Opponents unlikely to stop Twins stadium push

Twins president Jerry Bell
Twins Sports Inc. President Jerry Bell called A House committee's refusal to allow a referendum on a tax increase in Hennepin County "a huge step forward" in the team's quest for a new stadium.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he expects the Hennepin County proposal to be approved at its final committee hearing on Monday and is scheduling a full House vote for Wednesday or Thursday.

Sviggum says he believes the plan will pass and without giving hennepin county voters a say on the matter, which is required under state law.

Rep. Steve Sviggum
Rep. Steve Sviggum talks to reporters about the Minnesota Twins stadium bill. He says the House will pass the bill without requiring a referendum on increasing taxes in Hennepin County.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

"I'm going to guess that the Twins stadium proposal will pass," declared Sviggum.

Sviggum says he believes this may be the year that the Twins get a new stadium, a decade after they began their efforts. He says a recent court ruling allowing the team to leave the Metrodome at the end of the season, the threat of contraction a few years ago and legislative fatigue have changed lawmakers' minds on the issue.

"The potential of contraction and or the Twins being on wheels is a very real consequence and those folks who then vote no to this proposal have to stand subject to those consequences," he said.

The chances of the proposal passing the House are much greater after the House Taxes Committee approved the bill on Friday. The committee has been somewhat hostile to stadium proposals in the past and its chairman, Republican Phil Krinkie of Lino Lakes, is an ardent stadium opponent.

The proposal would allow Hennepin County to implement a .15-percent sales tax to pay for three quarters of the stadium Twins owner Carl Pohlad will pay $130 million to the total project cost of $522 million.

We will not be back and ask for a roof and the design of the ballpark does not include the footings and other materials necessary to support a roof.

On Thursday night the committee defeated a requirement that the sales tax require voter approval. That requirement was seen as a major obstacle to the stadium proposal since Twins ownership and the Hennepin County board called it a deal breaker. They said a referendum would cause delays and add to the project's total cost. Krinkie expected the proposal to pass the House after attempts to require a referendum failed.

"The Twins have been very persistant in pushing a proposal forward. They are on the brink of getting success. It's amazing what you can do when you keep spending millions of dollars in order to access the public treasury," according to Krinkie.

The committee held two days of testimony and met all day Friday to discuss the nuts and bolts of the legislation. Several attempts to dramatically change the bill also failed including a proposal that would dedicate any advertising, seat license and club seating revenues to the stadium.

The committee also defeated Rep. Ron Erhardt's attempts to pay for a roof for the open-air ballpark. The Edina Republican wanted to replace the countywide sales tax with a lower statewide sales tax to pay for the new stadium with a retractable roof. Erhardt says the roof is needed because of Minnesota's "crazy climate."

"They'll sit in that stadium in April and it will start snowing on them. Then they'll go away for a day or two and they'll go back and it will be raining like hell and they'll get discouraged. That will take distract from the new stadium and attendance and I think we ought to put out a first-class stadium. As long as this thing is going anyway, let's do it up right," he said.

Erhardt and others on the committee said he expected the Twins to come back and ask lawmakers to pay for a roof after the stadium is built. But Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports Inc., says the Twins won't do that.

"If this bill passes without a roof amendment, we will not be back and ask for a roof and the design of the ballpark does not include the footings and other materials necessary to support a roof," he said.

Bell has been cautiously optimistic that the Twins have some momentum to get the stadium-funding package into law. Bell described the House Taxes Committee as the team's "Waterloo" and said they had momentum when the committee approved the bill without a referendum.

Critics say the bill should include a referendum and also argue that billionaire owner Carl Pohlad should make a greater contribution to the ballpark. The proposal is also making its way through the Senate. The bill is currently in the Senate Taxes Committee.

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