by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
The 2012 legislative session will be remembered as the year of the Vikings stadium.
Bolstered by saturation media coverage, the drive to build the $975 million stadium in downtown Minneapolis by the final weeks of the session towered over virtually any other issue before Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican Legislature.
Dayton signed the stadium bill in a State Capitol ceremony Monday, May 14.
The stadium was one of those issues that comes along every 20 or 30 years, explained House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove.
“It took up so much time, so much air, so much oxygen out of the room, and energy, it’s hard to focus on what was traditional,” said Zellers of the waves caused by the stadium.
Republicans cite the stadium as Dayton’s sole priority — Zellers, for one, kept a certain distance from the stadium, voting against it, though a member of the House Republican Caucus said the Speaker worked hard behind the scenes to find Republican votes.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, argued that the Democratic votes that pushed the stadium over the top were the saving grace to a session that otherwise would have proven a “do-nothing session.”
“I would say that Paul (House Minority Leader Paul Thissen) and I bailed them out,” said Bakk of Republicans.
Dayton styled Republican talk of the stadium being his No. 1 priority so much “spin.”
“My priority from Day One was jobs,” said Dayton.
The stadium — the bonding bill — accounts for thousands of new jobs, he explained.
Things did happen this session outside of the decade-old Vikings stadium issue apparently being resolved.
Advocates of the proposed Photo ID constitutional amendment — Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, bill author in the House — saw Photo ID passed and placed on the November ballot along with the proposed same-sex marriage ban constitutional amendment.
The so-called Right-to-Work amendment, which, among other things, would have outlawed the payment of union dues by non-union members, brought throngs of anti-amendment activists to the State Capitol when a Right-to-Work bill carried by Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, had a hearing.
But the initiative, unlike Photo ID, faded.
(One Republican House member argued that Right-to-Work gained momentum with the issuance of Dayton’s executive order calling for an election among childcare providers on the issue of unionization, an executive order a Ramsey County district court judge ruled unconstitutional.)
In the area of the environment and outdoors, lawmakers channeled funding towards combating invading Asia carp — the advancing invasive species increasingly has shown signs of moving into Minnesota waters.
A proposed invasive species research center at the University of Minnesota received funding.
Hunting and fishing license fees were raised.
Resident small game licenses increased by $3: resident deer hunting licenses increased by $4.
Hunting and fishing licenses for young people, age 13 to 18, are now $5.
Resident fishing licenses will increase from $17 to $22, with nonresident fishing license increasing from $37.50 to $40.
One reason for the license fee increases is that the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) critical game and fish fund is flagging, and officials warn that without a shot of additional money it could slip into the red by next summer.
Management reform of the state’s school trust land — a legacy dating back to the foundation of the country — was achieved after decades of sporadic attempts.
The new trust land contour now includes lands manager working in tandem with the DNR on trust land management issues and reporting back to lawmakers on the status of the land set aside for school children.
“It’s monumental — both for me personally, and for the trust lands,” said Rep. Denise Dittrich, DFL-Champlin, of the trust land reform that she had dedicated much of her legislative career to finding.
In the area of bonding, Republicans sent about a $500 million bonding bill to the
governor, which he signed into law.
Bonding was somewhat unusual this year, with House Republicans for a time proposing two bills, one a $220 million effort dedicated solely to State Capitol renovation.
But that bill failed on the House floor.
In the end, some $44 million was slated for State Capitol repairs.
Some area items included in the bonding bill are the North Hennepin Community College Bioscience and Health Careers Addition for $26 million, the Anoka-Ramsey Community College at Coon Rapids Bioscience and Allied Health Addition for about $1 million, Minnesota Zoo asset preservation for $4 million, and $19.5 million for the Camp Ripley Education Center Addition.
The Southwest Corridor Light Rail Line received no funding in the bonding bill.
The string of vetoes that Dayton applied to a series of Republican legislative initiatives over the course of the session shows a clear gulf between Dayton and Republicans.
Dayton vetoed the Last In, First Out (LIFO) teacher layoff bill, ranking it among perceived examples of Republican anti-teacher, anti-public employee, anti-collective bargaining legislation.
He vetoed a Republican tax bill, a Republican proposal for paying back the K-12 school shift quicker by using state budget reserves dollars, a Republican bill calling for the use of the federal E-Verify program for all newly hired state employees, so-called “castle doctrine” self-defense bill carried by two Republican lawmakers, other legislation.
Although governors cannot veto proposed constitutional amendments, Dayton left little doubt about what he thought of Photo ID.
“This is a partisan amendment based on a false premise that voter fraud is a significant problem in Minnesota,” he said in a statement.
Still, Dayton held a number of public bill signings including Republican legislative leaders and lawmakers.
Some of these ceremonial signings include the health and human services bill, a bill toughening law concerning the intentional abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults, legislation authored by the House castle doctrine bill author allowing county attorneys to carry guns.
Republican leaders style Dayton’s vetoes as indications of an unwillingness to address government reform.
“Unfortunately we ran into a lot a vetoes in that discussion,” said House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood.
Zellers argued Dayton is quick to veto simply because the bills are Republican bills.
“I think he should maybe listen more to the idea than from where it’s coming from,” said Zellers.
But Dayton has often spoken of looking for bipartisan support in legislation.
Looking over the past two legislative sessions, Zellers depicted the perceived state budget and state economic resurgence as “pretty remarkable.”
A “red to black theme” runs through Republican governance, he argued.
Democrats offer higher taxes, more state government “and the way things use to be,” said Zellers.
“And by god, we’ve (Democrats) got to tax the hell out everybody,” said Zellers.
But Bakk views Republicans taking credit for the state budget and economic rebound as tangled causality and simply ignoring current state budget projections showing looming deficit in the upcoming spending cycle.
“Don’t lie to Minnesotans,” he warned Republicans in talking about the budget.
In a quick critique of Dayton, Bakk views the governor as unwavering on the stadium.
“He just put a stake in the ground on the stadium and he got one,” said Bakk.
Dayton did make a mistake, Bakk believes, on State Capitol renovation funding — the governor should have insisted on more.
Had he gotten that, future lawmakers would have been forced to continue renovation funding for the simple reason the State Capitol would have been torn apart and could not have been left in that condition.
For Dayton’s part, he indicated he’ll leave it to future historians to judge the importance of the stadium to his administration.
In the meantime, he’ll watch for payrolls, schedules, completion time.
The governor was scheduled to tour the state today (Tuesday, May 15) with Democratic leaders to talk about the past session.