MARSHALL - While most legislators are hoping to adjourn the 2012 session early this year, there is plenty left to tackle this session after legislators return to St. Paul from their Easter/Passover break.
District 21 Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, and 21A House Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, both serving their first term, were in Marshall on Thursday to discuss some priorities for what's left of this year's session.
The bonding bill is one of the main issues that needs addressing. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed $775 million in construction projects, from campus building renovations to road and bridge upgrades to civic center expansions in Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud. Dayton has sold it as a jobs bill that would result in 20,000 new jobs, mostly in the construction field. Senate and House Republicans have introduced their own scaled-back versions. Senate Republicans have a $494 million proposal, while the House has two bills: $280 million in projects statewide and another $220 million to renovate the Capitol.
Neither of Marshall's two major projects - the proposed $12.9 million regional amateur sports facility and expansion at the MERIT training center - were included the bonding recommendations, meaning there's little chance they will get a financial boost from the state this year. The Southwest Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission is looking for $4 million in bonding, while the MERIT Center is seeking $2.5 million.
Dahms said he made a pitch to the chairman of the Capital Investment Committee to put an amendment into the Senate version of the bonding bill to include the Marshall projects but found he wouldn't have the votes to get it through.
"Of that $496 million over $400 million was in infrastructure, college buildings, and we've got enough in our bonding bill to do the outside of the capitol, so we don't have a lot of dollars put in for community projects," Dahms said. "We won't be seeing any community projects added. If anything we'll probably see some of the projects in there taken out."
Dahms said the Senate bonding bill will more than likely come in the low $400-millions.
Marshall residents in November will vote whether or not to increase local sales taxes to help pay for the projects. The two proposed local sales taxes are a .5 percent general sales tax, and a 1.5 percent "hospitality tax" on food and lodgings which would pay for the construction and operation of the sports complex. Dahms said if that passes, he will make sure to put in a bonding bill request for the next session.
"If we do like last year and do some bonding we want to have it in there," he said. "If we don't we still want to have it in there so it gets an early index number in the bonding bill. We're certainly not going to give up. We'll just keep working at it."
Swedzinski said if Marshall is awarded bonding for its projects, it would mean other community projects that were rejected would need to be included as well.
"It's an exponential growth - if we get our local projects in, that automatically opens up 10 or 15 other projects," Swedzinski said. "So rather than it just being a $4 million sliver of a project we would end up spending much more for other projects in the state. If you open it up for one, then you have to open it up for all of them. That's the way the thinking happens in St. Paul - we're not gonna choose winners or losers. I think that's why it didn't make it."
It's not a budget year, but it has come up and probably will again in the coming weeks since it could potentially be tied in with decisions made on how to deal with other financial shortfalls the state is facing.
The Legislature is working with a bit of a cushion, unlike last year's massive deficit, but Dayton and the Republicans are split on what to do with it. Republicans want to retire more debt to schools - dipping into the budget reserve for some of their plan - and make bigger tax cuts. Dayton wants to buy back some of last year's cuts in health care and invest some of it in a hiring tax credit.
Another issue waiting to be resolved is a bill to raise most fishing and hunting license fees. The state hasn't raised resident fishing and hunting license fees since 2001, and The Department of Natural Resources says it needs the money to avoid potential deep cuts to fish, game and conservation enforcement programs. More than 60 conservation groups are on board with raising fees, yet a final vote still needs to be taken.
And then there's the stadium. Dayton, a stadium advocate, is pushing a $975 million public-private partnership to build a stadium at the Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis. However, the issue keeps bogging down because no one can agree on a funding source that will result in the state's share of a new stadium.
"I think Minneapolis does have some stuff to figure out," Swedzinski said. "There's a lot of work to do left. Every time we take a step forward and we see some momentum it sort of fizzles away. The Vikings are gonna be here for another year - we need to continue to work on it but ultimately I think a special session will be needed to give it the time it deserves."
Swedzinski thinks such a special session will take place either between now and November or between November and January.
"It's hard for the state to move ahead until we know that our partners out there are funded according to what the agreements are," said Dahms. "I think at the end of the day we'll have a stadium, but I don't think it will happen this session. If we do have a special session it won't happen until all the players have got their stuff together. I don't think the governor would call a special session without knowing that everybody has their ducks in a row."
Both Dayton and Republican leaders have called improving the state's jobs climate the No. 1 priority of the session, but they've differed over the best approach. Dayton wants to give Minnesota business owners a $3,000 tax credit each time they hire an unemployed Minnesota resident, a military veteran or a recent college graduate as a way to directly incentivize job growth, but Republicans have not signed on to that approach, instead preferring a reduction and eventual elimination of a property tax that the state levies on all Minnesota businesses.
"Last session and this session is really about setting a long-term trajectory of job growth," Swedzinski said. "We're trying to sell the state of Minnesota and what we want to do is create a situation where we have folks who will help businesses complete the permitting process within the state. We're trying to make is easier for businesses to operate and final approval on their permits. That's one of those foundational changes we're trying to make to make Minnesota a better place to do business and ultimately hire."
Dahms said Republicans are also working on legislation that deals with inspections and giving businesses the chance to voluntarily request a no-cost inspection. He said opposition has been raised by some agencies over what it might do to their funding stream. He said Dayton has been responsive to the proposal but doubts it will get passed this year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.