Legislative scorecard

Some legislators have a theory about what captures the public's imagination. Pass landmark anti-meth legislation. The public yawns. Give the laws governing eminent domain a good tweaking. Zzzzzzz.

But agree to finance a new Twins stadium, and you've set every coffee shop and water cooler ablaze with a week's worth of breathless conversation.

The legislative session that starts Wednesday is expected to offer a little bit for everybody. For the policy wonks and the deep thinkers, there are proposals to reform the state's laws on immigration, eminent domain and annexation. For those who find the state's public affairs as fascinating as a root canal, there are the stadiums.

The following is a shorthand version of the proposals facing this year's Legislature and their chances of passage, based on the assessments of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, legislative leaders and local lawmakers.

And believe it or not, notwithstanding the last two crash-and-burn sessions, this year does have the makings of a productive session.


By Matthew Stolle

Twins stadium (thumbs up).

The signs are unmistakably upbeat. You might think sheer exhaustion would drive this issue toward blessed resolution. It's been with us for nearly a decade. One reason support is building for a $500 million ballpark is the financing mechanism. Money wouldn't come from the state's general fund. Rather a 0.15 percent sales tax in Hennepin County -- 3 cents on every $20 -- would go toward $353 million public contribution.

"It's a good chance that it will come to a vote and better than 50-50 that it will pass," said Rep. Fran Bradley, a Republican from Rochester.

The big question: Does this come with a referendum for Hennepin County voters or not.

Gopher stadium (thumbs up).

Again, thumbs up. Why? There's tremendous public support for bringing a stadium back on campus, legislators say. Unlike the Twins stadium, there's no suggestion of public money going toward a pastime of millionaire players and billionaire owners. Even so, there are voices of concern, if not dissent.


"It's the university's No. 1 priority, and you have to say why," said Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, a Democrat from Rochester.

Some suggest that it would take $7 million to $10 million a year for 25 years to pay back the bonds on a stadium. University officials would also be counting on significant student fee increases. Public support may be blunted once the true costs become known.

Property tax relief (thumbs up).

A no-brainer. Legislative leaders have all given lip service to it. Question is, how much money is available for it. A tax relief account shows $317 million. Tuesday's economic forecast will provide a clearer picture.

Eminent domain (Thumbs up).

This may be a train that nobody can stop. The bubbling of public outrage started with the Supreme Court's Kelo decision, which affirmed a city's authority to condemn and transfer property from one private entity to another. Legislators are now looking at language that would make it harder for government to seize land. One way would be to establish a new, higher standard for "blighted" property.

Even so, cities worry a new law would hamper their ability to stimulate economic development. Others say the issue is overblown.

"It's something that's captured the attention of a lot of people," said Rep. Dan Dorman, a Republican from Albert Lea. "I think in Minnesota it's a solution in search of a problem. I see very few abuses of it."


A continuing resolution (thumbs up).

Good-bye to government shutdowns. This would essentially inoculate the government from the embarrassment and ridicule it suffered last year when Pawlenty and Senate Democrats failed agree on a two-year budget and a partial government shutdown ensued. A continuing resolution would allow government to function at current funding levels until a new budget is approved.

"I think what happened in 2005 was very, very wrong, and I don't want to see that happen again," said Rep. Greg Davids, a Republican from Preston who is carrying the bill in the House.

Legislative leaders such as House Speaker Steve Sviggum still have their doubts about the measure. They worry that without the looming threat of a government shutdown, legislators will have little incentive of getting the job done on time. He sees a new law as creating the conditions for an endless series of special sessions.

Performance Pay (thumbs down).

Last year, Pawlenty got legislators to pass "Q comp," a concept of performance pay for teachers. Now he wants to apply that concept to himself and legislators if a continuing resolution becomes necessary.

Rep. Tina Liebling, a Democrat from Rochester, says performance pay for legislators would make sense if everybody had an equal voice. But not everybody does.

"People don't do this job for the money," she adds. "I don't think money is that good of an incentive."

A constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (thumbs down).

The House has already passed a measure that would put the question to voters in November. And Sviggum has toyed with the idea of having the House vote on it again, as a way of keeping a spotlight on the issue.

But Senate Democrats have balked, thwarting the attempts of Senate Republicans to bring the bill to the floor. DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson has said the measure will be given "due diligence," but he has been equally clear in his disdain for the measure. Maybe more so, because Republicans have shown no hesitation in using the issue against him by holding a rally in his home district of Willmar.

Johnson said he also believes that Republicans are pursuing a losing strategy. In two special elections held last year, he points out, Democrats both opposed amending the constitution to ban gay marriage, and both won, despite running in Republican districts.

Bonding (thumbs up).

Although technically the Legislature is not bound to do anything in a short session, there is an expectation to pass a bonding or public works bill. The governor's bill is about $811 million, Dorman said. Senate Democrats are pushing for a bill in the vacinity of $965 million. Others say that the governor's bill is light on projects for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. He is also too heavy on prisons, critics says.

But Pawlenty sounded like a person who saw more common ground than areas of disagreement.

"The details may vary, but there seems to be a matter of consensus and opportunity for the Legislature and our administration to work together and get through a bill," Pawlenty said last week.

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