Minnesota Twins President Jerry Bell has been in this position only once before during his decade-long quest to win public financing for a new Twins ballpark. In 2002 the Legislature passed a law that would build the team a new ballpark. But the Twins could never reach a deal with a host city to get that ballpark built. Bell is back at it again this year. When asked about the Twins chances after the Senate vote, Bell said he was confident but wouldn't predict how negotiations between the Senate and House would go.
"I've been around here a long time, but I've only been to one conference committee so I'm not the expert on conference committees," he said.
So far, the chances of lawmakers agreeing on a Twins ballpark do not seem to be improving, especially with the partisan sniping that's occurred over the past week.
In recent days, Gov. Pawlenty along with House and Senate Republicans have criticized Senate DFLers for taking a different approach to the stadium deals. Republicans prefer the House bill. That measure would allow Hennepin County to implement a sales tax to pay for a Twins stadium. The Senate plan would use a sales tax across the entire seven-county metro area to pay for two retractable roof stadiums -- one each for the Twins and Vikings -- as well as fund transportation projects.
Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says Senate DFLers passed a different bill to make Gov. Pawlenty look bad by denying him a political victory on the stadium issue.
"This is about politics, folks. It's about not getting the job done. We're within a spitting distance of getting this done in the best interest of Minnesota," he said.
Senate DFLers cry "foul" at such accusations. Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm says they're trying to find a solution for the Twins and Vikings as well as hammer out a stadium deal for the University of Minnesota in a different bill. Tomassoni says his caucus shouldn't be criticized just because they're taking a different approach than the Republicans and the teams want. He says there was one crucial reason the Senate put forward the metro-wide sales tax: it had the votes to pass.
"I'm not sure any other bill would have passed. The leadership that came up with a plan that said this is how we get these things into conference and this is how we get stadiums built this year and I think that the way the tea leaves are being read out in the public might be a little different, but we're actually trying to pass stadiums this year and we're certainly not trying to kill stadiums," said Tomassoni.
Tommassoni also criticized Pawlenty for not supporting the metro-wide sales tax plan, especially since it gives voters a say. Pawlenty said he prefers voter approval of any sales tax but will support a bill that doesn't include it. The House does not include a referendum in its bill, primarily because the Twins oppose it.
Pawlenty says the trick for his office and House Republicans is to see how committed Senate DFLers are to their proposal.
"If they're very adamant that they have a metro-wide tax, it's going to be a big problem for House members and for my office and me," Pawlenty said. "We just have to explore how flexible they're willing to be on elements of the stadium package, and if they're dug in that will be a problem."
Several stadium supporters, including Tomassoni, chief author Steve Kelley and Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson say they're willing to consider the House offer if there's little support for their plan. Johnson says he and other stadium supporters in the Senate will get a Twins ballpark and a Gopher stadium done this year.
"We have every intention, every intention, of moving forward in a positive way in a bill that the governor would sign," Johnson says.
Johnson and Speaker Sviggum are expected to name 10 people to a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the stadium bills. Some hope they can't reach a compromise. One caller to Minnesota Public Radio's Midday program said polls have shown that Minnesotans are against using taxpayer money for new stadiums. Gwen, of New Ulm, says lawmakers and the owners of the Twins and Vikings should take the hint.
"It keeps coming back every year. The Twins and the Vikings are owned by multi-billionaires. They can afford to build their stadiums and this minimum tax on the taxpayer. The taxpayer shouldn't have to be paying anything." she said.
Lawmakers have less than two weeks to reach agreement and win passage by both the House and Senate.