Is it a time to forgive?

Should taxpayers pay for a hockey arena in St. Paul?

That’s the question facing Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a professed hockey nut, now that the Legislature has sent him a political grenade — a bill that forgives $33 million of a no-interest loan the city got from the state to lure professional hockey back to Minnesota by building the Xcel arena.

The city really doesn’t need the money, except that it wants to build another hockey arena across the street for the benefit — primarily — of the Minnesota Wild, who need a hockey facility.

A hotel planned for the site has been dropped, according to St. Paul councilman Dave Thune on the the St. Paul Issues Forum. “The ice sheet would provide a base…(surrounded) by a really exciting retail component befitting historic seven corners. The pond would host world class figure skating, public skating, wild hockey practice, curling and youth hockey,” he said.

Perhaps. But wasn’t one benefit of the Xcel Center to be a boost to business in St. Paul? A few restaurants have benefited, there’s more business for parking ramps, but other than that, not much. And while it attracted the Republican National Convention, that week was a disaster, even for businesses a teargas cannister’s throw from the arena.

Back when then-mayor Norm Coleman was trying to cut the arena deal, some people in St. Paul objected to the city getting stuck with pricetag for an arena that would attract hockey-loving suburbanites. Perhaps this is one way they can pony up their share.

But what about people in Marshall, for example. Its representative, Marty Seifert, the House Minority Leader is, predictably, no fan of the bill. “Go back to your coffee shop. Go back to your hardware store … and ask people if you think this is an opportune time for us to be forgiving over $30 million that’s owed to the state of Minnesota, from a deal that was struck in the 1990s, when we are $6 billion in the hole,” said he said.

What say you?