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The Big Story Blog: January 24, 2012 Archive

Tuesday 1/24/2012
Minnesota's legislative season begins

Posted at 6:20 AM on January 24, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Hed

Building projects, a Vikings stadium and district boundaries will dominate the 2012 Legislature, which convenes this morning. Follow Big Story Blog today for news and insight on the session's first day.

Prepping for the noon gavel at the Minnesota legislature

Posted at 9:15 AM on January 24, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Politics


Minnesota reporters are pulling together their curtain-raiser stories this morning on the Minnesota legislature as lawmakers ready for the session that kicks off at noon.

The latest twist in the Vikings saga is the biggest news so far.

Last night, Gov. Mark Dayton told the Vikings that building a new stadium on the current Metrodome site is the only stadium plan with a chance of winning a public financing package at the legislature this year.

The Star Tribune reports:

This year's session does not carry the weight of a budget deficit, such as the gaping $5 billion hole that triggered last year's partisan meltdown. The state enjoys a modest surplus, and both Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature are expected to stay away from the tax-vs-cut drama of 2011.

That leaves the Vikings stadium and the capital projects bill - known in the building as the "bonding bill" - as the two big-ticket items of the session.

More stories to start the legislative season:

What will Minnesota's 2012 Legislature deliver?

Posted at 6:20 AM on January 24, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Politics

MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

Happily, there will be no knock-down drag-out fight over the budget when state lawmakers return to St. Paul today to start the 2012 legislative session.

With a budget in place and November elections looming, there'll be an incentive for lawmakers to move quickly and get out early. We won't see anything like the debacle that forced much of state government to shut down for three weeks in July.

That doesn't mean harmony will reign.

Capital projects in a bonding bill, the politics of drawing congressional boundaries and a vote on public financing for a Vikings stadium will keep things interesting the next few weeks.

MPR News reporter Tim Nelson writes:

Legislative leaders say they want to focus on getting Minnesota's economy running better, and instituting long-term reforms that will make state government more efficient.

House speaker Kurt Zellers told MPR's Morning Edition on Monday that he's neutral about another high-profile issue, a new home for the Minnesota Vikings. He said it's up to stadium supporters to win support at the Capitol.

Zellers said the Legislature's priorities will change now that the state isn't faced with a multi-billion dollar budget gap.

Click on the play button below to hear the whole story.

We'll be following the first day at the capitol today along with MPR News reporters and editors.What would you like to see from lawmakers today? Post your thoughts below.

Four issues to watch in the 2012 Minnesota legislature

Posted at 8:40 AM on January 24, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Politics

We thought of three, but MPR News political editor Mike Mulcahy says there are four issues to keep close tabs on in the Minnesota Legislature this year.

Click on the play button below to hear his take on what to watch for in the legislative session that starts today.

Thanks to Molly Bloom of MPR News for producing the video.

Senate GOP leader sees photo ID, tax fix votes likely

Posted at 11:22 AM on January 24, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Politics

Should the state's constitution be changed to require people to show a photo ID in order to vote? It's a question that Minnesotans are likely to see on their November ballots.

"Photo ID is probably going to go on the ballot," Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem said this morning on MPR News.

Here's some background on this issue from MPR News reporter Tim Pugmire:

Gov. Mark Dayton rejected a Republican-backed bill last spring that would have required Minnesotans to show photo identification to vote. In his veto letter, Dayton noted that the measure would have forced local governments to spend money and that it did not have broad bipartisan support.

But voter ID supporters insist the measure is needed to prevent election fraud. That's why they've introduced legislation that would bypass Dayton and allow voters to make the change through a constitutional amendment. Governors cannot veto constitutional amendments.

If a majority of the Legislature approves one, it will show up on the ballot in November.

Speaking on MPR News, Senjem, R-Rochester, also mentioned that the Legislature will take a serious look at reworking some of the controversial tax changes lawmakers made during the summer in order to close a $5 billion budget deficit and end a painful state government shutdown.

Those changes led to many businesses around the state facing dramatic property tax increases.

Acknowledging the business backlash, Senjem said he heard the concerns "loud and clear....Were going to see if we can put a band-aid on some of this."

Signs of progress on a Vikings stadium bill?

Posted at 11:42 AM on January 24, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Politics

The news last night that Gov. Mark Dayton sees the Metrodome site as the only viable option for a publicly financed Vikings stadium set off waves of hand wringing today about the team's future. But with the Legislature just minutes from opening the 2012 session, a key leader indicates things might not be as grim as they seem.

The Star Tribune reports:

House Speaker Kurt Zellers said Tuesday there has been progress in putting together a public subsidy deal for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, but stopped short of saying the project would be brought to a vote this year.

Zellers spoke shortly before the Legislature on Tuesday convened for the year.

His comments came one day after Gov. Mark Dayton told the Vikings that the team would have to commit to building a new stadium at the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis in order to have the project win legislative approval this year. "When you look at where we've come, even in the last six weeks -- let alone six months, or a year - we've actually now kind of gotten down to a point where we're site specific," said Zellers.

But Zellers indicated that a bill - which has yet to be introduced -- would not be brought to a House vote unless there were assurances it had enough backing to be approved. Zellers said he and stadium supporters were wary of what happened in the late 1990s when a proposal to build a new Minnesota Twins stadium failed at the Legislature, derailing for years the team's attempt to obtain public subsidies for a new stadium.

The public financing of the stadium remains a crucial, unresolved issue.

There's popular support for a stadium public financing plan that would expand gambling at two Twin Cities race tracks.

While there would still be a big political fight over the "racino" idea, Senate Republican leader Dave Senjem this morning said on MPR News that racino gambling may be brought to Minnesota voters to decide this year.

DFL Sen. John Marty, a stadium opponent, said he doesn't think the stadium deal will get done this year.
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Dayton: Metrodome can work for Vikes; wants stadium vote

Posted at 12:58 PM on January 24, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Politics

MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Gov. Mark Dayton this afternoon said the Metrodome site can still be a viable option for a new Vikings stadium and that team owners and lawmakers would meet Wednesday to talk about the newest turn in the stadium debate.

He called on lawmakers to vote on a public financing package for the Vikings in the legislative session that began today.

Speaking to reporters, Dayton said he concluded that a site in Minneapolis near the Basilica of St. Mary wouldn't be a viable option for this legislative session given the concerns raised by the Catholic Church over construction, noise and traffic.

The meeting Wednesday with Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and others will be to discuss the potential for a deal to build on the current Metrodome site.

Dayton said that Wilf wasn't angry but frustrated at hearing the site near the Basilica was now off the table for this legislative session. The "shared objective" remains a stadium that's a good deal for Minnesota and the Vikings and creates jobs, Dayton added.

Gov. Dayton: Wilf offered to approach Vikings stadium talks "with an open mind."
Jan 24 via Twitter for Android Favorite Retweet Reply

Watch the press conference here:

theuptake2 on Broadcast Live Free

Fun time's over: Senators fight over staff budget cuts

Posted at 4:02 PM on January 24, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Politics

MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

That didn't take long!

After a few hours playing nice, the Minnesota Senate found its first fight of the 2012 legislative session.

MPR News reporter Tom Scheck writes:

Lawmakers were hoping to start the 2012 legislative session in a less contentious manner than they ended the 2011 session (which resulted in a 20 day government shutdown).

Leaders had hoped to get off on a good start. Newly elected Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, started session welcoming the Senate's three new members.

"Welcome to the Senate family," Senjem said on the Senate floor. "This is family. This is the mother church of state government as far as I'm concerned and it is and will always be."

The pleasantry lasted less than two hours. Following the pomp and circumstance of the opening floor session, Senjem chaired a Senate Rules Committee that voted to cut $2.6 million from the Senate budget. The cuts, which were enacted last summer, come at the expense of Democrats. The committee voted on a party line vote to cut $444,400 in minority staff over the next two years. The fight over internal finances angered some Democrats who said Republicans were cutting the Senate budget at their expense.

"You can sugarcoat this all you want," Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said. "It's an unfair action being taken by the majority against the minority just because you have the votes to do it."

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk says the budget cuts will result in a cut of 12 to 14 members. Republicans say DFLers can manage the budget in a way that would not result in staff cuts.

About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.

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