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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Stadium Boondoggle Update

Kate Parry, the Reader's Representative asks why no Minnesota Poll this year:

Strib Editorial Writer Lori Sturdevant seems to think the Stadium Boondoggle faces one more hurdle in the Senate.

This is a rare year when the Star Tribune is not conducting a Minnesota Poll during the legislative session. In a perfectly bad bit of timing, the Pioneer Press hasn't published a statewide poll about public issues so far this year either.

The result is a muffling of the sentiments of the average citizen during the session, when debates on stadiums, immigration and the amendment to ban gay marriage and its "legal equivalent" would sure be enriched by knowing what the taxpayers think. Although there are old polls available on those topics, opinions can change in a year. Those old data don't wield the same clout at the Capitol as a fresh poll on what Minnesotans think. . . .

The lack of polls is another matter. If the newspapers don't do statewide polls, there is no one who steps in to fill the void -- in print or online.

Part of this is because polls are expensive. To do them right means an investment of time to craft unbiased questions and sampling carefully designed to get at the truth and not merely a desired answer. There are internal polls conducted by political parties, interest groups and lobbyists, but their methodology can be questionable and their questions sometimes are intended to elicit the response they want -- which is why newspapers often don't publish those polls.

Most years, the Star Tribune conducts a poll toward the beginning of the legislative session, when Capitol reporters make their best guesses at what the top issues will be. This gives lawmakers guidance about what the voters want in case they want to hold onto their jobs in the next election. Then, about a month before adjournment, the paper conducts another poll when the true issues become clear.

This year, the paper had a spring poll planned, according to editor Anders Gyllenhaal. But it was delayed as editors worked on a plan to "expand the poll and invite partners into the paper's polling to give it more reach." That planning continues, but a poll during the session appears unlikely.

"This particular set of circumstances set it back," Gyllenhaal said. A full schedule of polls is planned later this year, with a major election coming in the fall.

I'm missing the Minnesota Poll most this session around the stadium issue. For years, as well-paid lobbyists and team owners weighed in at the Capitol, citizens have roared back via polls that they don't want to spend public money on stadiums for wealthy ballplayers and team owners. I can't remember an issue where the Minnesota public has sent such a clear and unequivocal message through the years.

But here we are in a session with no poll and suddenly the bills to build stadiums appear to be on a fast track.

Not giving Minnesotans the usual chance to weigh in on the stadium debate looks particularly bad for this newspaper when it has so consistently supported stadium deals on its editorial page.

A poll isn't a moneymaker for a newspaper. It's an expensive piece of public service. But it's one of those investments in our community that sets the business of newspapers apart from most other businesses.

There's still time to conduct a quick poll before the gavel comes down and the deals are done. I hope the newspaper changes its mind and gives the people the voice they deserve.

The Readers Representative is finally doing something to represent the readers.

The Senate has traditionally smiled on megabuck capital projects like stadiums. With Johnson in the leader's seat, the Senate should be the easier sell for stadium proponents.

But within the Senate DFL caucus abides a core of bitterness over the fact that Gov. Tim Pawlenty, running as a stadium opponent, defeated then-Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, a stadium supporter, for governor in 2002. The DFLers so afflicted won't let Pawlenty win one or two, let alone three, stadiums without trying to make him squirm first.

So, those of us on stadium politics watch are keeping an eye on Sen. Larry Pogemiller and the drama he directs in the Senate tax committee. Look for a move there to alter the proposals' financing. These are state facilities, he will argue, and should be paid for with an increase in state taxes.

And then look to see if Johnson and the rest of the Senate are more interested in irritating the governor or building some ballparks.

I oppose public funding/financing for professional sports. However, if the state is going to do this, I much prefer a statewide tax rather than sticking this to the Hennepin County Taxpayer.