Q&A: Gov. Mark Dayton on tax bill, Vikings stadium

Dayton signs stadium bill
Gov. Mark Dayton signs the Vikings stadium bill in the rotunda in the State Capitol Monday, May 14, 2012. Applauding behind Dayton, from left to right, are Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, and Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf.
Alex Kolyer for MPR

The 2012 legislative session culminated in a flurry of activity, including a vetoed tax bill and funding for a new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton spoke to Tom Crann of All Things Considered on Friday about the results of the session.

An edited transcript of that discussion is below.

Crann: I want to begin with the tax bill, which you vetoed, Speaker [Kurt] Zellers said the bill was changed to add things to suit you. He called it disrespectful to veto it. Sen. [Julianne] Ortman, writing this morning in an opinion piece in the Star Tribune, wrote that you didn't compromise. You turned your back on Minnesotans. Why did you veto it?

Dayton: I don't know how they would know they accommodated me when they never talked to me about it. I spoke to Speaker Zellers Sunday at noon with about two weeks to go in the session...[Staff] met with the Republican bill authors the next day, they left after about a 40-minute conversation and never came back, never contacted me, never requested to meet with me.

The bill once again sacrifices the fiscal stab of Minnesota's future by adding another $73 million to what's already projected to be a $1.1 billion deficit for the next biennium, and it does so strictly to aid businesses in Minnesota. Everyone's been hit with high property taxes, homeowners, renters, senior citizens, farmers, as well as businesses. They should all share in whatever property tax relief is provided, and not just solely businesses.

Crann: The Republican chairman of the House Tax Committee said this week that your veto bill makes it even more difficult to negotiate if the GOP is still in power and still in control of the houses of the Legislature next year. What's your reaction to that, is it a preview of gridlock to come next session?

Dayton: We're eight months away from the beginning of the next session and a year away from its conclusion. We'll let the sands of time sort of sift through all this. They have their own elections to conduct, so we'll see what the complexion is next January.

Again, I'm willing to negotiate, look at the bills we passed working bipartisan: the stadium bill, the bonding bill, environmental streamlining, restoring some of the worst cuts for health and human services. Those and other instances where there was genuine bipartisan cooperation and collaboration, we were successful. In this case, with the tax bill, they just ran their own bill with exactly what they wanted in it. Then they send it to me and pressure me to sign it. I hope they've learned by now that that's not the way to get me to do something.

Crann: I want to move on the Vikings stadium. It seems a lot of people agree that the Vikings and the Wilfs certainly got what they wanted out of the deal. Do you think in the end that the people of Minnesota got the best possible deal?

Dayton: I believe it's the best deal available under the circumstances. I'm not one to defend the economics of professional sports. It's a world unto itself. Any deal you make in that world doesn't make sense from the way the rest of us look at it. That's just a given.

The bottom line was: do we want to create several thousand jobs by building this new facility? Do we want to keep the Minnesota Vikings in Minnesota? Do we want an NFL franchise here in our state? We accomplished all that. We're going to have a chance to build something that I think Minnesotans can be very proud of. It's going to distinguish the city of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota for decades to come.

It can be used 355 days a year when the Vikings aren't playing in it as the people's stadium, for all sorts of other uses that will enhance the quality of life in our state. Time will tell whether we get a deal or not, I think it's going to be a good deal when we look back with the perspective of time.

Crann: It does sound like in your answer that you have some sympathy at least with those who say that the finances of major league sports and the NFL are perhaps out of whack with the way the rest of us live our lives. And, also, that here those finances were taking the lead.

Dayton: We, as one state, are not going to change the economics of professional sports in America. We just need to decide whether we want to be part of that or not.

I respect those for whom the Vikings aren't important, for whatever other reasons say, 'We shouldn't get involved, let them move to Los Angeles or wherever.' I disagree with that, but that's a perfectly legitimate position.

But what the Vikings and the NFL impressed upon us, is that we can't do it both ways. We can't not do a new stadium. We can't just keep the team here on that basis. It's either do we want a new stadium? Do we want the thousands of jobs it will create? Do we want to keep the Vikings here and move forward? Or do we want to just say goodbye? The majority of the Legislature, and I think the majority of the people of Minnesota, were in favor of continuing.

Crann: Did the stadium issue crowd out other priorities this session?

Dayton: The 7,000-8,000 jobs, conservatively estimated, are certainly worth the time and attention.

The Legislature is very good at multitasking, unlike the U.S. Congress, where there's one bill and nothing else for the next week or month. They're good at dealing with things [simultaneously], I'm not aware of anything that got crowded out or obscured because of the stadium bill or anything else.

Others might be able to point to something that I'm not aware of. I think they accomplished what they wanted to. Of course, they went home two weeks earlier than the Constitution requires, so they must consider in their own minds that they got things done.

Crann: Was there ever a deal to pay for the St. Paul Saints stadium with that $50 million in the bonding bill that's undesignated, in exchange for the votes of the St. Paul lawmakers?

Dayton: We were urging the St. Paul legislators to support the stadium bill because their votes were crucial to its success.

They were very concerned about the imbalance between the aid that's going to Minneapolis and particularly given that part of the stadium bill allows Minneapolis additional funds to renovate the Target Center, which they use in direct competition with the Excel arena. So they were very concerned about that. There is money in the stadium bill to provide for paying off some of the debt that they've incurred with the River Centre and the like. The $55 million is going to have many seekers for it. Everybody who got turned down in the bonding bill and everywhere else.

The Saints stadium is certainly a very competitive project, and I've always believed that the downtown improvement projects should have a certain priority, but that still remains to be seen. There were no deals made with anybody to get anybody's vote for anything, and believe me, there were plenty of requests on both sides.

Crann: You have to name two members and a chairman for the new Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority that will have oversight of the Vikings stadium to get the stadium discussion to even begin. Anyone in mind?

Dayton: We're thinking about that and having some preliminary discussions. It's a little premature until the Minneapolis City Council ratifies the deal. That's the last decision point in terms of the bill and the project going forward, so I want to be mindful and respectful of that. Those meetings are scheduled for the end of this month.

Those are going to be very important appointments; I have three [appointments], Mayor [RT] Rybak has two. Those five individuals are going to have a major responsibility to make sure that this project is done well, and done on time and done under budget.

Crann: What are you looking for in those people?

Dayton: Top-notch people; people with experience in business and in large-scale development projects. This is a billion-dollar development project, so people who bring that expertise. People who represent the different components of the communities that should be represented in something like this.

I wish there were more members. I thought, frankly, that there were going to be seven. Five is probably a little limiting and maybe something we can correct in the next legislative session, but that's what it is for now.

Interview transcribed and edited by Jon Collins, MPR reporter.

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