CIVIC BEAT // Legislative session ends with more questions

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June 20, 2011 // UPDATED 8:45 am - June 20, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
It could have been remembered as the session that gave birth to a new Vikings stadium, a Downtown casino and a hydroelectric facility at St. Anthony Falls.

Or a year in which legislators merged Minneapolis pension plans into a state plan, reinstated neighborhood funding and paid for repairs to the Plymouth Avenue Bridge.

Instead, the 2011 Minnesota legislative session has left question marks on several Minneapolis-related proposals.

“A whole lot of nothing,” said City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward), who is in charge of the city’s intergovernmental relations subcommittee.

Because Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed nine out of the 10 budget bills passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature, the two sides will have to work something out in a special session. If they don’t do so by July 1, Minnesota will face its first government shutdown since 2005.

Budget aside, the Legislature spent relatively little time working on policy bills, said Gary Carlson, a lobbyist for the League of Minnesota Cities.

“For all the activity and new legislators and enthusiasm for changing things, it seems as if we didn’t end up with all that many new laws,” he said.

Glidden said Minneapolis spent much of the session playing defense as the Republican-controlled Legislature passed bills to slash state aid to big cities, cut transit funding and reduce social services.

So what does it all mean for Minneapolitans?

Pensions could have spelled tax relief

For the city of Minneapolis, the biggest disappointment came after city officials and pension fund managers reached an agreement on rolling closed pension fund for retired firefighters and police officers into a statewide plan that the city says would reduce next year’s tax levy by $22 million.

That bill never made it to the floor of the House or Senate for a vote.

Glidden said neither DFL or GOP leadership opposed the deal, but it may have been nixed as a part of a larger negotiation.

“I think it’s fair to say it got tied up in the bigger politics of the end of the session,” she said.

She didn’t rule out the possibility of a pension bill vote during a special session, nor did Carlson.

Downtown proposals that could have altered landscape

Within the span of a couple weeks, two dramatic Downtown proposals made headlines, but never made it to the House or Senate floor for a vote.

Block E owner Bob Lux proposed a complete renovation of the troubled entertainment complex that would have included a casino. His proposal required an expansion of gambling in Minnesota, and legislators never voted on his proposal or any other gambling proposal.

In a written statement from his spokesperson, Alatus partner Bob Lux said the casino proposal is not dead.

“As we wait for a special session, we are focusing on Block E’s casino and entertainment center proposal; the $100 million in annual employee payroll from the casino and the vitality of 15,000 additional visitors a day to the heart of Minneapolis continues to generate great support,” he said.

Mayor R.T. Rybak proposed a financing plan to build a new Vikings stadium Downtown and renovate the Target Center through a mixture of a city sales tax increase, expanded bar and restaurant tax, state money and Vikings funding.

The day after Rybak’s proposal, two Ramsey County commissioners offered their own proposal for a stadium in Arden Hills. They, unlike Rybak, had the support of the team. Neither stadium proposal went up for a vote in the Legislature.

Neighborhoods fail to recoup frozen funds

The Minneapolis Neighborhood Revitalization Program took its fight over $10 million in frozen city funds to the Legislature in early May.

Minneapolis Sen. Ken Kelash and Rep. Phyllis Kahn authored bills that would have reversed the City Council’s decision in December to freeze the funds and use them for neighborhood funding in 2012 and 2013.

Rybak and Council President Barb Johnson testified at the Capitol against the bills, saying they undermined the city’s efforts to control property taxes.

Neighborhoods argued that the city had no right to freeze the money and by doing so, jeopardized neighborhood organizations’ ability to leverage private investment in
the city.

The bills went through committee hearings and garnered support from Republicans. They were even scheduled to go up for a vote but a DFL filibuster at the end of the session did not allow them to reach the floor.   

NRP Director Bob Miller said neighborhoods are still hoping those bills will be included in a special session.  


No bonding, but hope for special session

Glidden said the city tried to get state bonding money to help repair North Minneapolis after it was struck by a tornado on May 22, the day before the Legislature convened. In the end, no such funding was approved.

Glidden said she’s optimistic that help for North Minneapolis could come in a special session.

“The governor has indicated he would support adding some relief to Minneapolis into this special emergency relief fund,” she said.

It’s unclear when a special session may occur and what it might include.

Carlson said budget negotiations could drag on well past a July 1 government shutdown.

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