Legislators need reality check
As the coach in the locker room says to the team before the big game, it's "gut check" time. Translation: Are you mentally prepared for the game?
Over at the Capitol in St. Paul, Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, and House Speaker Margaret Anderson-Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, should bring their respective teams into a closed-door meeting and tell them it's "reality check" time. Translation for legislators: Stop talking foolishness and get your work done.
The foolishness is the hype by legislators, lobbyists and some of the media about a possible Vikings stadium deal. Whether it's $700 million, $800 million or $900 million, it's all just trash talk.
First, there are just three weeks left during the 2010 legislative session. Past stadium deals, whether it was the Xcel Energy Center for pro hockey in St. Paul, TCF Bank Stadium for the University of Minnesota's Gophers football in Minneapolis, or the Twins half-billion dollars sports palace, required months if not years to arrange the complex tax and finance issues.
Any deal made behind closed doors in the closing days of a legislative session would be a disaster.
Second, legislators have yet to balance the budget.
After three months of working on the budget they still only have a third of a loaf. That is to say, the state has a $1 billion budget deficit and to date lawmakers have only resolved one-third of the problem, making $300 million in spending reductions.
That leaves a $700 million funding gap yet to be filled. Raise taxes, cut spending or punt the ball to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, but the clock is running and as of now lawmakers haven't come up with any answers that can pass both bodies and get signed into law by Pawlenty.
The third reason a "Hail Mary" for a new Vikings stadium is likely to fall short is because of the laundry list of items left unfinished.
They include Pawlenty's education reforms that, if agreed on by legislators, would qualify Minnesota for more federal dollars in "Race to the Top" funding. The consideration of a second bonding bill that could include projects vetoed by the governor in the first bill, as well as an additional $12 million for the billion-dollar University Avenue trolley, er, I mean the Central Corridor light rail -- money needed to relocate labs at the University of Minnesota because no one could figure out during five years of planning that a train passing within 100 feet of sensitive scientific instruments might cause a problem.
And last but not least, has anyone noticed the state is going to be out of cash by September? Yes, according to the office of Minnesota Management and Budget, the well is set to run dry by this fall.
With no cash to pay the bills, the state would have to resort to short-term borrowing from private banks for the first time since 1984.
So, despite all the hoopla over the new outdoor playground for millionaires in Minneapolis, legislators in St. Paul should keep their eye on the ball. That means recognizing that Minnesota has serious budget problems that need to be dealt with in the next three weeks -- and that musing about new football stadiums is neither wise nor warranted.
Some legislators are acting like school children with spring fever. With the onset of warm weather, they are gazing out the window daydreaming about baseball and football instead of getting their work done.
Legislators' mission in the next three weeks is to balance the state's budget, not increase taxes to build a billionaire his Taj Mahal-like football facility that will only enhance his net worth.
Phil Krinkie is a former Republican state representative from Lino Lakes and president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota