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Stadium negotiations begin today

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ST. PAUL -- Stadium wars begin in earnest today as legislative negotiators sit down to work out a professional sports facilities construction plan.

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As the serious talks begin, the Vikings were going back to the drawing board on their stadium proposal. Also, a parliamentary glitch left a University of Minnesota football stadium in limbo.

The sponsor of the House Twins baseball park bill, Rep. Brad Finstad, said he planned to stand firm against several provisions in a Senate-passed stadium bill. The New Ulm Republican pledged to fight folding the Vikings proposal in the Twins measure, requiring a public referendum for raising sales tax, paying for transit programs from the same tax that funds stadiums and implementing a higher sales tax throughout the Twin Cities.

"There is not much compromise room," Finstad said.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said senators were moving closer to House proposals.

The primary division between the House and Senate professional stadium measures is that the Senate authorizes construction of both Twins and Vikings stadiums. The House only has passed a Twins bill, while a Vikings stadium bill remains stalled in committee.

Meanwhile, the Vikings are working on a new proposal, Finstad said. Team officials have not told him what they plan, but Finstad said he is not receptive to anything that could hurt a Twins ballpark proposal. The Vikings apparently retreated after Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he did not want to authorize a stadium for them because the plan left too many questions unanswered.

The Twins faced more than 50 hours of House committee hearings, with more than 150 amendments debated. Just one House committee has heard the Vikings proposal, but a pair of Senate committees looked at it.

House and Senate negotiators - which include Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead - plan to work most of today. There are no plans to meet over the weekend.

Finstad said there is a concern that the legislative session's top priority - funding public works projects - will pass early next week and lawmakers could go home for the year before the Twins ballpark bill is ready.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, agreed with Pawlenty that the Vikings' plan is not ready. Sviggum also predicted the Vikings don't have enough votes in the House.

The Twins propose to build a downtown Minneapolis ballpark and the Vikings want a new stadium in Anoka County. Both play home games at the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, but say they cannot make enough money there.

The Senate proposed providing some financing for the two stadiums from a 0.5 percentage point increase in Twin Cities' sales tax, if voters there approve it. The House Twins bill would slightly raise Hennepin County sales taxes, but without need for a public vote.

The $248 million University of Minnesota stadium issue remained unresolved Thursday because the House and Senate passed different bills that due to parliamentary rules cannot be sent to a conference committee for negotiations. Legislative leaders were looking into how the solve the problem.

The House would help fund the Gophers' stadium with the state paying the university $9.4 million a year, while getting 2,800 acres of park land in return. Senators approved funding the stadium with a 13 percent tax on licensed sporting goods.

Don Davis can be reached at ddavis@forumcomm.com or (651) 290-0707.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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