Vikings strive to stay in stadium game; Gophers bill stalledby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
Partisan politics is playing an increasing role in the stadium debate going on in a committee of the Minnesota Senate. On Friday the Senate Taxes Committee defeated a bill that would finance a new football stadium for the University of Minnesota; the second day in a row they've done so. Republicans unhappy with the committee's DFL chairman joined a DFL stadium opponent in sending the plan to defeat. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings are now accusing the governor of trying to kill their stadium proposal.
St. Paul, Minn. — On the second day of stadium hearings, officials with the Minnesota Vikings made it clear that they're trying to latch onto the momentum that the Minnesota Twins have been making on their stadium push.
The chief Senate author of the Twins bill now wants to combine his bill with a proposal that would build a Vikings stadium. The plan would rely on a half cent, seven-county-metro-area sales tax to pay for both stadiums and also fund transportation programs.
But House Republicans and Gov. Pawlenty are against a two-in-one bill, saying they prefer individual votes on each stadium.
Vikings lobbyist Lester Bagley says he and team owner Zygi Wilf think that would kill their stadium hopes this year.
"It's disconcerting and frustrating that Gov. Pawlenty and others have had personal meetings with Mr. Wilf, have committed to solving our problem, committed to help us, then behind the scenes are working to split the bills which they know -- and everybody knows -- will kill the Vikings chances this session.
The pricetag for a new Vikings stadium is $675 million. The funding would come from private investment, a .75 percent Anoka County sales tax and taxes generated at the facility. The Vikings say they want the chance to be heard in both the Senate as well as the House. But Pawlenty and other Republicans don't like the Senate's effort to roll the Twins and Vikings stadium plans into one bill. That approach conflicts with the Twins stadium plan that the House has already approved.
Pawlenty's spokesman, Brian McClung, says the governor isn't working against the Vikings plan but would prefer to see separate up or down votes on each stadium bill.
"The House has passed a Gophers bill. The House has passed a Twins bill and the Senate could simply take up those bills and deal with them since they were already passed by the House. It shouldn't be that hard," according to the spokesman.
Supporters have been pushing for a new Twins ballpark, partly because the debate has lasted 11 years and partly because a recent court ruling allows the team to leave at the end of the season.
Twins Sports President Jerry Bell said the Senate's combination approach has prompted some nervousness on his part but was diplomatic when asked about the proposal.
"We would not foreclose any option that gets a ballpark built on acceptable terms," he said.
Some of the debate over stadium legislation for the Twins and the Vikings has gone on behind closed doors. When it comes to the Gophers stadium, the political maneuvering has been on public display. On Thursday, the Senate Taxes Committee defeated the committee chairman's stadium funding proposal, which involved a sports merchandise tax.
The chairman, Minneapolis DFLer Larry Pogemiller agreed to remove the tax. but perennial stadium opponent, DFLer John Marty joined with the Republicans and rejected the bill again.
Republicans say they aren't happy that Pogemiller is carrying the Gopher stadium bill. They say Republican Sen. Geoff Michel should receive the credit since he has done a lot of lobbying on it over the past two years.
Republican Sen. Bill Belanger of Bloomington says committee chair Larry Pogemiller unfairly took over the Gophers bill and is now paying the price.
"He's gotten into a box and he also has a problem with his caucus now because they told him when he wanted to bring this forward, 'don't screw it up,'" according to Belanger.
Pogemiller was obviously unhappy with the latest vote. Before recessing the committee, he said he received assurances that there would be the votes to pass the measure in committee.
"I'll just be public. There was an agreement to process the Gophers bill separately. The governor's office agreed. The votes aren't there," he said.
Pogemiller says he intends to continue hearings on all three stadium bills through the weekend. It could be a long weekend of tie votes since Republicans are intent on separate stadium legislation for the Vikings, the Twins and the Gophers. And they have the votes to continue to kill the bills as long as Sen. Marty continues to vote against any stadium plan.
- All Things Considered, 04/28/2006, 5:23 p.m.