The Minnesota Capitol is quiet this morning for the first time in more than three months. The state Senate adjourned the legislative session Thursday afternoon after passing a bill to finance a new football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.
That measure is the central achievement of a session that some argue is the worst in state history, and the results are now fodder for the upcoming campaign.
The last month of the legislative session focused on three issues: a new stadium, a public works bonding bill and a bill that cuts taxes for businesses and homeowners.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton spent most of his time focused on getting the stadium bill to pass. On Thursday, Dayton was magnanimous in his praise of the stadium deal.
"This was truly a bipartisan effort. The votes showed that and it would not have been successful if it had not been through that bipartisan partnership," Dayton said.
The fact that the stadium bill is headed to the governor's desk is nothing short of remarkable. It passed the House without the support of the Republican Speaker Kurt Zellers and Majority Leader Matt Dean. It passed the GOP-controlled Senate where Republicans are clearly divided over the best direction for the state.
Republicans are taking credit for the state's improved fiscal condition. They put two of their long-time priorities on the ballot for voters to decide this fall &mdash an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution to define marriage and a requirement that voters show photo identification at polls.
But when Republicans took over the legislature two years ago, they said their top priority was to cut taxes and government spending. Now some are disappointed.
"This session has been rough. For a fiscal conservative, this session has not been good, said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, who characterized the 2012 session as a disappointment. He said this year the legislature passed Dayton's priorities, including $500 million dollars in taxpayer money for a new stadium, without getting anything in return.
"We have given in to the Vikings, giving them pretty much what they want. That's not a lever for us anymore. It could be, but we won't use that lever," Thompson said. "We passed a big bonding bill — that those of us who ran on fiscal responsibility are ashamed of — and it sounds like we won't even have the tax bill to show for it."
And that comes from a staunch Republican.
'DE FACTO MINORITY'
DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk was even more direct. He called the stadium the major achievement of the session that Minnesotans will be proud of, once it is built. But he said Republicans don't deserve the credit. Bakk criticized his Republican colleagues, saying the bonding bill and the stadium bill would not have passed if Democrats had not taken the lead and put up most of the votes.
"The new Republican majority, the first time in 38 years here, is acting as a de facto minority because of your unwillingness to take some risk and lead," Bakk said.
Republican leaders have a different perspective. GOP House Speaker Zellers said Dayton preferred to focus on one major initiative at the expense of everything else. Zellers said streamlining business permits and efforts to keep seniors in their homes are big achievements Republicans can point to. He said the legislature also helped balance the state's budget without raising taxes. He said the stadium was Dayton's "only priority."
"His focus on the stadium took the focus off what most Minnesotans want," Zellers said. "Our agenda is what most Minnesotans wanted: property tax relief, looking at small business owners and trying to help them is our number one goal."
But Zellers took some blows in the stadium debate. Unlike Dayton who took a strong position in favor of the stadium and stuck with it, Zellers appeared to waffle. He would not say how he planned to vote until the closing days of the session. Then on a sports talk radio interview, Zellers seemed to say that even though he would vote against the stadium he wanted to see it built. He later said he misspoke, but the episode may have hurt his political prospects, especially if he intends to challenge Dayton for governor in two years.
And that's the big advantage Dayton has over Republican lawmakers. He's not up for re-election until 2014, but they'll all be on the ballot in six months.