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Simon, Latz Expect Wave of Constitutional Amendments at Capitol

Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-District 44A) criticized the approach, calling it an "arms race."

District 44 legislators Steve Simon and Ron Latz said Saturday that they expect a wave of constitutional amendments to be presented at the Republican-controlled Capitol this session—something the two Democratic lawmakers called political posturing.

Last year, the was approved for the 2012 ballot. But a number of other measures—such as a requirement that voters provide photo IDs at the polls—figure to gain Republican support during this session. With Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, they can get constitutional amendment questions directly onto the ballot without Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s blessing. Minnesota voters then have final say over whether to change the supreme law of the state.

Rep. Simon, who represents part of St. Louis Park and all of Hopkins, said while he generally disagrees with the content of many of the potential amendments, it is the process that has him most concerned.

“You don’t just put things in the constitution because it gives you a political advantage,” he said. “We’ve got to go nuclear on everything. That’s the standard now. An arms race has been started here.”

Latz and Simon, who were speaking at a town hall meeting at the in Hopkins, said the tone at the legislature has already become divisive in the first few days of the session, as Republican lawmakers decided on Tuesday to cut $440,000 from DFL staffs while cutting nothing from their own staffs. The cuts will result in 12 to 14 full-time staffers losing their jobs after the session ends in April.

“It’s diminishing our ability to respond to constituents,” said Sen. Latz, who represents all of Hopkins and St. Louis Park. “It was a direct target. And (the session) has been all downhill from there.”

Stadium issue getting a lot of attention

Simon said emails about the Vikings stadium probably take up the biggest chunk of his inbox these days. But the legislator said he has yet to see a fully developed plan that he’s willing to support.

“I’m skeptical,” Simon said. “The problem, so far, is that there really isn’t a plan. It keeps shifting. It’s sort of hard to pin down.”

Both Simon and Latz said they wouldn’t rule out public funding of a stadium, as public funds are often used to help with private developments. But they said they’d want to know that an expenditure would have value for taxpayers.

“I thought the Twins package got us a long way,” said Latz, referencing the Twins stadium deal that used a Hennepin County tax hike—not direct state funds—and included provisions that sends money to metro area youth sports leagues and libraries.

Latz said right now there isn’t a strong local partner with a Vikings plan like Hennepin County was with the Twins, and he’d want to see that before getting behind a proposal.

The senator added that he would be open to expanded gambling to help fund a new stadium. Of the proposed sites, Latz said he doesn’t like Arden Hills because so much additional infrastructure work would be required. He didn’t specify a favorite among the Minneapolis options.

Legislators encouraged by bonding plan

Simon and Latz said they were happy to see $25 million for the Southwest Light Rail Transit line included in the governor’s bonding bill proposal, but now the trick is to keep it in there.

Gov. Dayton’s plan calls for $775 million, while Republican leaders in the House and Senate have indicated a preference for a smaller bonding package.

Latz said his goal is to “soften” Republican leadership on the light rail issue while also getting Gov. Dayton to make it a “No. 1 priority.” The hope, the senator said, is that a smaller bonding bill would still have room for the transit project. However, he said committee chairs have not been receptive to light rail to this point.

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