Metro-wide tax, Vikings, and transportation projects now part of Twins bill
Leaders of the Minnesota Senate have abandoned the Minnesota Twins' approach to financing a new ballpark. Instead the DFL-controlled Senate is pushing a plan that would use a new sales tax in the Twin Cities to finance new stadiums not only for the Twins, but for the Minnesota Vikings as well, and provide funding for transportation projects. That measure is on its way to a vote by the full Senate after a powerful committee yanked the Twins bill out of a deadlocked tax committee. Critics called the move political shenanigans.
St. Paul, Minn. — The Minnesota Senate is poised to pass a stadium bill for the Minnesota Twins, but it's doubtful the other players at the Capitol will support it. In a day of political maneuvering, Senate DFLers took the unusual step of removing the Twins bill from the Senate Taxes Committee and sent it to the Rules Committee. The Rules Committee, which is controlled by senior DFLers, then dramatically overhauled the bill.
The proposal used to include a Hennepin County sales tax to finance a stadium for the Twins. Now the measure relies on a half-percent sales tax in the seven-county metro area. The money would be used to build two retractable-roof stadiums, one for the Twins, the other for the Vikings, and it would fund mass transit. Voters would have to approve the tax.
DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson says he expects a full Senate vote on the proposal later this week.
"We're kind of taking it a vote at a time, a step at a time, to hopefully get these initiatives in a conference committee," Johnson said.
Johnson says Senate DFLers removed the bill from the Taxes Committee because that panel has been wrangling over stadium legislation for five straight days.
Critics, including one DFLer, howled at the move. Sen. John Marty of Roseville, a longstanding stadium opponent, says funding for health care, early childhood education and education aren't given such preferential treatment.
"We never pull those bills out because we're having trouble getting the votes in committee. But this one, despite all of the nay-saying on how it's not the highest priority, it's being treated like it. They greased the skids and they're getting it through," Marty said.
Republicans weren't happy either. Senate Minority Leader Dick Day accused Senate DFLers not of giving the stadiums preferential treatment, but of trying to kill the bill by including a metro-wide sales tax. He has been pushing for a full Senate vote on the legislation that passed the House. That bill allows Hennepin County to implement a sales tax without voter approval.
Day says House Republicans and Gov. Pawlenty, who has signed a no-new-taxes pledge, would never agree to the new Senate plan.
"If they put these two bills together, it's dead," according to Day. "If they put a tax on it. They'll blame it on the governor and that's fine but guys like me... my grandkids and kids won't be able to see a Twins game and I won't be able to see that."
Gov. Pawlenty's office issued a two-sentence statement saying the Senate action doesn't build a stadium and calls on Minnesotans to ask Senate DFLers how it gets the job done.
Senate DFLers counter that their proposal pays off both stadiums by 2014, two decades before the Hennepin County plan and with far less total expense. Chief Senate author Steve Kelley says the plan would also provide millions of dollars for transit projects throughout the metropolitan area.
"I still believe that a half-cent metro-wide sales tax that gets both stadiums behind us and is a superior solution to the Twins/Hennepin County bill," Kelley said.
Kelley says he would support the Hennepin County plan if lawmakers reject his latest proposal. Twins Sports Inc., President Jerry Bell says it's good news that the bill was taken out of the unfriendly Taxes Committee and is ready for a full Senate vote. He's cautiously optimistic that a ballpark will be approved in the end.
"There's a lot more steps to this process. There will be amendments to the Senate floor. There will be Senate floor votes. There's likely to be a conference committee, so we have not seen the latest chapter by any means yet," said Bell.
But Bell says there are several problems with Kelley's latest proposal. In particular, he says Gov. Pawlenty is likely to oppose the metro sales tax. Bell also says the Twins don't support a seven-county voter referendum.
In what could be a political first, Bell's longtime opponent on stadium legislation agrees with Bell that there are problems with the Senate DFL plan. Dann Dobson, with the No Stadium Coalition, called the metro sales tax a "huge tax increase with no public accountability."
"I would expect people in Ramsey, Scott, Dakota and Washington will be outraged. The way they tried to sweeten the deal is by saying there's going to be a large component for mass transit. If senators want mass transit, they should do it separately," he said.
It's likely that Dobson will be busy again on Wednesday, speaking out against taxpayer money for stadiums. On top of the Senate's dramatic moves on Tuesday, a committee in the Minnesota House will consider an Anoka County sales tax proposal to fund a Vikings stadium in Blaine.