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Monday, May 01, 2006

Senate Tax Committee Votes Unanimously to Require a Referendum for Twins Stadium Tax

From the Strib:

A key Senate committee dealt the proposed $522 million stadium for the Minnesota Twins a potentially fatal setback Monday, voting unanimously to require a referendum on whether the project should be financed with a sales-tax increase in Hennepin County.

But the surprising vote, which followed a four-day impasse by the Senate Taxes Committee, appeared to confuse the status of the Twins stadium proposal more than anything else. While referendum supporters hailed the vote as a "huge victory," others downplayed its significance and said it may have been the temporary result of ongoing political maneuvering.

The vote, however, was not a good omen for the Twins and Hennepin County, which have insisted that delaying the project to hold a referendum, coupled with doubts that the stadium could win approval in a countywide vote, make the stadium essentially unbuildable.

"I've been nervous the last four days since I got here," Jerry Bell, the chief Twins negotiator, said of the committee's continuing meetings. "We haven't seen the end of this."

Adding to the confusion is the fact that the panel is also considering new football stadiums for the Minnesota Vikings and the University of Minnesota.

On Monday, stadium supporters appeared worried again that the committee's inaction was erasing any momentum that the push for new stadiums had been gathering as this year's legislative session heads for adjournment.

An attempt Monday to move the university stadium proposal out of the committee and directly onto the Senate floor failed decisively.

"We had it all in place, and now we're trying to muck it all up," Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna, said in complaining of the committee's inactivity.

For the Twins, the political stalemate in the Senate is in sharp contrast to Wednesday, when the team's proposal won an eye-opening approval from the House that seemed to send the stadium project on its way to full passage.

Though the Senate Taxes Committee will possibly cast deciding votes today, what will emerge is largely unknown.

Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, said that he remained optimistic that a solution for all three stadium proposals would be found in the coming days and that his latest plan to finance both Twins and Vikings stadiums using a metrowide half-cent sales tax may have enough votes in the full Senate to pass.

He acknowledged, however, that he was unsure whether the proposal had enough votes in the Senate Taxes Committee. "We're still working on that," he said.

In the AP story, Hennepin County Commissioner, and negotiator for this boondoggle, Mike Opat said that if the Governor wants to save this proposal, he needs to get involved publicly:

But it would be deemed a state-imposed tax, which could be veto bait given Gov. Tim Pawlenty's no-new-tax pledge.

Opat said the predicament the Twins proposal now faces makes it critical that Pawlenty speak up and make his intentions known. Pawlenty has said he favors a referendum, but won't stand in the way if the final bill lacks one.

"He needs to say he supports our proposal," Opat said.

A spokesman for Pawlenty didn't immediately return messages.

I bet Governor Pawlenty of Tax Increases is trying to figure out what to do with this one.

Signing the bill to raise the Hennepin County local option sales tax will break Governor Pawlenty's no new taxes pledge which states that the pledge signer will: "oppose (and vote against/veto) any and all efforts to increase taxes." This doesn't say, state taxes only, it says "any and all efforts to increase taxes."

Write a letter to the editor at the Star Tribune to thank the Senate Tax Committee for doing the right thing for the Taxpayers. Then write the Senate Tax Committee to thank them.,,,,,,,,,,