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Twins stadium bill may be finished for session
by Robert Whereatt

A Twins stadium bill apparently was killed in a House committee Wednesday when the proposal for a $300 million ballpark was tabled by a hefty margin.

"I think it's pretty much dead," House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said after the bipartisan 12-6 vote. "As far as I know, that committee isn't going to meet again [this session]. ... I don't know how it would be revived now."

With a bevy of lobbyists, the Twins had pushed the bill knowing that getting it passed would be a daunting task.

The Twins, who have the lowest payroll in the major leagues, say they need a new stadium and the revenue it would generate to be competitive.

The proposed ballpark would be a 42,000-seat open-air one.

Rep. Harry Mares, R-White Bear Lake, chief sponsor of the bill, bemoaned the absence of support from Sviggum. "It takes leadership to process a bill through," he said.

Mares stopped short of pronouncing it dead, but said it would need some extraordinary help to revive it.

The bill would provide a $140 million interest-free state loan to the Twins.

The team and private sources would put up an additional $150 million and receive $10 million in sales tax exemptions for construction materials.

Mares said that he was set to change the bill to charge the Twins 3 percent interest on the loan, but that it was tabled before he was able to amend it.

"If it were just looked at for policy, it would pass. The trouble is that politics figured into it," he said. Mares said both DFLers and Republicans were nervous that it would be used against them at reelection time, especially in swing districts where challengers have good chances of winning.

Sviggum, an opponent of using public money for stadiums for professional teams, said the bill was an improvement over the 1997 proposal, which dominated the regular session and consumed a special session.

He said he thinks the stadium will get hearings between legislative sessions and added that the Twins should come back in 2002 and try again if, by then, Major League Baseball has instituted some economic changes, including increased revenue sharing. Under the bill tabled Wednesday, funding would have been contingent on such changes, designed to help make smaller-market teams more competitive.

The $140 million loan would have come from a surplus in the Workers' Compensation Assigned Risk Plan, a state-run insurance program for employers who can't get that kind of coverage.

Twins reaction

Twins president Jerry Bell said that he knew it would be difficult to pass a stadium bill this year, but that "we thought we had a chance because the bill was completely restructured. This was not '97."

Why has it apparently failed?

Bell suggested that legislators weren't familiar enough with the nuts and bolts of the proposal, and he used the crucifixion story in the Bible to make that point. "One of the quotes [in the story] is, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.'"

Bell said that in talks around the state, he found broad support for the proposal.

He said the Twins even hired consultants to conduct five focus groups made up of stadium opponents. "Thirty-eight of the 40 [focus group members] turned around and said, 'If that's the deal, fine, go ahead.'"

Bell said he didn't know whether the Twins would return next year for another try.

The bill was tabled in the House Local Government and Metropolitan Affairs Committee on a motion by Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview.

Asked whether he was trying to kill the bill, Krinkie told reporters, "I certainly don't think this bill should go forward at this time."

A similar bill is in the Senate Taxes Committee, although its chairman, Sen. Lawrence Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, indicated last month that the bill would have to show movement in the House before he would take it up.