Senate to vote on 2 stadiums, referendum

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA and DANE SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 2, 2006 - 11:43 PM

A plan for a 7-county sales tax for Twins and Vikings stadiums - and a referendum - emerged after maneuvering on Tuesday.

Following a tumultuous day of meetings and maneuverings, a new plan to finance stadiums for the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings that would require a seven-county referendum on a metrowide sales tax won a surprising victory Tuesday and is now headed to a full Senate vote.

The proposal brought immediate criticism from Gov. Tim Pawlenty's office and drew only a tepid response from the Twins. Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, who was at the center of the day's events, nonetheless promised a full Senate vote as early as Thursday.

The proposal almost certainly sets up a showdown between the DFL-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House over competing plans to build as many as three sports stadiums in what has become a dominating legislative issue.

"Our goal and objective is to move forward the stadium debate," said Johnson, DFL-Willmar. Though he acknowledged that the Twins would be reluctant to support the proposal because the team does not want a referendum, Johnson said he opposes a referendum and said he expects that there will be a move on the Senate floor to remove the referendum requirement.

Johnson and Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, the proposal's author, said a half-cent metrowide sales tax was a move to package the differing stadium proposals and also to build two stadiums for less money than they would cost taxpayers separately. The plan, in addition, would provide hundreds of millions of dollars over time for transportation projects.

The plan would limit public spending on a Twins stadium, which would include a retractable roof, at $475 million, and it would help issue up to $510 million in public money for a Vikings stadium.

The Twins would contribute $130 million, plus 25 percent of the cost of a roof. The Vikings stadium, with a fixed or retractable roof and $115 million for offsite infrastructure, would require at least $280 million from the team.

The sales tax, which would be levied indefinitely, would raise an estimated $219 million in 2007, and as it now stands would require a complicated referendum in all seven metro counties -- Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington.

But stadium opponents, Republicans and many other critics spent the day opposing the quick turn of events in the Senate. The plan, they said, is both an attempt to complicate, and ultimately stall, legislative action on the Twins and Vikings stadiums and also to force Pawlenty, who supports a Twins stadium, to possibly have to block a plan that would build it using a metro-wide sales tax.

Still other opponents said the plan would push the state on an ambitious, and largely undebated, path to funding large-scale transportation projects. Not only would half the money raised by the metrowide sales tax initially go to transportation projects, but all of the sales tax proceeds would go to transportation once the two stadiums were paid for.

"I can't believe we're doing this," said Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna. "This is a charade."

The day's political drama began when the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, led by Johnson, took an unusual vote to move a Twins stadium proposal out of the Senate Taxes Committee. The move came one day after that committee voted unanimously that any plan to build a Twins stadium should face a referendum, which would potentially cripple the plan. Twins officials have long opposed a referendum, citing the added time one would take and the possibility that the stadium plan would be defeated.

Only a week ago, the House narrowly voted to remove the referendum requirement from a plan that would build a $522 million Twins stadium using a 0.15 percent sales tax increase in Hennepin County. But that plan, and a separate proposal to build a new football stadium for the University of Minnesota, spent most of Tuesday on the sidelines.

With the Senate Taxes Committee deadlocked on competing stadium plans, Johnson said he had little choice but to remove the Twins' proposal from the committee and combine it with a Vikings stadium plan.

Brian McClung, the governor's spokesman, was skeptical. "The primary problem is that the Senate bill does not build a stadium," he said.

Stadium critics, meanwhile, were angry with Tuesday's maneuvering. "I'm astonished by the bold-faced arrogance of it," said Dann Dobson of the No Stadium Tax Coalition.

Twins and Vikings officials were more muted.

Jerry Bell, the Twins' chief stadium negotiator, said that, despite the referendum requirement, he was somewhat pleased with the maneuvering. "There are many more steps in this process," Bell said. "I'd rather be on the Senate floor than in the tax committee."

For the Vikings, the metrowide sales tax plan would boost the team's stadium chances. "It's not our idea, but it's a plan that would work," said Steve Novak, a lead negotiator for Anoka County on the Vikings stadium. • 612-673-4388 • 651-292-0164

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