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Minnesota panel rejects several stadium funding proposals


ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Key legislators dealt a devastating blow to prospects for a new Minnesota Twins stadium Tuesday by failing to endorse any funding proposals for a ballpark. The 18-member Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy, a bipartisan panel of House and Senate leaders, rejected a half dozen proposals during a 5-hour meeting. None of the ideas managed more than six votes.

The message seems to be that no method of public funding is acceptable to legislators who are just days away from a special session.

"I think Minnesotans are sick and tired of what's going on with professional sports," said Sen. Doug Johnson, DFL-Tower. "I think Minnesota should be the first state that says 'no,' we've had enough."

Twins owner Carl Pohlad has said he can't make a profit in the Metrodome and needs a new publicly subsidized ballpark to survive in the Twin Cities. He has a deal to sell the team to North Carolina businessman Don Beaver if the Legislature doesn't approve stadium funding by Nov. 30.

Johnson called Pohlad's tactics "blackmail."

The most popular proposal Tuesday was to pay for a ballpark with a mixture of user taxes; surcharges on tickets, player salaries, event parking and items sold in and around the stadium. The plan also included a car rental tax, a special sports lottery and a tax on licensed professional sports clothing and merchandise.

The tax on sports clothing appeared to doom that proposal, which failed on a 6-11 vote.

"Are we going down the road to having a sales tax on clothing?" asked House Majority Leader Ted Winter, DFL-Fulda. "Is this the start of a slippery slope?"

The commission rejected 12-5 the idea of raising money from slot machines at Canterbury Park.

Among the other defeated proposals were plans to use state lottery money and to sell the Metrodome to the Twins and Vikings for one dollar.

The commission's actions might have repercussions for a proposal to get the state to foot half the bill for a $130 million St. Paul hockey arena.

Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, who sponsored two of the defeated proposals, said Sen. Richard Cohen and Rep. Steve Trimble, both St. Paul DFLers, didn't do anything for hockey's cause when they voted against the baseball proposals.

"We had two legislators from St. Paul at the table who voted against a stadium ... who are now going to ask my constituents to pay for an arena. I don't think I'm going to buy into that one," said Moe, DFL-Erskine.

The commission's action Tuesday has procedural implications as well as the political ones.

The special session will begin Thursday without a main bill for legislators to consider and amend. The lack of a single vehicle might make for a parliamentary morass that could make it difficult for lawmakers to complete their work in the week legislative leaders say they're shooting for.