Special session necessary to approve University stadium plans

The University’s hope of returning football to campus suffered a setback when the Legislature adjourned without voting on a stadium bill.

But the bill could be revived if Gov. Tim Pawlenty calls a special session.

“I am still hopeful there will be a special session and there will be some type of legislation saying if we raise money privately, there will be some state support if we succeed,” University President Bob Bruininks said.

Feedback from legislators about the stadium bill has been encouraging, he said.

“The University community can feel quite good with the response,” he said. “It’s quite obvious that the majority thinks this is a good idea.”

Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, and the author of the Gophers stadium bill in the State Senate, said the chances of Pawlenty calling a special session are about 50-50.

“The reason why I say the Gophers stadium idea isn’t over is because I think it had such growing and bipartisan support,” Michel said. “Whether it’s in special session this year or in the legislative session next year, I think we’ve got a shot at it.”

Michel said he was disappointed that the stadium bill did not pass, but it did not come as a surprise.

“We had so many political hang-ups on budget and tax issues that the (Legislature) was not going to be able to get to the next level of issues, which included the stadium,” he said. “You could kind of see the writing on the wall that we weren’t going to be able to finish our work and get to everything we wanted to.”

If a special session is called, it might not come for weeks or even months, he said.

A “political food fight” over partisan issues such as the confirmation of Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke prevented the Legislature from finishing its work, Michel said. Tempers need to cool before a special session convenes, he said.

“After legislators go home to their families and their jobs and their districts, they’re going to hear from people that we didn’t finish our jobs,” Michel said. “That might create the pressure to have us come back for a special session.”

If Pawlenty calls a special session, he and legislative leaders would determine the agenda before hearings begin.

Michel said he would push to include the Gophers bill in the agenda. The plan could also be offered as an amendment to the bonding bill, he said.

But sports stadiums would not be a special session’s top priority, Michel said. The bonding bill, which includes the University’s request, and a bill requiring stiffer penalties for sex offenders would be more important, he said.

A special session would probably last one or two days, Michel said.

Athletics Director Joel Maturi said that even if there is not a special session, he thinks the stadium bill is closer to becoming a reality.

“Certainly we would have liked to have passed a bill,” he said, “but I am encouraged by the progress the bill made.”