Here are some of the hot topics that may cause political fireworks at the Capitol over the next few days, in what is expected to be the final week of the legislative session.
VIKINGS: THE UNTOLD STORY. Whether you want a new stadium or not, here's a peek at what's going on behind-the-scenes. It takes about $50-55 million a year to pay for a stadium over 20 years, if it is approved. The use of existing general fund dollars - the sort of money that funds schools, roads, and public safety - has almost no support among legislators. Likewise, tax increases and casinos are a no-go with the Republicans in charge of the House and Senate, mostly due to a freshman class of legislators who have pledged not to vote for such things. Many Democrats also oppose these options. That's why new revenue options like electronic pulltabs, a sports-themed lottery scratchoff ticket, and a 10% surcharge on stadium suites keep surfacing as sources of stadium revenue. Interestingly, the fact that a good chunk of the money collected would go toward reducing charitable gambling taxes - leaving more money for the charities - is actually a much more compelling reason than a new stadium for many lawmakers who favor the legislation.
FIREWORKS. I'm not talking about political fireworks here. I mean real fireworks. The House will likely take up a bill early this week to legalize the sorts of fireworks sold in Wisconsin, which are more powerful than the sparklers and novelties currently available in Minnesota. An interesting tidbit I just heard: The fireworks sold in Wisconsin can only be sold to out-of-state residents and cannot be set off in Wisconsin, except with a special permit. Odd.
SENIOR SCAMS. Scammers who secretly target Minnesota seniors may soon get more than they bargained for. On a 118-6 bipartisan vote, the House passed my legislation Friday to give Minnesotans more tools to fight sophisticated telephone and online scams. These scams, which have ties to organized crime, are often aimed at seniors and vulnerable adults. Some victims have been defrauded of their life savings. This is why the legislation is a top priority of AARP. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill on Monday, then it goes to the governor to hopefully be signed into law.
BIPARTISAN STADIUM DEAL REACHED. On allowing beer at TCF Stadium, that is. Previously, the U of M was just going to serve alcohol to fans in the suites; the compromise sought by the legislature would also allow fans who can only afford a regular seat the chance to get a beer. This deal, which passed the Senate Friday and comes up in the House this week, could mean $2 million or more in additional revenue for the U.
FISHING OPENER. Supporters of moving the opener from May 12th to May 5th have cut bait.
CAPITOL AND CAPITAL PROJECTS. Legislation to fix the 107-year-old Capitol and do other capital projects across the state will likely be voted on this week. It isn't terribly sexy - mostly fixing roofs, repairing and upgrading mechanical/electrical systems, and so on - but if you are one of the over 20% of construction workers who remain unemployed, it's a big deal.
A SURPRISE. It would be easy to conclude from the media coverage of the Capitol, which is mainly about issues that divide legislators, that our days are spent in fruitless partisan bickering, hopeless deadlock, and endless stadium debates. The surprising reality is that scores of important (albeit unexciting) laws have been passed this session, mostly with wide bipartisan cooperation and support, on issues like public safety, education, health care, privacy and consumer protection.
Questions and comments on these or other legislative topics are always welcome, either by commenting below, giving me a call at the Capitol at 296-4192, or emailing me at Rep.Joe.Atkins@house.mn. You can also weigh in at www.facebook.com/State.Rep.Joe.Atkins and www.JoeAtkins.com, where you will find survey questions on the hot topics expected to arise at the Capitol. Today's question of the day is about the latest stadium idea.