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Committee nears stadium decision

ST. PAUL - Five straight days of hearings - at times with bitter debate - failed to produce an agreement on building sports stadiums, but a Minnesota Senate committee chairman promises decisions will be made today.

Sen. Keith Langseth

ST. PAUL - Five straight days of hearings - at times with bitter debate - failed to produce an agreement on building sports stadiums, but a Minnesota Senate committee chairman promises decisions will be made today.

That debate will join other legislative hot-button topics, including whether the state should mail tax rebate checks to Minnesota homeowners and how to work out differences in House- and Senate-passed public works bills.

Senate Taxes Committee members made the first bit of progress in their stadium debate Monday night. During a minutes-long meeting, they narrowly agreed to fund a University of Minnesota football stadium with a 13 percent statewide sports memorabilia tax and to require a public referendum before Hennepin County's sales tax can be increased to fund a Twins baseball park.

Taxes Chairman Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said he expects the committee to vote this afternoon on whether to accept his Gophers stadium bill with the memorabilia tax or the Gophers' preference - and the version that passed the House - for the state to pay $9.4 million a year out of the General Fund.

The committee failed three times last week to approve the memorabilia tax version of the bill on 6-6 votes.

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If the Gophers' stadium passes the committee, Pogemiller will move on to debate Twins baseball and Vikings football stadiums.

Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, and Pogemiller want to raise sales tax in the Twin Cities a half percentage point to fund the two stadiums.

While the spotlight shone on stadium debate the past few days, work on other issues has gone on behind the scenes. One example is a bill to fund public works projects around the state.

Sen. Keith Langseth, chairman of the Senate committee dealing with public works projects, complained Monday afternoon that his House counterpart refused to schedule a conference committee meeting to work out differences between bills passed by the House and Senate. A couple of hours later, the meeting was scheduled for today.

Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said he was upset that in informal discussions the House removed a project from his district. Both houses had approved spending $600,000 for a remolding project at Minnesota State University Moorhead' Lommen Hall.

Langseth wouldn't discuss other specifics of the informal talks.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants to borrow $881 million, the Senate approved $990 million and the House opted for $949 million to repair college buildings, build sewage systems and fund other construction projects statewide.

House Republicans and Senate Democrats are accusing the other side of stalling public works talks.

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House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said that even if talks on the so-called bonding bill are delayed, it should only take a couple of days for the conference committee to work out differences.

With the bonding bill legislators' top priority this year, once the two bills are reconciled they may head home for the year regardless of what bills are left undone. They must adjourn by May 22.

To make sure they debate the measure before adjourning, House Republicans today are fitting in a property tax relief proposal. In debate by the full House, representatives will consider the proposal to send $275 million back to Minnesota homeowners by checks to be delivered in early October.

Democratic senators don't favor the rebate plan, and some House Republicans may vote against it.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707

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