Special session hopes dashed

by Lora Pabst

Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced Friday that he won’t call a special session to discuss an on-campus Gophers stadium “at this time.”

Pawlenty met with legislative leaders during the past few weeks to determine whether there was consensus on issues for a special session.

A Gophers stadium was at the top of the list, but lack of support from both political parties to even have a special session ultimately guided Pawlenty’s decision, he said.

Last week, House Majority Leader Erik Paulsen, R-Eden Prairie, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, told Pawlenty their respective parties did not support a special session.

Pawlenty said he made his decision ultimately in light of the Senate DFL caucus’ position.

Pawlenty said he is open to a special session, but he left legislative leaders with the task of reaching an agreement in their caucuses before he would reconsider his decision.

“I remain willing to bring the Legislature back to St. Paul if legislators can reach agreement on a limited agenda and number of days,” according to the statement. “If legislators remain unwilling or unable to deal with these items in a focused and productive manner, they’ll have to wait four and a half months until the next regular session.”

Brian McClung, Pawlenty’s press secretary, said the governor still supports the Gophers proposal. Pawlenty plans to contact University officials soon to get their help in furthering the discussion of potential special session issues.

However, Pawlenty said during his Friday morning radio show that “the world doesn’t end” if stadium talks don’t resume before the regular session.

McClung said Pawlenty recognizes the University feels some pressure to get legislative funding in a timely manner.

Joel Maturi, University athletics director, said more delays “would mean a significantly greater amount of work” for fundraising and securing corporate sponsorships.

“We have done a great job of explaining the importance of sooner rather than later,” he said.

Maturi said the University needs state funding before it can hire an architect for the stadium project and continue planning. He also said the longer the delay, the more likely the stadium project could conflict with other University funding requests.

The University also has contracts that are in danger of expiring if legislative approval is not received before the next regular session. The $35 million sponsorship deal with TCF Financial expires Dec. 31 and the $2.5 million deal with Best Buy expires Feb. 15.

But University officials won’t give up on a special session just yet.

Linda Thrane, vice president for University Relations, issued a statement Friday evening expressing the University’s disappointment with Pawlenty’s decision.

“Our stadium plan has broad bipartisan support with the public and within the Legislature. We’ll continue to make our case for a special session, which is critical to our private sector fundraising momentum,” she said in her statement.

Maturi remained optimistic that the Gophers will eventually get a new on-campus stadium.

“We aren’t going anywhere. There are no alternatives,” he said. “We will deal with the hand we’re dealt.”