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Committee deadline passes, but stadium bills still alive
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State Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, introduced a Vikings stadium bill this week. He says he recognizes that stadium bills have to wait in line during the legislative session. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Tuesday marks the first committee deadline of the 2005 legislative session. Bills had to clear all the necessary policy committees in either the House or the Senate by the end of the day. Those that don't face much tougher odds of survival, and that includes two high-profile proposals that haven't even had a hearing. Legislation to build new Twins and Vikings stadiums was just introduced in the last few days. Supporters say there's still time to push through the stadium proposals.

St. Paul, Minn. — State Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, introduced his Vikings bill just this week, making it virtually impossible for it to meet the first deadline. He says legislative leaders made it clear that stadium bills would have to wait in line.

"Even if the bills had been introduced earlier, they weren't going to be taking any action on them until the other budget issues were done. And that's the way it ought to be," says Betzold.

Betzold's bill would split the cost of a new Vikings stadium between Anoka County, the team and the state. Betzold says the state's portion would come from a portion of the sales and income taxes generated in or around the new ballpark.

Betzold believes there is some urgency to the matter. The Vikings Metrodome lease is up in 2011, and Betzold says that doesn't allow much time for design and construction of a new stadium.

But Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum believes the Twins stadium proposal that started moving through the House last session ranks higher on the priority list, in part because of the financing.

"First of all, we have a funding mechanism which works without using general fund money," says Sviggum. "I think that's important to be able to look at that, and then the Vikings have that contract until the year 2011."

Sviggum says he's not opposed to either stadium, as long as it doesn't use any general fund money. The Twins bill, introduced by Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, last week, doesn't specify a funding source or a location. Kelley says he wanted to introduce the placeholder bill to make sure stadiums remained on the Legislature's radar.

(Stadiums are) not the most important thing on the agenda. But what, if anything, we can do on stadiums this year should be on the agenda somewhere.
- State Sen. Steve Kelley, sponsor of Twins stadium bill

"They're not the most important thing on the agenda," Kelley acknowledges. "Education, health care, public safety are at the top of the agenda. But what, if anything, we can do on stadiums this year should be on the agenda somewhere."

Kelley says missing the first committee deadline isn't a major setback. He says the bill could always bypass the normal deadlines if legislative leaders support it.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, a co-sponsor of Kelley's bill, was noncommittal about the prospects for stadium plans.

"Don't just consider them buried and dead for this session. Again on the other side, I'm not saying yes, that they're going to be moved along," says Johnson.

While new ballparks for the Twins and Vikings remain in legislative limbo, a bill for a new football stadium for the University of Minnesota easily met the first deadline. It sailed through committees in both the House and Senate.

The bill's Senate sponsor, Geoff Michel, R-Edina, says there's broad support for a new Gophers stadium.

"I think people believe that this is our team, this is our university -- as opposed to an outstate owner, as opposed to a professional league," he says.

Michel says he thinks the Gophers stadium will pass this year, unless there's complete partisan gridlock and the Legislature fails to get its work done. For his part, Sen. Kelley says there's no guarantee lawmakers will avoid last year's gridlock.

"I'm not sure I'm predicting positive results for anything this year," Kelley says.

Even if lawmakers do have a productive session, there's no guarantee the Twins and Vikings stadium proposals will make any more progress than they have in years past.