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Stadium bill enters tough stretch

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) If Monday's hearing was any sign, the Twins and Vikings are in for a tough week as they try to persuade the House Taxes Committee to keep stadium legislation on track.

The committee set a decidedly negative tone in the first of several hearings this week on the stadium bill. The vote on a bill authorizing new baseball and football stadiums probably won't come until Thursday or Friday.

The panel's chairman, Republican Rep. Ron Abrams of Minnetonka, was the chief skeptic, saying the plan crafted by Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration had "fundamental flaws" and hinting it must undergo considerable changes to advance.

He distributed a legal analysis concluding that the bill would require three-fifths votes in each chamber for approval instead of a simple majority because of the way the bond issue is structured. The higher hurdle could prove insurmountable, especially in the House.

Abrams also raised concerns about the bill taking too much negotiating power away from the Legislature.

Under Pawlenty's plan, private interests would be responsible for at least a third of the total cost. The bill offers a menu of possible sources for the public's share, but leaves the specific financing details for discussion after a plan clears the Legislature.

There's no guarantee a stadium bill will even get a final vote, though. A stare-down between the GOP-controlled House and DFL-led Senate on the budget could dash the teams' stadium dreams.

Legislative leaders aren't inclined to sign off on a stadium plan until they reach a budget agreement that eliminates a $160 million projected deficit. With three weeks to go in the 2004 session, leaders are still fighting over the parameters for budget talks and haven't begun to touch on policy differences.

Rep. Tom Pugh, a supporter of past stadium bills, said legislators couldn't go home for the year having approved new professional sports stadiums but leaving the budget unresolved.

"It would feel funny for most legislators and perhaps look bad to the public," said Pugh, DFL-South St. Paul.

Much of Monday's tax committee hearing was about setting the stage for discussion and amendments later in the week.

The committee reviewed case studies from several stadiums built around the country in the last decade, sizing up the public and private shares in each.

Since 1991, new baseball parks have averaged a public subsidy of 71 percent. That tally doesn't include the St. Louis Cardinals, which broke ground this year on a new $388 million ballpark requiring 77 percent private participation.

In football, the average public subsidy for construction is about 64 percent.

As envisioned, the Vikings stadium would cost about $600 million and the Twins field would run about $535 million. Both would be among the most costly built for their sports.

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