The partisan rift over a solution for the Minnesota's budget woes continued to divide the state Legislature last week.
Republicans said “it is the wrong time to take out the credit card” when Gov. Mark Dayton proposed a $1 billion bonding bill intended to spur job growth. Meanwhile, DFLers criticized Republicans for speeding through a plan to shave $1 billion off the forecasted deficit.
Both debates rankled local legislators. Hopkins Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-District 44), of St. Louis Park, said putting forward a bonding bill right now is actually the fiscally responsible decision. Latz—echoing other legislators who said it was more accurate to compare the borrowing to a mortgage than a credit card—said interest rates are low and contractors are hungry for work. The bill also focuses on maintaining and renovating existing infrastructure and on projects that will create jobs.
“It’s one of the best things government can do to help the economy,” he said. “When you can buy cheap and borrow cheap, that’s the best time to borrow.”
Hopkins was not included among the projects in the governor’s plan, although it would benefit from a proposed "transportation interchange" adjacent to Target Field that would serve the Southwest Transitway. However, Dayton left $469 million for legislators to include their own projects, and Latz plans to request bonding for the Southwest light rail project.
Hopkins Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-District 44A), of St. Louis Park, called the proposal a “generous gesture” and added that he would also be looking at securing funding for the Southwest Transitway.
However, Simon said he doesn’t think it’s likely the Republican-controlled Legislature will go along with the plan, or even look at a bonding bill at all.
“I think it’s unlikely the House or Senate will take up a bonding bill this session,” he said.
Traditionally, the Legislature tackles bonding bills in even years, so if no bonding plan goes forward in 2011, Simon said he would look to secure light rail funding in 2012.
Meanwhile, Latz also agreed with his DFL colleagues that the Republicans’ deficit-cutting plan is moving too fast. The GOP introduced it without waiting for the governor’s budget plan, which he said typically happens out of respect for the office. The plan also bypassed committees that would have normally looked more closely into how it would affect the areas in their purview. In the Senate, the plan only appeared before the Finance Committee—not Higher Education, not Local Government and Elections and not Taxes.
“I think it’s premature,” he said. “The Republicans have jumped the gun on this.”
Minnesota Vikings stadium talk has become an annual tradition at the Capitol. Last week, Simon was there to kick off this year’s chatter.
Simon is on the House Government Operations and Elections Committee. On Wednesday, the committee welcomed Ted Mondale, the new chair of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the aging Metrodome. The group began discussing possible replacement options but took no formal action.
Simon said he would have a “healthy skepticism” toward any Vikings stadium bill. He said he will listen to proposals but doesn’t want the state to get on the hook for a big piece of funding, especially in light of the current budget situation. If anything, Simon said he would be more supportive of a plan similar to what the Twins baseball team used to get a new stadium recently. In that plan, the state didn’t provide any funding, but they did authorize a new Hennepin County sales tax to help pay for the ballpark.
The representative added that he felt that the Twins’ push for a new stadium was stronger than the Vikings’ because he felt the Twins truly played second-fiddle at the Metrodome. Simon said the Vikings controlled much of the stadium’s operations, including luxury boxes.
Ultimately, Simon said he doesn’t think the Vikings are in “do or die time” as the team claims, despite the fact that its Metrodome lease ends after this upcoming season. Simon said the team could potentially renew a lease on a short-term basis, adding that he doesn’t want the Legislature to be hurried into passing a bill.
Still, he said he does foresee a stadium bill making a push this year, although he said he couldn’t say what it will look like.
“This is just the beginning of stadium talk,” Simon said.
Here’s what’s happened this past week with other bills authored or co-authored by your legislators:
Sen. Ron Latz:
- Proposed a bill that would establish the Minnesota school of science, technology, engineering and mathematics as a public, residential high school. SF0231, introduced Feb. 3 and referred to the Education Committee.
Here’s how your representatives voted this past week on key proposals before the Minnesota Legislature:
- HF0130—NO: Latz (PASSED: A bill to cut $1 billion off the deficit. The bill is in conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.)