Everybody seems to fear that the other party/person/city is going to get a better deal. And so the legislative session, which some thought might end at Easter, goes on.
The better-deal scenario means that the session could end quickly Monday, with everyone going home unhappy.
Or at the other end of the spectrum, legislators might decide to adjourn for a few days while leaders try to reach a deal with the governor on tax relief for businesses, the size of the bonding bill and, of course, the Vikings stadium.
Meanwhile, the governor will presumably continue to make headlines with vetoes. A second abortion bill and the teacher seniority bill (changes in the Last In, First Out layoff provisions) likely will be vetoed.
Deal could help tribes and racetracks
And meantime, a remarkable thing has happened outside the Capitol. The tribes have reached an agreement with Canterbury Park, which also will affect the other racetrack, Running Aces. The agreement almost certainly takes racinos off the table for this session.
In the deal, apparently inspired by the tribes, the tracks will be allowed to add tables to their card rooms, raise betting limits and, perhaps most significantly, play standard blackjack. In the past, the card rooms have been limited to an unusual form of black jack in which players compete against each other, rather than the more popular form in which players are playing against the house.
In exchange, the tribal casinos will pick up simulcasts of horse races, which currently have been limited to the horse tracks.
This is a big plus for the tracks. The additional revenue will allow them to sweeten horse racing prizes, which, track officials say, will ripple throughout the horse economy in the state. Bigger prizes mean more and better horses, which means more incentive for Minnesota horse breeders to operate.
The plan has been approved by the Senate and is expected to be approved by the House and get Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature.
It also underscores that it wasn’t a supporter who tossed racinos into the stadium mix late last week. Rather, the racino bomb was tossed by Sen. Scott Nienow, R-Cambridge, as a way to blow up the stadium deal.
But just because the tribes and tracks have figured out a way to get along, don’t count on Republicans and DFLers to do the same — or a Vikings stadium deal to get done.
Both sides question stadium deal
Start with the stadium. Legislators on both sides of the aisle of course are concerned that the proposed bill favors the Vikings ownership over the public.
There’s no part of the Vikings’ bill that won’t be picked apart by foes, if the bill ever comes up on the floors of the two chambers.
For example, at a hearing before the Senate Taxes Committee late Friday, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak nearly fell out of his chair when Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said that the bill would be “a windfall for Minneapolis.”
“I wish you would come to some community meetings with me,” Rybak said to Chamberlain.
Rybak had very limited success selling his own city council and community activists that the financing package, which not only pays the city’s share of the stadium but also is to cover the rehab of the Target Center, is a good deal.
It’s been Rybak’s contention that the intricate financing package he has proposed is the only way to get the Target Center off the backs of those paying Minneapolis property taxes.
Without rehab, the Target Center is a red-ink white elephant, being subsidized by property taxes. With rehab, the mayor has contended, the building can be self-sustaining.
The mayor pointed out it that it is only in Minneapolis that the hotel/restaurant tax is being collected. Others, including the city of St. Paul complaining about “unfairness” over the deal, have shown no willingness to extend the taxes to their communities.
In fact, when Ramsey County commissioners attempted to win the Vikings for Arden Hills, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman was a leading critic of the deal, because it would have been funded with a special Ramsey County sales tax.
Another area of the basic stadium agreement that has come under some fire would allow Vikings ownership to have “exclusive rights’’ for the first five years of the deal to bring a Major Soccer League franchise to the new stadium.
Nienow attacked the exclusivity arrangement. During a Senate Finance Committee hearing last week, he called it “a state-sanctioned monopoly that would let the team operate with no rent.”
Soccer franchise deal complicates things, too
There’s no question that this section of the agreement is important to the Vikings. But is it really a sweetheart deal?
Even other conservatives — such as Sen. Mike Parry, no friend of the stadium package — had a hard time accepting Nienow’s concern.
“I can’t follow your thinking,’’ Parry said, adding that the soccer section sounds very much like an incentive to encourage a start-up business.
Other legislators note that there hasn’t exactly been a long line of people looking to bring a big-league soccer franchise to the Twin Cities. A franchise would cost a minimum of $30 million. Typically, Major League franchises are drawing about 17,000 people a game. That’s not a gold-mine number for owners, but those sorts of numbers would generate sales taxes on everything from beer sales to tickets at a new stadium.
If soccer is a high Viking priority, it also might encourage the team to build a retractable roof on the stadium. (A retractable roof would cost about $120 million and the stadium agreement makes it clear that cost would be covered by the Vikings.)
All of this shows that basic underlying fear that somebody else is getting too good of deal at the expense of somebody else.
While the stadium deal is being attacked by the political left and right, Republican leaders are betting that Dayton wants a stadium so badly that he’ll give on taxes. There are some DFL legislators who fear that the GOP legislators are correct in that assumption and that Dayton will give Republicans the business tax breaks they seek for a stadium he wants.
Conflicting views of what Minnesotans want
“The Vikings bill should stand or fall on its own merits,” House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said late last week.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who has been dancing all around the stadium, accused Thissen of “cheap politics.”
Of course, pols of all stripes are claiming they stand for what Minnesotans really want.
House Majority Leader Matt Dean says that the Republican tax bill is the most important thing for Minnesota. “Our focus is on Main Street,” he said.
But DFLers claim that leaders of Main Streets across the state want a substantial bonding bill.
We’ve heard it all before and likely will again.