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Deadlines, Deadlines 

Real Saints fans know well the importance of keeping the faith -- and being patient. It's Benson's turn to practice what his customers have been doing for decades.

This week marks the March 1 deadline imposed by New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson for a new deal with the state. Like the Feb. 1 deadline he initially tried to impose, this one likely will come and go without much progress toward a deal.

But that's no reason to panic.

Real Saints fans know well the importance of keeping the faith -- and being patient. Now it's Benson's turn to practice what his customers have been doing for decades.

As of this writing, Benson and Gov. Kathleen Blanco appear to be no closer than they were a month ago. Each has now put a specific proposal on the table, but their respective views of what a final deal ought to look like are far apart.

Blanco wants to renovate the Superdome for about $168 million and gradually reduce the annual subsidies paid to the Saints by the state. She also wants the team to help pay for part of the renovations -- at least $40 million worth -- and she wants the team's increased future revenues (which should flow from a better-configured dome) to offset future subsidies.

She's driving a hard bargain, which is what a governor ought to do in this situation. Louisiana is a poor state, and there's not much support among lawmakers outside the New Orleans area for any kind of deal with the Saints. This will be a hard sell for her no matter what agreement she makes -- if any -- with Benson.

For his part, Benson wants a renovated Superdome and more subsidies, although the team has offered to credit increased revenues against the annual inducements from the state. On that last point, there is some agreement between the team and the state, but the devil is always in the details. In this case, that would be the size of the subsidies and when the offsets kick in.

Benson had sought a March 1 deadline because he is dangling a hefty carrot before the city and the state: a chance to land the 2010 Super Bowl. NFL owners will meet March 20-23 to recommend where that game will be played. As chair of the NFL owners' finance committee, Benson wields considerable clout. A new deal with the state would give him all the right reasons to push for New Orleans as the host city.

So what are the chances of a deal, and when might it happen?

Nothing motivates negotiators like a deadline, which is why Benson keeps trying to impose one. Here are some other deadlines: April 15, April 25, May 4 and June 23.

April 15 is the deadline for pre-filing bills to be considered by lawmakers in the upcoming session. If Blanco wants to have time to "work the aisles," it would be a good idea to have a bill pre-filed. That would give her time to sell the proposal to recalcitrant upstate lawmakers, and she will need all the time she can get. The farther you get from the Superdome, the less legislative support there is for any deal that puts money in Tom Benson's pocket.

April 25 is the date that the next legislative session begins. That also marks the beginning of the Legislature's public discussion of a deal, if one is struck by then.

May 4 is the final, final date for filing bills. Although bills are supposed to be pre-filed, the constitution gives each lawmaker additional time to file up to five additional measures. This year that deadline is May 4 -- so that could be the real deadline for a deal between Benson and The Governess. Moreover, the NFL will award the 2010 Super Bowl days later.

So what's so special about June 23?

That's the last day of the legislative session. When a deal is this big, the vote usually doesn't happen until the final days. So, as the state and the Saints go round and round in the coming weeks, keep those deadlines in mind. They're the ones that count.


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