With the Minnesota State Legislature set to resume Jan. 24, Patch spoke with Sen. Ken Kelash (D-Richfield/Minneapolis) about the upcoming session, his priorities and the Vikings stadium debate.
Patch: Let’s lead off with the topic on everyone’s minds—state funding for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium. What’s your take, and what will you be pushing for when this comes before the legislature?
Sen. Ken Kelash: I’ve been saying this for a while—the Minnesota Vikings are a statewide or, at least, a regional asset, and I think the marching orders they got from former Governor (Tim) Pawlenty to go find a local partner and then come to the legislature (for funding) were flawed. I’m going to be looking as we move forward for ways to regionalize the cost. Why should the folks in Minneapolis or Ramsey County pay for it by themselves? Also, we’ve got to make sure Vikings fans coming in from out of state or Greater Minnesota pay (their share) beyond ticket prices.
Patch: How do you think that idea will sit with your Republican colleagues? Do you think it’ll get any traction?
Kelash: From what I keep hearing from the Republican side, they don’t want to vote on controversial issues like that, so we’ll see.
Patch: Is there a site you’ll be plugging?
Kelash: There are flaws with all of the packages, particularly with the funding. But what’s the exact plan? Then you can say whether you’re for it or against it. The devil is in the details. For example, the Vikings haven’t said how much they’d be willing to spend in Minneapolis, and we don’t know what their space requirements are.
Patch: Moving on, what about the $876 million “surplus” that is projected to be in the state’s coffers by the end of this fiscal year?
Kelash: There will probably be less contention, providing of course February’s budget forecast comes in as expected. It’s not really a surplus, though. It’s primarily spoken for by rainy day funds, and the state’s cash flow acts were completely drained last year. Also, there’s the huge $2 billion funding shift for the schools that needs to be paid back, by statute. There are still structural problems in Minnesota’s budget. If revenue is raised this year, it’s going to be fishing license fees, it’s going to be something small like that. In addition, I’ve heard Republicans will be pushing to eliminate corporate property taxes, and that shifts things onto the homeowner again. That’s not going to go anywhere, though.
Patch: What bills will you be introducing this session?
Kelash: I’ll be introducing a bill related to window-washer safety and another one supporting the extension of the Mall of America’s Tax Increment Financing district (for infrastructure improvements). There’s great economic development potential there. Also, the jobs bill that the governor is promoting will wind up in my committee.
Patch: Are there any local issues that you’ll be pushing this session, in addition to these bills?
Kelash: That’ll be tied in with jobs and bonding issues. We just had a townhall meeting on Saturday. Some of the issues that came up there were Cedar Avenue capacity issues and Interstate-494 upgrades. There are also a lot of opportunities for community development in Bloomington and in southeast Richfield around the airport. It’s an issue that maybe won’t get a lot of success, but one where we need to keep it up in front of everybody. I’ll also be pushing for using Legacy (Amendment) money to fund invasive species research at the University of Minnesota.