The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 21, 2013

Legislature: Vows kept, mistakes made

The Mankato Free Press

---- — There will be plenty for Gov. Mark Dayton and the DFL legislative majority to crow about this week after the conclusion of the session Monday night.

There will also be plenty of things for them to explain.

As promised during the last campaign season, the majority erased a budget deficit of $627 million, mostly without gimmicks, and boosted education funding and property tax relief. Part of the $2.1 billion in new taxes is a hike on high-income earners, an idea Dayton openly championed during his campaign for governor.

The tax hikes more than doubled the tobacco tax. Unfortunately, that revenue stream won’t be used for education, roads or any other programs benefiting the public. Instead, much of the revenue, as well as some corporate tax revenue, will be used to pay the state’s share of a new Vikings football stadium.

The Vikings stadium funding was a classic bait-and-switch. When the $1 billion stadium was approved last year, the state’s share of funding was to come mostly from new electronic-gambling revenues — something that was palatable for many Minnesotans as it would be paid with taxes on the truly voluntary activity of gambling. But, as critics at the time warned, the e-gambling revenues have failed to materialize, leaving Dayton and lawmakers to use more general tax revenues that should have been reserved for a myriad of programs much more worthy than subsidizing a football team.

It’s also disappointing that the Legislature and governor appear to have failed to get a comprehensive bonding bill approved. (Going into last night’s final hours of the session, there was a modest bonding plan that would only fund Capitol renovations.) Late in the session, lawmakers brought an $800 million bonding bill that would have included funding for the long -sought improvements to Mankato’s civic center, as well as money for other civic centers, state hospitals and state colleges and universities.

The bill fell five votes short of the super-majority needed after GOP lawmakers failed to get on board. It’s hard to blame the minority party for not mustering support for a bill they felt was too large and being done in a budget year, which usually don’t include bonding bills. The DFL should have been able craft a more modest bonding bill they knew could gain enough GOP support.

As the analysis of the session gets under way in full this week Minnesotans will be able to decide what grade they will give to the DFL for the 2013 session.