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South Washington County lawmakers want Vikings stadium vote

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South Washington County lawmakers predict the unpredictable for the 2012 legislative session.

Without a state budget to balance - that was done last year, following a partial government shutdown - and with an election year that includes new legislative district boundaries to be released Feb. 21, local lawmakers say it could be a short session.

"It's going to be a mad dash" by legislators to get done and return home to campaign in newly drawn districts, Sen. Katie Sieben said.

But at least a couple of key issues loom large over the abbreviated session, which convened Tuesday and is targeted to end April 30 by Republicans who control the House and Senate.

GOP leaders have made government reform a priority issue. Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said he agrees with that but believes the Vikings stadium issue will dominate lawmakers' attention.

"I think people will get distracted until it gets handled - until we pass it or it goes down," said Kriesel, a leading stadium proponent.

Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, said she also wants a vote on a Vikings stadium plan this session but is not sure that will happen. Heading into the session, there was no bill specifying a location and funding source for a new football stadium.

"Who knows at this point?" Sieben said of a stadium's chances.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, predicted the Vikings stadium issue will get addressed.

"I think it is time to get it done, one way or the other," McNamara said. He appears to be leaning toward extending gambling in the state as a way to pay for the public share of a stadium's cost.

"The most sensible (solution) appears to be the racino," he said of expanded gambling at the Canterbury racetrack.

Kriesel also favors using new gaming revenue to pay for a stadium. Sieben said that is a more viable funding source, and she likes a proposal to create electronic pull tabs that would generate state revenue and benefit local service and charitable organizations.

Another key issue facing lawmakers this year is borrowing for public works projects. Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, has proposed a $775 million bonding bill. Republicans have said that is too much to borrow.

One local project might struggle to get funding from a public works package.

McNamara has proposed borrowing $5 million to improve safety on Highway 61 from just north of the Mississippi River Bridge to The Point restaurant at the intersection of Highways 61 and 10. His measure would update the railroad bridges and install a turn lane into King's Cove.

"It is a safety issue," McNamara said about the area. Safety would be improved for vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians, he said.

"It makes sense to do it now," said McNamara. "It is about taking care of what we have."

Sieben has not signed on as the Senate author. She said the proposed bike path "doesn't quite meet the criteria for a bonding project."

"I don't anticipate that will get money," she said.

Sieben said there is bipartisan support to improve government effectiveness. She said she is interested in trying to expand the use of technology across multiple state agencies and in reviewing how state agencies award contracts.

"The devil's in the details in terms of what can be agreed to, but I think there's genuine interest (by Democrats) to work with the majority to see what we can do to make government more efficient," she said.

Sieben plans to introduce a bill to continue funding a Department of Health program that has monitored and tested Washington County residents for perfluorochemical levels. The PFC biomonitoring project was launched after the discovery of PFC contamination near 3M waste sites, including in Cottage Grove. That funding is expected to run out this budget state budget period, Sieben said. Recently released results showed PFC levels in a group of east-metro citizens had dropped after remediation and water filtration efforts were introduced, but Sieben said the state should continue to monitor the issue.

Some other environmental issues are likely to be addressed during this session as well, said McNamara, who is chairman of a key House environment funding committee. One issue, McNamara said, is the aquatic and invasive species and how best to implement a barrier on the Upper Mississippi River to stop the spread of Asian carp.

Deregulating the gray wolf and making it a state issue is going to discussed. More discussion about streamlining regulations and permitting process are also expected.

Jane Lightbourn of the Hastings Star-Gazette contributed to this story.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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