MANKATO — Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem says the 2012 legislative session was largely a success, Mankato still has a good chance to get civic center upgrade funding, and Mark Dayton’s veto pen was the session’s biggest disappointment.
Senjem swung through Mankato Monday to deliver his summary of the session and had mostly positive things to say.
On the matter of Mankato’s years-long quest to get state funding for upgrades to its civic center, Senjem said the money allocated to the Department of Employment and Economic Development gives Mankato a good second chance.
Given the fact Mankato is a regional center that reaches to the Iowa border, and because of the civic center’s affiliation with Minnesota State University for hockey events, Senjem said, “I think that will stand tall and I hope that they apply.”
Mankato and a handful of other projects around the state that traditionally would have gotten funding via a bonding bill were shut out this year. Senjem said they wanted to get away from earmarking money for city-specific projects and thought that going through the DEED process was a more appropriate method of doling out cash.
“We’re going to experiment with this for a year or two,” Senjem said. “We wanted to try this out.”
Mankato will have stiff competition, however, if it applies. Projects in Rochester, St. Cloud, Wadena, St. Paul and Minneapolis — projects that total more than $100 million in requests — will be vying for the roughly $45 million set aside to DEED.
Mankato has been trying for years to get funding for that project. But Senjem said that’s not likely to get them any sympathy.
“They’ve been long on the list,” he said. “At the same time so has St. Cloud, so has Rochester.”
Senjem said the last two years have been good for Minnesota. A $6 billion deficit was erased and now the state has a nearly $1 billion surplus.
“It’s a result of the good work of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate,” he said. “It’s nothing but positive for the state of Minnesota.”
Overall, he expressed optimism at where the state is at. But he said he’s viewing Gov. Mark Dayton’s performance as a dark spot on the session.
“As we look to this last session in terms of working with our governor, I think that we’ve found that, in many cases, things that were generally received by both sides he has not received them well,” Senjem said. “So when you look at disappointments from the session, it’s the governor’s veto pen on what we thought were common sense, logical decisions that would benefit the people of the state of Minnesota.”
One the tax bill, Senjem was emphatic that Dayton should sign it. He said Republicans offered one tax bill and Dayton vetoed it. They then retooled the bill to make it more to the governor’s liking and awaited his approval.
He called it a “magnanimous bill,” and said it’s critically important. The bill contained several tax-increment financing provisions, including one for the Mall of America that would have created thousands of construction jobs, perhaps as many as will be created by the Vikings stadium project.
“He needs to sign that bill,” Senjem said at about 12:15 p.m. Monday.
A few hours later, Dayton vetoed it.
Speaking of the stadium, Senjem seemed happy to just have the matter settled.
“That’s over and done with,” he said. “I’ve been there 10 years and every year I’ve been there, it’s been a Vikings stadium year.”
He said he’s confident charitable gambling can bring in enough money to cover the state’s commitment to the stadium plan. And if it doesn’t, he said he’s ready to raise the issue of racino again.
“I’m a racino supporter,” he said, “and that would have been, from my point of view, the preferred