Legislators are stuck on taxes, bonds and Vikings

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 29, 2012 - 12:34 AM

Senate GOP leader won't bring stadium up without a global deal.

Minnesota legislators limped Saturday into the final days of the session with no signs of a global agreement on major issues, and with the Minnesota Vikings stadium proposal hanging in the balance.

Legislators dragged themselves back to the Capitol for a rare weekend floor session to see if there was any hope for a last-minute deal that would satisfy Republicans' push for business tax relief and DFLers' desire for a sizable bonding package.

The nearly $1 billion Vikings stadium plan barely survived its last committee stop Friday night, and Senate Majority Leader David Senjem said he would not bring it to a floor vote without a global agreement on the other issues, potentially dooming the stadium this year.

"We want to get that tax package nailed down before we go ahead with that," the Rochester Republican said. "We've gotten further apart as we've gone through the week. We thought we were close to something, but as we kept talking, they unfolded a bit."

Signaling how difficult it could be to reach an overall deal, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton emerged from his office Saturday afternoon to say Republicans must compromise or risk having the session implode.

"I learned last summer their view of compromise is doing things their way," Dayton said, referring to the three-week government shutdown. "That's just not going to work this time."

Saturday evening, House leaders announced that the night's agenda would not include a stadium vote.

House GOP leaders said action on tax reductions and capital projects were higher priorities for Republicans than the stadium, which they consider the governor's top priority. Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said he's not sure that the stadium has enough votes to pass the House, but didn't rule out a floor vote before adjournment.

Things fall apart

Legislative and administration sources said that Dayton and GOP leaders were working toward a wide-ranging deal earlier in the week that included a roughly $500 million bonding bill and some business tax relief. But when DFL legislative leaders were brought in to provide crucial votes, they insisted on a larger bonding bill than the GOP was willing to accept.

"If it's small, it's just political cover for the Republicans without actually accomplishing what we want to accomplish," said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.

The two sides are in the midst of a dicey political dance to see exactly how far the governor would go on tax breaks vs. how large a bonding bill Republicans could manage to support.

Republicans have pushed hard for elimination of the statewide business property tax, which many conservatives would view as a significant victory. But that could require tapping the state's emergency budget reserves, and Dayton is loath to draw down reserves to pay for tax breaks.

Republicans acknowledge that their tax breaks could have steep costs to the state budget in coming years, potentially causing deeper deficits in future budget cycles, but say the tradeoff would be an economic boon.

For Dayton and the DFLers to swallow tax reductions, they want a larger bonding bill, a signature component of their job-creation agenda. For Republicans, some of the toughest negotiations have been with their own members.

Several House Republicans said they could probably scrape together enough GOP votes for what they call a "vanilla" bonding bill of $500 million. Money would go solely to roads, bridges and maintenance of state buildings, including the Capitol.

But the more conservative GOP legislators started peeling off rapidly with every additional dollar in new projects.

Bonding bills require a super-majority that the GOP can't muster without DFL help. DFLers say their price is closer to $700 million, too large to garner enough GOP votes to be viable. In the Senate GOP caucus, some rank-and-file members insist that no bonding bill and no stadium deal are better than bad ones.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said he favors a bonding bill smaller than $300 million that avoids new projects.

"There seems to be this sense that in order to get re-elected, I have to have the Dave Thompson memorial hockey arena," he said. "I think what people expect is that we use bonding money to make sure we have enough lanes on our roads, that we repair the potholes on our existing roads and we take care of our buildings."

Dayton and DFLers have said that historically low interest rates and high unemployment in construction call for a bill that will invest in the state and kick-start job creation.

What to tell voters?

Anxious legislators -- all up for re-election this fall -- were figuring out how to sell to constituents a legislative session that ends with few accomplishments. The final days of the session could weigh heavily with voters when they decide whether the GOP should retain control of the House and Senate or whether DFLers should return to power.

Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, said he sees his political fate tied in part to the Vikings stadium.

"If there is no bonding bill and no tax bill, I think it is a wash," said Anzelc, who could face a tough re-election fight in his redrawn district. "If there is no stadium bill, in my district in northern Minnesota, that's a bad thing."

Anzelc said he hopes to get bonding for two local projects: a new headquarters for area volunteer firefighters and a building at Itasca Community College.

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he thinks Minnesotans are falling prey to the emotional frenzy to keep the Vikings.

"I have talked to many fans, and they don't know the details of this plan, and they don't care. They are advocating for something, but they don't have a clue about the details and what that means," Hann said.

While leaders huddled privately to see if a deal is possible by Monday's self-imposed deadline, rank-and-file legislators wearied by late-night sessions began sharpening their attacks.

DFLers "are making every effort to block everything that is important this year, to say on the campaign trail that the majority couldn't get anything done and they are a do-nothing Legislature," said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Claire Robling, R- Jordan. "It is disgraceful."

DFLers said Republicans, when in the minority, long talked about providing leadership. Now they have to prove they have the political smarts to make the concessions needed to attract DFL votes.

"If legislators don't do their jobs, that's a problem and they are going to face the wrath in the fall," said Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South-St. Paul. "I think the public has higher expectations than failure."

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