Senate passes stadium bills for Twins, Gophers, and Vikingsby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
The Minnesota Senate has passed legislation that would spend more than $1.1 billion in taxes for stadiums for the Twins, Vikings and the University of Minnesota football team. In a short debate, the Senate passed a bill for an on-campus football stadium for the University of Minnesota and a bill that builds a Minneapolis home for the Twins and a Vikings stadium in Blaine. The action doesn't mean construction can start, since the Senate has to negotiate their differences with the House.
St. Paul, Minn. — The DFL-controlled Senate passed the stadium related bills in about two hours; less time than a baseball or football game. DFL Sen. Steve Kelley says the Senate action puts lawmakers one step closer to putting the stadium debate behind them at the Capitol.
Over the past decade, the Twins, the Vikings and the Gophers have come to the Legislature asking for new homes. Kelley's bill addresses stadiums for the Vikings and Twins and also funds transportation projects.
"I'd like us to be past this whole stadium debate so we concentrate our attention on education, health care and other issues and, boy, if we can make a commitment on transit right now, that would be important to the metropolitan area," Kelley said during the floor debate on Tuesday.
The Senate passed Kelley's bill and a bill for an on-campus stadium for the University of Minnesota by one-vote margins. Every Republican voted against the plans, saying they prefer legislation that already passed the Republican-controlled House.
The House and Senate now have to reconcile their different approaches in conference committees. On the Senate floor, Senate Minority Leader Dick Day of Owatonna scolded his DFL counterparts for taking different approaches to financing the stadiums. House Republicans, Gov. Pawlenty and the teams preferred different plans. "You're betting on that there's a conference committee that's going solve it all for you because you can't take the Senate floor, so you want to turn it over to 10 other people," Day said.
The different stadium plans work like this: the Senate passed a bill that relies on a half-cent sales tax in the metropolitan area to fund retractable-roof stadiums for the Twins and Vikings, and funds transportation projects. It would require voter approval.
The House passed a Twins plan that relies on a Hennepin County sales tax to pay for a Twins ballpark. It doesn't require voter approval. The House has not passed a plan that would finance a stadium for the Vikings.
Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum called the Senate approach "a strikeout," saying his caucus will never support the metro-wide sales tax.
"Their bill does not get the job done," according to Sviggum. "Their bill would not pass here. I bet the Democratic bill... doesn't have a handful of votes here on the House floor."
The House also takes a different approach on financing an on-campus football stadium for the University of Minnesota. The House approach allows the U of M to collect naming rights money, increase student fees and swap land with the state of Minnesota to pay for its portion of the stadium. In exchange, the House bill would provide up to $9.4 million a year in future general fund revenue to cover the state's portion of the $248 million stadium.
The Senate bill strips away the student fees, the naming rights deal and the land swap. Instead, it would rely on a sports merchandise tax to cover the state's $12.9 million a year cost. It's a 13-percent tax on the wholesale level, which would equate to a 6-percent tax on the retail level.
DFL Sen. Larry Pogemiller of Minneapolis says he prefers the Senate approach because it won't take away from other state programs in the future. Pogemiller argues that most people wouldn't even notice the tax when they buy a shirt or hat.
"Today on a Vikings memorabilia game-day jersey, it's $285. Do you think a person making that kind of purchase cares about an extra 6.5 percent? I doubt it," Pogemiller said.
The Senate also passed a provision that would name the Gopher stadium in honor of veterans. DFLer Jim Vickerman said the proposal won't generate the $35 million that the U would receive in a naming-rights deal with TCF Bank, but he argues it makes a powerful statement.
"I know, members, that there's not money coming with this. But you can't put a handle, you can't put money on what veterans have done in this state -- what they've done to help us," Vickerman said.
Gov. Pawlenty said he didn't like what the Senate did with the Gopher bill, especially adding a memorabilia tax and deleting the naming-rights deal.
"The Senate has added a statewide tax to pay for the bill and has deleted a significant private donation, which is unwise. The bill in its current form will not be signed into law," Pawlenty vowed.
Officials with the Twins, the Vikings and the Gophers say they're pleased that the Senate has passed bills that build them stadiums. They're hopeful that the conference committee will negotiate deals that are to their liking. Lawmakers have less than two weeks to reach a compromise before the session ends.
- All Things Considered, 05/09/2006, 5:18 p.m.