Pawlenty’s chief of staff:stadiums not a top priority

New sports stadiums are not important compared to other funding priorities, said Dan McElroy, chief of staff for Gov. Tim Pawlenty and chairman of the governor’s stadium commission.

McElroy, who spoke at a Carlson School of Management luncheon Tuesday, said building stadiums is not the state’s main concern.

“I don’t mention (stadiums) in my speeches because it’s not as important,” he said during a question-and-answer session following the speech.

He said the Twin Cities area would thrive with or without the new stadiums.

“We do not have to make investments in sports stadiums,” he said. “(The Twin Cities) can be a very great place to live and just have basketball and hockey.”

But Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said McElroy might have been downplaying his enthusiasm about the stadiums because he was talking to members of the business community.

“You don’t make money building stadiums,” Pogemiller said. “As a straight-up business deal, it doesn’t make sense. If it did, the owners would be building them.”

Pogemiller said the state subsidizes stadiums because they are bad for business, but important for building communities.

“(Sports leagues) have a monopoly on the teams and (stadiums) make access for communities to those teams,” he said.

Because Pawlenty faced a $4.5 billion deficit, he promised not to raise taxes, McElroy said.

McElroy said he did not think it was worthwhile to build separate stadiums for all three teams.

“Does it make sense to build $1.5 billion in stadiums for a hundred or so games a year?” McElroy said.

But McElroy said the state will still consider the growth in revenue generated by taxing items such as concessions sales and player’s salaries as a possible way to pay for the stadiums.

But Peggy Ingison, Pawlenty’s finance commissioner, said McElroy led the governor’s task force to support the Twins stadium and it would likely be the Vikings and Gophers who are left out.

“There certainly is merit to the other proposals,” Ingison said. “But it’s not as important to tackle them right now.”

Ingison also said that by June 30, 2005, the state plans to achieve a much lower $160 million deficit.

But that does not mean the University will see a restoration of funding, she said.

Ingison would not say whether the University would have the $185 million in budget cuts restored, but did say there is already a projected state deficit for fiscal years 2006 and 2007 of close to $1 billion.

“We don’t see the budget evening out or a relief in the budget situation for at least a couple of years, unless there is a dramatic improvement in the economy,” Ingison said.

But she said the $1 billion deficit projection already included anticipated economic improvement.

Pogemiller said he was disappointed the House tax committee spent seven days talking about stadiums while the higher education committee spent one day discussing whether to restore University funding.

“I think their priorities are all backward,” Pogemiller said. “When you put stadiums next to raising University of Minnesota tuition, I think it pales in comparison.”