With the annual Legislative session heating up and political lines being drawn in anticipation of a furious month of activity, there is growing concern that a Vikings stadium bill could get torpedoed.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has come out in favor of getting a Vikings stadium deal done, despite the clear indication that state bonding money would be needed to get the job done. The problem? Dayton is a Democrat and the Legislature has a Republican majority.
Many of the first-term Republicans ran on the party platform of looking to reduce government's role in business, which, almost by definition, precludes public funding for projects like stadiums. The current $5 billion budget deficit is a second kidney punch to the stadium effort that could come to a head when a vote draws near.
A Republican-sponsored bill is being prepared for introduction, but the sentiment among the political science types are that, given the problems on the plate of Minnesota lawmakers, the stadium issue will be a tough sell. At a time when half the state is blanketed with a spring snow-ice storm and the other half is concerned about apocalyptic flooding projections being fueled by the local media, trying to convince a group of legislators – veterans and greenhorns alike – to drop $300-600 million into a stadium project will take some 24-hour schmoozing and selling efforts. The timing couldn't be worse. The need, given the recent open-air feel to the Metrodome, couldn't be more urgent.
If we've learned anything over the last 20 years of politics, it is that the party systems have broken down into two extreme factions that have about 25 percent of the population on each side – the 50 percent in the middle make the call on who's in and who's not during each election cycle. When one party is in power, it exerts its authority and imposes its will. In 2006, Democrats swept into the State House of Representatives. When the 2006 session convened, there were 68 Republicans and 66 Democrats in the House. When the 2007 session convened, there were 85 Democrats and 49 Republicans. The Democrats maintained that edge until this year. When the House convened Jan. 4, there was a 50-member flip-flop in one year, taking IR (Independent Republican Party of Minnesota) members from a 40-person minority to a 10-member majority.
The story remains the same in the Senate. When Sen. Ellen Anderson announced her resignation to chair the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, the head count of Republicans-to-Democrats in the Minnesota Senate went to 37 for the IR and 29 for the DFL (Democrat Farmer Labor Party of Minnesota). As in the House, the Republicans swept into office in even more significant numbers – when the 2010 Senate convened on Feb. 4, the DFL held a member-advantage of 46-21 (more than two times the number of Republicans). When the current Senate convened Jan. 4, the numbers flipped in favor of the IR by a 37-30 margin. Considering there are only 67 senators (66 right now with Anderson's resignation), to have a margin of difference coming out of the November 2010 elections of plus-32 for the IR is unprecedented – gaining 16 seats while the DFL lost 16 senate positions.
The last time the Minnesota Senate wasn't controlled by the Democrats was in the 1971 – at a time when Richard Nixon was rolling merrily to the most lopsided presidential election in history at the time. However, when Watergate derailed the Nixon Administration, Republicans throughout the country were run out of office. It took 40 years for the IR to gain control of the Senate, but having a fiscal-conservative majority might not help the stadium drive.
While each legislator has his/her own opinion on the stadium funding question, the basic lines being drawn are that Republicans don't want to create new funding policies and Democrats are more willing to impose taxes, but ones that hit the richest people in the state. Even when Hennepin County took the state off the hook to fund a Twins stadium, there were IR legislators that still voted against the proposal on party platform lines.
During the years that the Democrats controlled the Legislature, they had Independent Party Gov. Jesse Ventura and, more recently, Republican Tim Pawlenty. Both were tax ideologues who were adamantly opposed to using state tax money to fund a stadium. The process was killed every year as a result, which has us to where were are today.
And now? Minnesota has a governor that has come out in favor of building a new Vikings stadium, but has a Republican-controlled Legislature that may feel more honor-bound to keep pre-election promises. The end result will at least cause friction and may end up being the same as it has been for Vikings stadium proposals/discussions for the last decade.
Timing is everything and, it would seem, the Vikings just don't have it when it comes to getting a stadium bill passed. The need has been demonstrated. The lease is up at the end of the year. The time is now. The timing may not be.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.