Focus is on early push at Capitol

The University’s goal now is to get stadium funding early in the legislative session.

Lora Pabst

The state legislative session, which begins Wednesday, will determine the fate of the proposed Gophers on-campus football stadium.

While University officials no longer are seeking a stadium special session before March, they are working with state legislators to address concerns about a student stadium fee, funding for other academic projects and the overall cost of the stadium.

University lobbyist Donna Peterson said the goal is to get the stadium bill discussed early in the session.

Peterson is meeting with legislators to answer questions about the proposed $50 per semester stadium fee.

“We’ve always been up front that it is part of the finance package,” she said.

Forty-two percent of respondents in a Daily survey published Monday said they were strongly opposed to using student fees for an on-campus stadium. The survey was e-mailed to a random sample of 2,000 University students in December 2005.

Emily Fisher, a political science senior, said she would pay $50 a semester for a stadium if the revenue from the stadium was used for scholarships and other academic endeavors.

She said state legislators should fund all the University’s requests because “there is nothing more valuable than investing in our future.”

“They should make the University a priority,” Fisher said.

State Rep. Alice Hausman, a DFLer whose district includes the St. Paul campus, said she doesn’t think the stadium should be the highest priority for the University.

“If we had all the money in the world, the on-campus stadium would be a wonderful amenity,” she said.

State Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said academic buildings ideally should take precedence over a stadium, which is why the stadium project should be kept separate from the state’s bonding proposal.

“It’s not fair to put it in with the other ones,” he said.

Hausman said keeping the stadium separate from the University’s other projects is hard to do for legislators.

“We look at the overall picture and say, How much is the University asking for?” she said. “Over here, we do total it up.”

Peterson said University officials are trying to pass the stadium bill as soon as possible so they can continue securing private donations.

Jason Korstange, a spokesman for TCF Financial, said company officials have talked to legislators about the stadium.

“It’s hard to have a lot of confidence in the whole legislative process when we make such a nice offer, and they can’t get around to voting on it,” he said.

Hausman said that when the University emphasizes donated private money to push for the stadium, “that feels a little like a threat.”

“I always hope that private money doesn’t drive us,” she said. “I’m spending taxpayer money.”

University Athletics Director Joel Maturi said the stadium bill hasn’t changed greatly since it was introduced.

“Our challenge continues to be the political process,” he said.