did not take public testimony to discuss online voter legislation.”
The suit asks for a court hearing on the issue on or before Dec. 15. Other plaintiffs include Representatives Jim Newberger, R-Becker; Ernie Leidiger, R-Mayer; and Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, along with Minnesota Majority and the Minnesota Voters Alliance. They are represented by Attorney Erick Kaardal. Attorney’s fees are being paid by the organizations, McGrath said.
McGrath said the lawsuit would not affect voters who used the online system to register for Tuesday's local elections. However, it could be cause for challenging election results, particularly in close races.
"The voters themselves will likely see no effect, but the elections could be challenged because unauthorized voters cast ballots when they weren't legally registered." he said.
Kaardal said he currently represents public watchdog groups in the Woodbury and Pelican Rapids school districts. If the elections are close, he said, "we would certainly be looking at the registration procedures."
The DFL Secretary of State said his office had the authority to create the system because of a 2000 law that requires state acceptance of electronic signatures as the equivalent of those on paper. Republican lawmakers asked him to take the system down in October, but declined to do so.
In a statement, Ritchie’s office said that although he wouldn’t comment on pending litigation, the Office was confident they were “on firm legal ground providing eligible voters with common sense tools base on Minnesota law.”
“Thousands have already benefited from these tools and we look forward to continuing to serve our citizens wit the most efficient government possible.” the statement said.
Drazkowski cited a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling from last year that Ritchie overstepped his bounds when he tried to write new titles for proposed constitutional amendments up for vote, including an amendment to require a photo ID for voting.
The lawsuit names no members of the Minnesota Senate as plaintiffs. Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, was anticipated to be listed as a plaintiff, but asked to be withdrawn due to a conflict, “where he couldn’t do it right now,” McGrath said.
In a statement, Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, didn’t explicitly express support for it, but called Ritchie’s implementation an “illegal and unilateral action.”
“Republicans have stated since the beginning of this new program, we don’t believe that we should have to sue for Secretary Mark Ritchie to follow the law.” he said.
Pre-registration for Tuesday's election has already ended, as the website makes clear, so unregistered voters who wish to vote will have to do register at their polling places.
Democrats and Republicans have said they plan to work on legislation next year to authorize online voter registration.
In response to the lawsuit, Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins and the chair of the House Elections Committee, said: "Instead of filing a lawsuit, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle should work together to make it a permanent option available to all eligible Minnesota voters."
A former state representative filed suit on Thursday to ban Minnesota senators from getting their new home.
The suit requests that the courts stop the state from designing the building or spending any money on it because of the way the Legislature approved of it.
"This building was authorized in the omnibus tax bill, which is about taxes, not building new buildings," former state Rep. Jim Knoblach said. Generally, authorization for state buildings appears in bonding bills, not tax bills.
That, his legal filing claims, is in violation of the state constitution's 'single subject rule.' Over the years opponents of various laws have cited the rule, which outlines that "no law shall embrace more than one subject," to challenge legislation. Those challenges have succeeded in striking down some laws -- including the controversial 'conceal-carry' law, which was later passed again -- and failed at ousting others.
Planning for the new senate office building is underway. If it goes forward, it would be built on what is now a parking lot to the north of the state Capitol.
The state plans spend about $90 million for the new building and parking ramps. The building itself is expected to cost $63 million to construct.
The suit names the state of Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton, the Department of Administration and Administration Commissioner Spencer Cronk as defendants.
"Now that a lawsuit has been filed, this question will be properly decided by the Judicial Branch.," Dayton spokesman Matt Swenson said.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, was more blunt.
"This lawsuit does not contain any legitimate concerns," Bakk said. "I fear the only result of this suit will be the waste of taxpayer resources on legal expenses and the potential costs associated with delaying the construction project."
Meanwhile, Knoblach, who long represented St. Cloud in the Minnesota House and ran for congress in 2006, said on Thursday that he would not run for congress again this year. He had been considering making a bid for the seat U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann will leave after the next election.
Read the complaint here:
A new office building for the Minnesota Senate survived legislative battles this year but may now enter a legal war.
Prominent conservative attorney Erick Kaardal said in an email that he and former state Rep. Jim Knoblach will hold a press conference on Thursday to announce a lawsuit to stop the planned building's construction.
Knoblach, a Republican from St. Cloud who ran for congress in 2006, "will be filing a lawsuit for a court injunction to prevent the design and construction of the new $90,000,000 state senate office building just north of the Capitol building," an email from Kaardal's office said.
Late in the legislative session this year, lawmakers approved spending $89.5 million to construct the new building through a provision tucked into the Legislature's tax bill. Most large state building projects are approved in bonding bills. Bonding bills require a super majority to pass, tax bills do not.
The suit will focus the fact that the building's approval was in a tax bill, not a bonding bill, Kaardal said on Wednesday.
In alerting the media to his plans to hold a press conference on Thursday, Knoblach noted that while in the Legislature he "served as chairman of the Capital Investment committee and the Ways and Means committee, and was a member of the Tax committee for eight of those years." The Capitol Investment committee is the one charged with crafting bonding bills.
Construction of the new building has yet to begin. Getting that started was delayed for at least a month this summer when a seven-member committee charged with selecting contractors decided they needed new criteria for the project. That process is now complete and design of the building is underway.
Plans call for the building to be complete around 2015 so that senators can move in while the Minnesota Capitol is undergoing a massive renovation. The building is slated to be built on what is now a parking lot.
Currently, the state's 67 senators office in two buildings -- with the majority in the Capitol and the minority in the State Office Building. All of the state's 134 House members office in the State Office Building.
Amos Briggs, DFL Senate spokesman, said the Senate had no comment until it learns more about the suit.