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Another special session for stadium issue?
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Under one proposal, the state would pay 40 percent of the $235 million stadium for the University of Minnesota. Private funding and student fees would pay the rest. (Gopphers stadium committee)
State lawmakers return to the state Capitol on Wednesday with the hope of passing four budget bills and adjourning the seven-week-old special session. Legislative leaders and Gov. Pawlenty have negotiated a budget deal that would increase funding for education, preserve eligibility for MinnesotaCare recipients and raise taxes on cigarettes by 75 cents a pack. But new stadiums for the Twins and the University of Minnesota are absent from the deal.

Stadium supporters say they're disappointed. They are encouraging the governor and legislative leaders to act on stadium bills soon or call another special session.

St. Paul, Minn. — The first special session isn't even over yet, but some lawmakers and lobbyists are already calling for an encore. That's because several non-budgetary issues won't get a vote this week.

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says lawmakers have no appetite to take on those issues after a long, drawn-out budget battle led to a special session and a partial government shutdown.

Sviggum says he thinks Gov. Pawlenty would be willing to call a second special session to address several issues including stadiums for the University of Minnesota and the Twins.

"If I were going to lay some odds, I'd lay some odds saying the governor would have some interest in doing so," says Sviggum. "The reasons for both the Gopher and baseball issues are that they are somewhat timely. The deals that have been brought together depend upon some action in a certain period of time."

A spokesman for the governor's office said it's possible that he would call a special session if there's pre-agreement on what issues would be dealt with.

Others say lawmakers should address the stadium issues now. Republican Sen. Geoff Michel of Edina is a key backer of a new University of Minnesota football stadium. Under his proposal, the state would pay 40 percent of the $235 million stadium. Private funding and student fees would pay the rest.

Michel says he's urging legislative leaders to allow a vote on his proposal this week.

"Why would we want to come back for a special session? Why would things get any easier for legislators after being here for seven months so far? I don't think there will be a special session. We're here. Let's do them now," Michel says.

Michel and the University of Minnesota's Richard Pfutzenreuter say there's an urgency to getting the Gopher stadium issue resolved. Pfutzenreuter says the school's $35 million naming rights contract with TCF Bank expires at the end of the year. He also says delaying a vote will increase costs and force them to push back the project a year.

"I know how difficult it is for them to get to this, but promising to do it later isn't very comforting later either, when they promised that they'd do it now," Pfutzenreuter says.

While university officials are pushing for a quick vote on their bill, Twins stadium supporters are hopeful a special session will be called to help their cause.

The plan for a new Twins ballpark in downtown Minneapolis does not require state funding. But it needs legislative approval so Hennepin County can raise a local sales tax to pay for the stadium. The county wants to impose a tax amounting to three cents on a $20 purchase made in the county.

The total cost of the project is $478 million. The Twins plan on kicking in $125 million. Twins stadium point man Jerry Bell says lawmakers need to address the issue this year, or the deal with Hennepin County could fall apart.

"We're reasonably certain that we have the votes. It's not rocket science, it's a fairly simple straightforward deal. You either authorize the county to implement the tax or not," says Bell. "The state doesn't have any money in it, so there's no negotiations for the state to be involved in it. You simply vote it up or down."

Opponents of the Twins stadium say the issue isn't that simple. They argue a countywide vote is needed to see if Hennepin County residents are willing to pay the tax.

Minnetonka attorney John Knight, who has been a vocal opponent to the Twins stadium legislation, says Gov. Pawlenty should not call a special session for a new ballpark.

"The thought of having a special session on this is ridiculous," Knight says. "Special sessions are for emergencies, not for billion-dollar tax increases for a narrow special interest. I also think there's a bad hangover from this special session."

The Vikings are also watching legislative activity closely. They want lawmakers to create an interim stadium authority to study if a new Vikings stadium would work in Anoka County.