Editorial: Legislative session gets a mixed review

From the standpoint of suburban and outstate communities, the 2012 Legislative session on major issues was disappointing.

Even the Vikings’ stadium plan approval, the centerpiece of the session, ignored a good suburban location in Arden Hills and an opportunity for major economic development in the northern region.

Little was done to provide tax relief for suburban and outstate communities that lost $320 million in local government aid a year ago.

Except for an increase of $50 per pupil unit to help pay interest costs on school borrowing, per pupil funding remains flat. School boards are borrowing money to operate, since $2.7 billion was delayed to balance the state budget in 2011.

With no new local government aid and flat revenue for schools, look for property taxes to go up.

The colleges and universities received no additional aid, and tuition increases have been announced.

Jobs was the battle cry during the session. Passage of the stadium plan and the $496 million bonding bill will bring more jobs to Minnesota.

The governor, however, vetoed a Republican tax plan that could have brought more jobs by eliminating property taxes for business as well as tax credits for businesses that hire the unemployed.

The bonding bill will bring new public buildings to suburban communities: a $7 million Dakota County Technical College Transportation and Emerging Technologies Lab renovation in Rosemount, a $1 million addition to the Bio-Science and Allied Health unit at Coon Rapids, a $4 million asset preservation unit at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, and $19.5 million for an addition to the Camp Ripley Education Center near Little Falls.

On the down side, $25 million to begin planning for the Southwest Corridor light rail line was not in the bonding bill, despite strong support from that area’s major businesses. Republicans like buses.

One brightener was the creation of better oversight and management of the school trust lands. Although annual revenues from the trust center, around $2.1 million, is not big, the potential is great. Passage of the law was led by Rep. Denise Dittrich, DFL-Champlin.

The human services bill championed by Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, included  $5.9 million for personal care attendants, restored half of the funding of group home care for low-needs clients, allowed $4.7 million for those receiving dialysis and cancer treatment in emergency medical assistance and allowed disabled adults to live in independent apartments.

Suburban areas will get economic assistance through the surprising gambling bill.

Mystic Lake Casino in Apple Valley and the Grand Casino in Mille Lacs County will be able to offer simulcast off-track betting. Canterbury Park in Shakopee and Running Aces Harness Park in Columbus will be able to expand the number of poker tables from 50 to 80 and betting limits from $60 to $100.

Owners contend these changes will allow higher racing purses and bring more business to the area.

One blot on the session was the closed conference committee where the final deal on the Vikings was reached during the closed meeting by conferees walking in and out during the session to avoid rules on meetings. It clearly violated the spirit of the law and the “transparency” they boast about.

Conference committees are usually open to the public.

Unexpected bipartisan support on the stadium and bonding bill enabled the Legislature to adjourn on time and avoid a shutdown. We can only wish that this spirit could continue in the next session.

An editorial from the ECM Editorial Board. The Princeton Union-Eagle is part of ECM Publishers, Inc.

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