Sieben, McNamara, Kriesel line up on stadium, but not on other issues in legislative sessionSouth Washington County lawmakers agreed Minnesota needed a new Vikings stadium but were in separate partisan huddles on other issues in the recently completed legislative session
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
South Washington County lawmakers agreed Minnesota needed a new Vikings stadium but were in separate partisan huddles on other issues in the recently completed legislative session.
Approval of a new Vikings stadium, the most-watched issue of the session, was sealed Monday as Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill into law, just days after all three local legislators voted for the $975 million project. Sen. Katie Sieben, a Cottage Grove Democrat, and Republican Reps. John Kriesel of Cottage Grove and Denny McNamara of Hastings all backed the bill. They stressed the team’s importance to Minnesota and the jobs that will be created through stadium construction.
“I’m happy that it’s done, that it’s signed into law,” Sieben said. “Is it perfect? No, but given the process it went through, the intensity of the bill passing, I think overall it’s good.”
Kriesel, who is retiring, was among the most vocal stadium proponents.
“This is our one chance,” Kriesel told colleagues last week. “This bill works. It has been fined tuned and it will build a stadium.”
The state’s $348 share will be funded by tax revenue from new electronic pull tabs. Sieben said an effort to finance the state share with user fees charged to football fans and game attendees sounded good but would not work.
Lawmakers acknowledged that using electronic pull tab revenue is riskier than other possible funding sources. Sieben said its certainty concerned her until state officials explained their conservative revenue estimates.
“It is a concern,” she said, adding there are back-up funding sources built into the plan.
McNamara added: “I think they used what hopefully are conservative projections but there certainly is some risk involved because it’s relatively new and untested.”
The Vikings are committed to spending $477 on the project, the city of Minneapolis about $150 million.
“We pushed the Vikings hard for more funding and got an additional $50 million from them,” McNamara said of the final negotiations. “It is a good bill, partly because there are no funds taken from the state’s general fund.”
Kriesel said earlier this year that a Vikings stadium was among issues average Minnesotans cared about, and Sieben and McNamara both said they received far more emails in support of the stadium than opposed.
McNamara touted the stadium bill as having bipartisan support. Sieben said that’s because deep divisions within the House and Senate Republican caucuses meant Democrats had to step up if the bill was going to pass.
Those divisions, particularly in the Senate, contributed to an otherwise “frustrating” session, said Sieben, whose DFL caucus is in the minority.
Sieben and McNamara and Kriesel split on two other high-profile issues – successful GOP efforts to put proposed constitutional amendments on the general election ballot this fall asking voters whether gay marriage should be banned and whether voters should be required to provide photo identification at the polls. Kriesel and McNamara voted for those bills.
In addition to the stadium package and a bill funding public construction projects, no other major work was accomplished, Sieben said.
“Save those two things, what else happened this session?” she asked. “Those were the two bills that will actually create jobs in Minnesota.”
The bonding bill includes a provision for flood mitigation in South St. Paul and a campground project at Afton State Park.
Among area projects that were not funded was additional work along Highway 61 north of the Hastings bridge – work on the two railroad bridges and the trails.
Republicans passed a second tax bill providing about $50 million in tax relief in the session’s closing days, after Dayton vetoed their first tax bill. But he vetoed the second bill on Monday, citing its cost to the state in future years and its focus on business tax relief. McNamara and Kriesel were among Republicans to vote for the bill. Sieben opposed it, saying it added to future projected state deficits.
Sieben applauded two smaller bills that did become law. One expands a state ban on synthetic marijuana to include more chemicals that are being used to make the fake drug.
Another measure she supported requires that dental labs be licensed by the state. That was a request from a Hastings dental lab, she said, because dental devices are being imported from China and are being made with unknown materials. Licensing should prevent that, she said.
McNamara touted an environment bill he authored as chairman of a House environment committee. He said there was bipartisan cooperation on that bill, as opposed to other issues in this session. The bill attempts to curtail the spread of invasive aquatic species – including possible work near the Mississippi River around Hastings – and raises game and fishing fees for the first time in 11 years.
“We did some good work,” he said.
Jane Lightbourn of the Hastings Star-Gazette contributed to this story.