Sen. John Marty says it's better to go with the devil you know than the devil you don't. The Roseville DFLer is one of the most vocal critics of taxpayer funding for sports stadiums. He has repeatedly voted against a plan that would finance an on-campus football stadium for the University of Minnesota.
Marty said the multi-million-dollar-a-year state commitment could be better spent on health care and schools. But Marty says he switched his vote when he learned that Taxes Committee Chair Larry Pogemiller was negotiating with Republican members to get them to switch their votes.
"I still think the bill is too much money for what it's worth. I don't think this is a wise decision to do but they had the votes and I do think this bill is more responsible than the House bill," Marty said.
The House Bill pays for the stadium out of the state's general fund.
The proposal the Senate Taxes Committee finally approved relies on a 13-percent tax on sports memorabilia to pay for the state's portion of the stadium. It amounts to about $13 million a year. Over the past week Marty had joined every Republican on the committee to defeat the memorabilia tax.
Efforts to approve the bill without the tax failed when Republicans complained that instead of Republican Sen. Geoff Michel, not Sen. Pogemiller, should be the chief author of the bill because he'd worked on the issue for two years.
Pogemiller, who has been under fire over his approach to stadium legislation, was relieved when the committee finally approved the stadium bill. He characterized the past week as a "stadium nightmare" when he adjourned his committee.
"There's been difficult days in the tax committee related to this and we just have too many members that want to build things without paying for them... I'm not very enthusiastic about stadiums, but at least this one is paid for and is being for in a fair manner," he said.
Pogemiller has criticized the House plan. That measure involves a $9.4 million annual state payment. Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, a Republican from Owatonna, says his caucus will provide no support for the DFL Senate plan because it spends even more taxpayer money.
"It's DOA on arrival and I will tell you $12.9 million on the floor. It's a major problem for this," Day said.
Other Republicans criticized the sports merchandise tax. Republican Warren Limmer of Maple Grove says the tax is too large and too broad to be earmarked for one U of M stadium.
"You've got taxes on Vikings products, you've got taxes on baseball products and NBA products, and it all goes for just the narrow focus of paying for a college stadium," Limmer said.
Officials with the University of Minnesota say it's a postive sign that the bill is out of the Taxes Committee and is moving to the Senate floor.
The Senate is scheduled to vote on bills to finance three stadiums on Monday. If the bills pass, the DFL-controlled Senate will be setting up a confrontation with the House. The Senate is poised to pass a half-percent, metro-wide sales tax that would fund retractrable roof stadiums for the Twins and the Vikings and also funds transportation projects. The tax would need voter approval.
The House passed a Twins bill that relies on a Hennepin County sales tax to fund a downtown Minneapolis ballpark for the Twins without voter approval. It's also working on a bill that would allow Anoka County to impose a sales tax for a Vikings stadium in Blaine.
On a divided voice vote, the House Governmental Operations Committee sent the Vikings bill onto the next committee without recommendation. In a news conference highlighting their push for a new stadium, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf says he prefers the House bill over the Senate's approach.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we get all three of them done. I would prefer to have it done along the lines, for our particular purposes, of the plan that just went through the committee, which we have in partnership with the county," Wilf said.
Wilf says he'll continue to make his case for a Vikings stadium with the hopes that some sort of funding plan makes it to conference committee, where differences between House and Senate bills are hammered out. Lawmakers have until May 22 to reconcile their differences on the bills.