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Lawmakers wrap it up

ST. PAUL -- It's better a little late than never for the Minnesota Legislature.

After a 2005 session that stretched two months too long, and resulted in a partial government shutdown, lawmakers headed home for the year Sunday night when they finished an unexpected brief final meeting and heard speeches from retiring members.

The concluding meeting was the first time the Senate has met on a Sunday and only the second time for the House.

Leaders had planned to end work by 7 a.m. Sunday, which state law considers the end of the legislative Saturday. But a bill changing a budget passed last year was not quite ready for action.

The 2006 Minnesota Legislature -- which leaves a legacy of approving Twins' baseball park in downtown Minneapolis and University of Minnesota football stadium -- left some issues undone.

An agreement among three of four legislative leaders -- without Senate Minority Leader Dick Day of Owatonna -- early Sunday resulted in dropping issues out of consideration that had not been decided. That left dead a transportation funding bill and a bill dedicating some of the state's sales tax to outdoors, clean water and arts programs.

Transportation funding never was going to be as much as many lawmakers wanted. Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed borrowing $2.5 billion. Negotiators reduced that to $1.7 million, but House negotiators balked at accepting a Senate provision that would allow police to stop drivers who do not wear seat belts.

House negotiator Rep. Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston, said the transportation bill was not big enough to do much good anyway. The $2.5 billion would have been spread out over 10 years, while most estimates indicate the state needs to spend $1 billion annually on road construction.

Senate chief negotiator Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said talks were nearing an agreement between the House and Senate, but blamed partisan politics from allowing completion.

Many rural leaders are upset that the transportation bill failed after they tried to alter a constitutional amendment the public will vote on this fall. They complained that the proposed amendment, which legislators approved last year, could allow all motor vehicle sales tax revenues to be used for transit, shutting out road construction projects.

Voters won't decide later this year whether to dedicate state funds to the outdoors and the arts after House and Senate negotiators failed to reach agreement early Sunday and legislative leaders pull the plug on their work.

Senate Democrats favored a sales tax increase, while House Republicans wanted the money to come from the existing tax.

"We were close, really close," said DFL Sen. Dallas Sams of Staples, the Senate's lead negotiator.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, the top House negotiator, said the DFL-controlled Senate didn't make a significant move toward a compromise until Saturday. By then it was too late, he said.


Another issue that didn't make the cut was a Vikings football stadium, planned for Anoka County. A Twins stadium authorization bill does lay the groundwork for a Vikings stadium, but Pawlenty and others said the plan was not ready for approval.

The House voted late Saturday 71-61, followed by an early Sunday 34-32 Senate approval, for a Twins stadium. Many senators were skeptical of the plan.

"It is a question of priorities in this state," Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said, adding that the session will be remembered for stadiums.

The Twins bill builds a $522 million, open-air downtown Minneapolis baseball park. A sales tax increase, amounting to 3 cents on a $20 purchase, would pay about 75 percent of the cost. Team owner Carl Pohlad is to contribute $130 million.

Pawlenty said he plans to sign the Twins bill, as well as a University of Minnesota stadium measure, this week.

Lawmakers Saturday approved building the Gophers football stadium on campus.

The bill requires the state to pay $10.2 million a year for 25 years; in exchange the university gives the state 2,800 acres of pristine parkland. TCF Bank will pay $35 million to have the stadium named after the company and each university student will pay a $25 annual fee to help build the stadium.

After finishing their work, lawmakers were ready to head home and rest, before hitting the campaign trail. Legislative leaders made it clear they would make campaign issues out of what they see as shortcomings of the session.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum said he would take some issues to voters, but delivered a more positive review: "We actually got something done."

R-E staff writer Scott Wente contributed to this story.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.