Twins Stadium Chaos (Part 2.5)

We're on the final debate for the bill in the Senate. Members will make their final comments, and after that, we head to a full vote.

It was surprising that the amendments we not more controvertial. Of those that passed, one banned smoking on both stadiums, two were purely technical, and the final one dealt with a study of the impact that the convention center bundled with the Vikings stadium would have on comparable facilities around the metro. No one tried to split the stadiums, pull the referendum, or tack something onto the bill and kill it.

Senator Marty would be in good company amongst the writers on the Hardball Times (and elsewhere online) who question the sanity of those who advocate no public funding of stadiums. He offered an amendment that failed that would have, well, I'll just copy over the thrust of it:

"It is further found and declared that when public funds are expended for professional sports facilities, taxpayers are subsidizing a private business venture and the public deserves to receive the financial gains from its portion of the funds invested."

The final passage vote is up right now, and it squeaked by at 34 to 32. This doesn't mean the fun is over though, because now we move to conference committee and try to craft a bill that will pass both bodies and get past the Governor. There's a long way to go, but for those of us sick of watching baseball inside of that concrete monstrosity, this allows for that possibility sometime in the not too distant future.

Updates as they hit, from the Capitol.

Twins Stadium Chaos (Part 2.01)

The Twins Stadium bill has officially hit the floor, in the form that includes a retractable roof, a Vikings stadium and entertainment complex, transit funding and it's almost all paid for by a half-cent sales tax increase on the seven county Minneapolis / St. Paul area, which would have to pass a referendum.

I'll update as I can with pertinent amendments and votes. Stay tuned.


Twins Stadium Chaos (Part 1.5)

While I reported on Tuesday the 2nd of May that the Senate could likely have passed the Twins / Vikings bill on Wednesday the 3rd, they proved how unpredictable they really are, declining to take the bill before the end of the week. Our best information is that there will be a full vote on the floor on Monday, but as with everything here, it's up for negotiation.

The Senate also has the clock to contend with. The last possible day the Senate can meet is the 22nd of May, and due to the way the constitution for the Senate operates, the last day it's possible to pass legislation is the 21st of May. That's precious little time to pass the bill off the Senate floor, reconcile the radically different Senate bill with the House bill, and craft a piece of legislation that will pass a House body with a two seat (out of 134) Republican majority, a Senate body with a nine seat (out of 67) DFL majority, and a Republican Govenor who signed a pledge not to raise taxes.

Worst of all, if these don't pass this year, the cost is going to jump which might require restructuring the deal, and the earliest it could come up again is January 2007, when the legislation would have to be reintroduced and start the process from the very begining.

So the most I can say at this point is that on Monday we'll know more, and hopefully be a step closer to moving the Twins out of the worst stadium in baseball. Expect a full update after we get out Monday. Keep your fingers crossed.


Twins Stadium Chaos (Part 1)

Well, as a few of you loyal readers might know, I worked in the Minnesota Senate last year, and I'm back again, having moved up a few floors. We've had a lot of movement on the Twins stadium this session, and a week ago it looked like it was a done deal.

But a little background before I go too far. The original Twins Stadium bill incorporated both private and public funding, the bulk of of the funding coming from a 0.15 percent sales tax on Hennepin county. As you can imagine, both those for the stadium and against it are A) incredibly passionate and B) almost always uninformed about the relevant economic theories. There are any number of sites where you can read commentary and analysis on how ballparks can be funded, my personal favorite being the Business of Baseball report at The Hardball Times. I don't have anything blazingly original to say on that subject; I haven't discovered a secret revenue stream that ballparks create; I haven't found some seedy loophole in the negotiations. But what I can give you is an inside look on the process by which the State of Minnesota is attmpeting to pass this controvertial bill.

Governor Tim Pawlenty, who is notorious for his "no new taxes" pledge had agreed to sign the bill into law. His lack of public profile on this issue has been a matter of speculation, but the safest bet seems to be that he wants to avoid this controversy so close to his run for reelection. It was then assumed widely that once the bill passed the House on April 26th, it would sail through the Senate and the Twins would no longer be doomed to the worst stadium in all baseball.

No one saw it coming. Taxes started hearing all three stadium bills (U of Minnesota Gophers Football, Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings) on the 27th and that night in committee, everything changed. The Chair of the Tax Committee, Senator Pogemiller, announced a plan to fund the Twins Stadium with a retractable roof (which was not included in the original bill), the Vikings Stadium and various transit and highway projects with a seven county half-cent sales tax increase. The author of the original Senate Bill, Senator Steve Kelley, agreed to the amendment. This has not yet left taxes, and hasn't even been voted on, due to procedural technicalities (The Vikings bill is still in another committee, so it cannot be amended into the Twins bill).

This easily trumped the original controversey over whether or not there would be a referendum on the 0.15 sales tax increase in Hennepin county. This, however, is still an issue, as the Senate Tax Committee voted unanimously in support of a public referendum in their May 1st meeting.

Throughout the day on May 2nd, there actions were taken that further muddied the waters. After the Senate had finished everything on its slate, Senator Dean Johnson moved that the Senate go into recess rather than adjourning until the next day, which was what everyone expected. He said that the Senate would reconvene after a newly declared meeting of the Rules Committee, which he chairs.

We spent the rest of that day in speculation. Would Rules add or remove a member to the Tax Committee to break the deadlock? Would they take the bill from the Tax Committee and hear it themselves? Would it die in committee, or on a vote on the floor of the Senate.

Well, Rules did remove the bill from the Tax Committee, a version that included only funding for the Twins and had a .15 percent sales tax for Hennepin County. After that it was immediately ammended to take the Quasimodo-like form we'd seen in takes; a half-cent from the seven county metro area for the Twins and Vikings (and transit funding once both projects were paid for). The vote in committee was close, but still had breathing room. The action on the floor was a different story.

The simple procedure of adopting a committee report, an action that occurs any time a bill moves from one committee to another, turned into a firefight. If this would have failed, the bill would have gone back to the deadlock in the Tax COmmittee. The debate was fierce, with call for the subject of the vote to be clearly stated by Senator Johnson so that the media and the people of Minnesota could "know what he was up to." There were pleas for funding for homelessness, health care and education by Senators from both sides of the aisle. In the end, it survived on a 33 to 29 vote, with a number of Senators asking to be excused.

The Senate still wasn't finished. Senator Johnson recessed the Senate, and called the Rules Committee to reconvene "immediately after" recess. The Rules Committee then voted to send the new Twins / Vikings bill to the floor of the Senate, and as soon as that was done, the Rules Committee adjourned and Johnson reconvened the full Senate. Every bill requires a 'second reading,' basically the second time that a bill is formally recognized by the Senate, when it has cleared all necessary committees. This means that the bill could be voted on as soon as tomorrow.

This morning, no one thought the Twins stadium would even be voted on in Taxes, and now this bill could pass the Senate in 12 hours time. Even if it does pass, however, this story is by no means over; the Senate bill differs significantly from the House bill, and from what the Governor had promised to sign.

We've got a long way to go, sports fans, so stay tuned.