Mall of America backers showcase top-tier supportby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota House and Senate leaders are backing a tax subsidy to expand Mall of America in Bloomington. The mall is seeking state and local help to build a parking ramp as part of the expansion that will add 5.6 million square feet of new retail, lodging and and entertainment space.
DFL and Republican leaders pledged their support Tuesday during a rally that drew hundreds of constructions workers to the state Capitol. The chair of the Senate Taxes Committee, Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, led unemployed construction workers in a chant during the midday rally.
Bakk is the chief Senate sponsor of legislation to assist the Mall of America. He said the expansion will create 7,000 construction jobs.
"That is going to be the number one thing on my mind the final day when we close this session up, to make sure everybody in this room has got a job," he said.
Bakk's job-creating message was echoed by Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL- Minneapolis, who said it's appropriate for government to prime the pump when it comes to economic development.
Under the pump-priming legislation already passed in the Senate, the city of Bloomington would be allowed to raise local taxes and divert money from a metro area property tax pool. The tax break would build a $204 million parking ramp. Private investors would pick up the rest of the $2 billion project.
Republicans are also backing the measure. Senate Minority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, said lawmakers can't say no to a $2 billion project. House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, also sees big benefits for Minnesota.'
"In this particular project we actually, in a net sense, will have more money for the state treasury, more people put to work, more tourism, more jobs, more economic development than any other project that I can think of before the Legislature right now," he said.
But the mall project was excluded from the large tax bill moving toward a House floor vote.
The chair of the House Taxes Committee, Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, opposes the subsidy. Lenczewski said tapping into a fiscal disparities tax pool would set a bad precedent.
"We certainly don't want top go down that road," she said. "It would take a tax-based equalization pot and turn it into a spending pot. So, I think the way to think about this is that most Minnesotans understand that local government aid and school-based equalization formulas exist to eliminate disparities in tax base. That's what fiscal disparities does too. So if you're taking money out of that, you're taking it from someone else."
Supporters of the subsidy see it differently. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said the size of the fiscal disparities pool keeps growing.
"It appears in all the modeling that we have that this continues to be a growing pool," she said. "And that's the argument that I think people would make very effectively around here is that this is not taking away from other communities, but this is a way to actually grow that pool into the future."
During the Capitol rally, Kelliher told construction workers that she predicts the measure will be placed on Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desk again this year as part of an end of session budget deal.
Pawlenty killed a similar mall initiative last session when he vetoed a larger tax bill.
It's not clear where he stands this time.
Spokesman Brian McClung said the governor believes this year's mall financing proposal is better than last year's, but he still has some questions and concerns. In a written statement, McClung also said the governor will be looking at the Mall of America proposal in the broader context of state priorities and whether legislators are serious about appropriately solving the budget deficit.
- All Things Considered, 04/29/2008, 5:19 p.m.