[size=18px]Senate approves bills for 3 stadiums[/size]
Now, deals must be forged with the House — and that could be a fight
Pioneer Press

In one extraordinary Tuesday afternoon, the Minnesota Senate narrowly approved controversial plans for three new stadiums costing more than $1.6 billion in public and private money.

Now comes the hard part.

The action foreshadows another contentious chapter in a stadium saga already more than a decade old. The Senate's stadium blueprint, passed by a DFL majority, differs greatly from bipartisan versions approved in the Republican-led House, meaning battles loom in conference committees over the proposed Twins, Vikings and University of Minnesota stadiums.

If tolerable deals can't be forged, the session will be another near miss for passionate stadium supporters, and a joy for those who believe subsidizing sports facilities is not the public's rightful work.

Despite the hurdles ahead, Sen. Steve Kelley, a DFL gubernatorial candidate from Hopkins, was optimistic about a Twins ballpark surviving the arduous process.

"I am very confident that we will get a Twins ballpark done this year,' Kelley said after his Twins-Vikings bill was approved by a 34-32 vote. He was less certain about a Vikings stadium.

A solution to the multitude of House-Senate disparities was not as easy to predict, because the Senate bills are laden with broad taxes that put them in fundamental conflict with the plan passed overwhelmingly by the House.

"There's a huge train wreck that's coming,' said Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna. "You're betting on a conference committee to solve it all."

Sen. John Marty, one of three DFLers who voted against the Twins-Vikings bill, argued that giving all stadium revenue to the teams is an awful decision.

"We're just turning over the books. What kind of a business deal is this?" asked Marty of Roseville.

Kelley agreed that in a perfect world, the public should not be compelled to subsidize the big-buck economics of professional sports.

"But that's not the world that we find ourselves in now," he said.

The Twins-Vikings bill would deliver retractable-roof stadiums to each team, along with billions of dollars to the Twin Cities transit system over 30 years, all financed by a half-cent sales tax — 10 cents on a $20 purchase — in the seven metro counties. Of $13 billion raised by the measure, $12 billion would go to transit.

The transit money turned Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, into a supporter, she said.

"I see it as a transit bill rather than a stadium bill,' Anderson said.

But the GOP-led House and Gov. Tim Pawlenty will not approve the metro tax that would raise the money, meaning that most of the transit funds will be tossed out of the mix. And the Twins will not go along with a provision that requires a referendum on the taxes, whether a metro tax or the Hennepin County tax that's envisioned by the House bill. The House bill does not call for a referendum.

The plan for a $248 million university football stadium seemed most unsettled Tuesday, due to a technical problem that House leaders called "a big deal' and Senate leaders said was easily rectified.

"They created a mess, and we're not going to clean it up,' House Speaker Steve Sviggum said of the Senate's Gophers bill, approved on an identical vote to the Twins-Vikings measure.

The genesis of the problem largely was partisan politics. Instead of making its changes on a "companion bill" to a House-passed measure, the DFL-led Senate chose to pass a procedurally unrelated Gophers bill because it was sponsored by Sen. Larry Pogemiller, a Minneapolis DFLer. Republicans wanted the Senate to act on a Gophers bill sponsored by Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, which was the official companion to the House measure.

"It's a technicality that will only matter if they're trying to kill the Gophers bill, and I don't believe they want to kill the Gophers bill,' Pogemiller responded. "If there's a will, there's a way."

Sviggum said the only way is for the Senate to repass the elements of the Gophers plan, but this time on the bill sponsored by Michel. A solution is likely, given the popularity of the issue, but the answer was unclear Tuesday.

The outdoor Gophers stadium would open in fall 2009 and replace the former Memorial Stadium. Indeed, the Senate bill would name the surrogate Veterans Memorial Stadium. The designation stands in contrast with the House measure, which would call the site TCF Bank Stadium in accordance with a naming rights agreement between the U and the banking firm.

The Senate bill eliminates two other elements of the House bill: a sale of recreational land to the state and a $50-a-year stadium-subsidy fee for students. Instead, it would impose a new 13 percent state sales tax at the wholesale level on all licensed memorabilia for pro and NCAA Division I college sports.

The tax would be part of an omnibus tax bill considered in the next few days, but Sviggum and Pawlenty said it would be dead on arrival.