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Poll finds opposition to paying to keep team

NEW ORLEANS -- Nearly three out of every four Louisiana voters oppose giving tax dollars to keep the NFL's Saints in New Orleans, according to a poll compiled for a state lawmaker.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco has been attempting to get Saints owner Tom Benson to renegotiate a deal giving the team $186 million over 10
years, saying the state cannot afford it. The contract was
negotiated by then-Gov. Mike Foster and approved by the
Legislature.

Benson recently canceled additional negotiations until after the
2005 season when the Saints have their first opportunity to negate
the current deal and move by repaying the $81 million the team
received during the first five years of the contract. The state can
opt out of the deal after the 2007 season.

Pollster Verne Kennedy's Florida-based Market Research Insight
conducted the statewide telephone poll of 350 voters April 22-25
for Sen. James David Cain, R-Dry Creek. The poll asked: "Do you
favor or oppose the use of tax dollars to keep the New Orleans
Saints in Louisiana?"

Of those who responded, 62 percent were strongly opposed to
using tax dollars, 7 percent were somewhat opposed, 8 percent were
undecided, 9 percent were somewhat in favor and 14 percent strongly
were in favor.

When the undecided voters were taken out, 67 percent strongly
opposed using tax dollars to keep the team, 8 percent were somewhat
opposed, 10 percent were somewhat in favor and 15 percent were
strongly in favor.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage
points, Market Research Insight said.

In a statement, Cain said he was "only the messenger," but
added: "It's just not right for us to give corporate welfare to
one business, just because it is a football team, while we are
taxing other businesses so much they are leaving the state."

"Clearly, Louisiana's image is enhanced if the Saints stay in
Louisiana, but the voters are opposed to having any more state tax
dollars spent on a football team," Cain said.

The Saints did not respond immediately to a call for comment on
the poll. The Blanco administration did not immediately comment.

Benson called off negotiations after reviewing a state proposal
focused on a $174 million renovation of the Louisiana Superdome
with the Saints contributing $40 million. The Blanco administration
said that deal would increase the team's ability to make money, but
also reduce the amount of guaranteed income from the state after
the renovation is complete.

The state proposal includes $267 million in guaranteed money for
the team, $134 million toward the stadium renovation and an
estimated $336 million in additional revenue the Saints could earn
after the renovation is complete.

Last week, Stanley Rosenberg, Benson's attorney and a member of
the team's board of directors, said Benson was interested in moving
the team, perhaps to his second home in San Antonio. Rosenberg also
said the Saints had discussed the possibility of moving to
Albuquerque, N.M., and that Benson had received several offers to
sell the team, including one for more than $1 billion.

State officials said they considered the report a bargaining
ploy by the Saints.

On Monday, the Senate Finance Committee voted 7-2 to kill a bill
that would bar giving the Saints any more state money to stay in
Louisiana.

Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Livonia, and the bill's sponsor, said
the money would be better spent elsewhere on health care and other
state needs. But other lawmakers said that the bill would break the
existing contract, costing the state millions of dollars in
penalties and could reflect badly on the state when it tries to
enter into other economic development deals.