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Legislators want 50% from Twins
by Aron Kahn and Brian Murphy


Frustrated by political and legal maneuverings of the Minnesota Twins, the bipartisan sponsors of the ballpark bill are calling for the team and its private-sector allies to make a 50 percent down payment on their new home.

The lawmakers' declaration Thursday puts them in the same league with Gov. Jesse Ventura, who said Tuesday of the Twins, "I want half out of them."

Half is $165 million of the proposed $330 million ballpark.

The lawmakers said they're irritated at seemingly new Twins attempts each day to reduce their upfront share, and by the team's regular appearances in court to win approval for contraction.

"It's shaking our hands, smiling and reaching into our pocketbook at the same time," said Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, one of the chief sponsors. "It's starting to annoy us."

Johnson said he and Rep. Harry Mares, R-White Bear Lake, the other chief sponsor, are losing patience with the Twins after carrying their legislation for two years. The Senate passed a complex 31-page financing bill a month ago, for example, but now the terms should be stated more simply as final passage is sought, Johnson said.

"Right now, the Twins bill is one page," he said. "Fifty percent from the Twins and other private sources; 50 percent from the host city, through a local-option sales tax after a referendum; and the details to be worked out by the governor and the commissioner of finance. That's kind of where we're at."

It's not clear where Ventura's office ultimately will come down on the bill, but Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock, a close Ventura adviser who put together the Xcel Energy Center deal while working for the city of St. Paul, said a compromise likely wouldn't depart greatly from the $165 million down payment from the Twins and private-sector friends.

"This is a controversial issue, and we think it's important that all state policy makers be as much involved as they can," Wheelock said, though she said the Ventura administration will continue to work on the problem.

The Twins have not committed to an upfront number, though they say $165 million is too high. Unofficially, they've tried to get political reaction to lower figures. The Pioneer Press learned Thursday that the team privately sought legislative reaction earlier this week to a new plan calling for the use of zero-coupon bonds to finance the stadium, with the Twins paying $80 million upfront.

A ballpark plan designed by the Ventura administration and passed by the House would have the state selling revenue bonds worth $330 million. The Twins would donate a $165 million "gift" into an interest-bearing fund plus another $10 million a year to raise enough money to pay the debt over 30 years.

Since then, members of the conference committee have tried to reconcile that bill with the vastly different Senate bill, all the while hearing from the Twins that a new owner would never pay such a big share upfront. The team insists owner Carl Pohlad wants to sell.

"I can understand where people are frustrated to get this done," Twins president Jerry Bell said. "No one is more frustrated than we are. Time would be better spent trying to figure out how to do this, and that's what we're trying to do."

Meanwhile, the struggle between the Twins and the conferees further dims the hope that the Minnesota Vikings will have their stadium issues addressed this session, or at least start to be addressed.

Vikings officials are tentatively scheduled to meet with leaders of the DFL-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House to stress the urgency of getting the framework for a financing plan passed this session, so the state can take advantage of money on the table from the team and the NFL. Language could be inserted into the Twins bill to accomplish that end.

The Vikings revealed a new financing plan last week that would have the state issue bonds to help finance a $440 million domed facility that would include the University of Minnesota football team as a tenant. The Vikings and the NFL would deposit $151.5 million into an interest-bearing account that would secure the bonds. The Vikings and the university would help raise $17.5 million in additional donations to deposit into the account, along with a projected $26 million from the sale of the Metrodome by 2008.

"We want to make it very clear that there is an opportunity before them, and we believe we have a pretty good deal for the state," said Lester Bagley, the Vikings' chief lobbyist.

Although owner Red McCombs has not delivered any ultimatums regarding the future of the franchise, if the stadium deals fall apart this session, "all bets are off," Bagley said.

AT ODDS:

The Twins say $165 million, or half of the cost of the stadium that legislators are seeking upfront, is too much.

The team sought legislative reaction earlier this week to a plan calling for the use of zero-coupon bonds instead, with the Twins paying $80 million upfront.