Lawmaker's view: Minnesota Legislature failed to plan a sustainable state budgetYou wouldn’t have had to follow the Legislature closely this year to know the issue dominating the Capitol’s halls and the state’s airwaves was a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.
By: Sen. Roger Reinert, for the News Tribune
You wouldn’t have had to follow the Legislature closely this year to know the issue dominating the Capitol’s halls and the state’s airwaves was a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. There has been a decade-long push to build a new stadium, and the issue came to a head these past 18 months with the governor as lead advocate for a new venue.
It was not clear whether the bill would pass this session. There were various proposals along the way; some failed while others struggled to barely pass House and Senate committees. But in the midst of the Legislature’s rush to adjournment, both the House and the Senate passed stadium proposals that included significant differences.
To reconcile the differences, a conference committee was appointed. I, along with five of my colleagues, was chosen to work through the details and find compromise between the House and Senate. It was an intense, three-day period during which I slept for a total of some 16 hours. Yet it was still a sign of recognition and respect to be selected as the only DFL senator on the committee.
During the stadium negotiations and debate, much was made of how much the state should contribute, how much the Vikings would pay, and where the new stadium should be built. The final deal increased the team’s contribution another $50 million to strike a near 50/50 balance.
However, what was most important to me in the stadium bill, and what landed me on the conference committee, was my language establishing a Legislative Commission on Minnesota Sports Facilities. My goal in creating this commission was for the Legislature to never again lose an entire session of productivity to a professional-sports venue. The commission will do this by creating the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. The authority will be responsible for the day-to-day operation and management of all professional-sports facilities and entertainment venues. As one reporter aptly put it during the floor debate, “Governance of metro sports/entertainment facilities needs coordination.” With such coordination in place, the Legislature hopefully can avoid the protracted debates the state has endured for the Twins, Vikings and Gophers. I anticipate being appointed the commission’s first member, and my goal is to be elected its first chairman.
While the stadium is important to many Minnesotans, most would agree it was not the most important issue facing our state.
The state remains obligated by law to pay back its $2.4 billion “shift” last summer, implemented to fill the state’s $5 billion budget deficit and to end the government shutdown. Think this will be any easier to do next session? The most recent budget forecast for Minnesota shows that next year’s Legislature will need to address a $4.5 billion deficit.
The state of Minnesota also must now budget 20 years of payments from the 1998 tobacco-lawsuit settlement. These payments were dedicated to repay the “tobacco band” which composed the other half of the “solution” last summer. A total of $1.6 billion in one-time spending in 2011 will cost all Minnesotans nearly $2 billion by the time the bond is paid back in full.
Lastly, the elimination of the homestead credit in 2011 created double-digit property tax increases all across Minnesota. My own property tax statement, for which I just paid the first half, included a 23 percent increase! Local units of government have struggled with the state walking away as a fiscal partner. The elimination of the homestead credit only made matters worse for homeowners.
The work of the 2012 Legislature was to improve the state’s economic conditions, create jobs and create a state budget that is structurally sound for years instead of months. I give us collectively a grade of “D,” at best. We must continue to honestly ask ourselves as Minnesotans what we want and how much we’re willing to pay, and then to make priority and funding decisions accordingly. With all 201 seats of the Minnesota Legislature up for election, this should be the litmus test voters take with them to the ballot box in November.
Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, represents the 7th District in the Minnesota Senate.