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New stadium bill may get Speaker Sviggum's support
by Robert Whereatt

A new and slightly revised Twins stadium bill was introduced Monday in the House, and House Speaker Steve Sviggum, a long-time stadium opponent, said that with a few more modifications he "probably would" vote for it.

The bill was sent to the House Taxes Committee, where a hearing is expected later this week.

"The speaker four weeks ago said it was probably dead," said Rep. Harry Mares, R-White Bear Lake, chief sponsor of the bill. "Now, it's got some life."

Mares' earlier stadium bill was tabled in the House Local Government and Metropolitan Affairs Committee. He was expected to try a parliamentary maneuver this week to transfer it to the Taxes Committee, a move that would have forced a vote by the entire House and raised issues about thwarting the committee process.

Instead, Mares introduced a new bill with minor changes.

"There are some who think that's cleaner," Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said Monday.

On the House floor Monday, Rep. Phil Krinkie, among the most visible opponents of state subsidies for a stadium, tried to send the bill to the local government committee, where the initial measure was tabled on a 12-6 vote. Krinkie, R-Shoreview, argued that it essentially was the same bill.

Legislators, some of them bruised by their stadium votes in 1997, debated whether they were about to make a procedural vote on where the bill should be sent or if, in effect, it was a vote on the stadium that would be used by opponents in the next election.

"This is definitely a vote, up or down, one way or the other, on the stadium," said Rep. Joe Opatz, DFL-St. Cloud.

Krinkie's move to send the bill to the local government committee lost on a 76-52 vote.

"Don't read it as saying this bill would pass on [a 76-52 vote]," Sviggum told reporters afterward. "But it is a vote to keep it alive."

Mares said Sviggum's indication that he might vote for the bill is significant. It would give other legislators of both parties political cover. In effect, they could point to Sviggum's "yes" vote and contend that a vocal opponent of stadium subsidies thought the new bill was reasonable.

Bill's provisions

The latest version still would require Twins owner Carl Pohlad and other private interests to ante up $150 million of the $300 million needed for the 42,000-seat open-air stadium.

In addition, the state would provide a $140 million interest-free loan. That money would go to the community in which the stadium would be located. The original bill provided a $100 million interest-free loan, with an additional $40 million coming from revenue bonds, but that was changed in committee to a $140 million loan.

The remaining $10 million would be provided by the state in the form of a sales tax exemption for construction materials.

The city where the stadium would be built would be chosen by the Department of Trade and Economic Development (DTED), instead of the State Planning Agency as envisioned in the first bill. Rebecca Yanisch, the former head of the Minneapolis Community Development Agency, was named DTED commissioner in late March.

Mares said Brooklyn Park city officials have expressed interest in being home to a new stadium. He expects Bloomington might be interested, too. Minneapolis and St. Paul already have said they want the ballpark.

The nature of the $140 million loan could change when the Taxes Committee considers the bill. Rep. Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, and chairman of the committee, has said he prefers that interest be charged on the loan. Abrams said he has tentatively scheduled a Taxes Committee meeting Friday to consider the bill.

Under the bill, the stadium would be a sales tax-free zone for 30 years, the length of the lease the Twins would have to sign.

Sviggum's change

Sviggum said his attitude toward a stadium bill has changed partly because Mares has indicated he plans to impose interest on any state loan.

Sviggum said he also wants changes regarding who would decide whether Major League Baseball has cleaned up its financial house, a stipulation in the bill before state assistance is provided. Under the bill, the governor would appoint three retired judges to make that call. The speaker also said he wants another source for the loan. The bill would provide the loan from a surplus in a state-run workers' compensation insurance pool. But House spending bills already commit $73 million from that fund for other purposes.

Asked what it would take to get his vote for the bill, Sviggum replied, "No taxpayer involvement," but said he couldn't define that at the moment. "I'll know it when I see it."

Mares said the $150 million required by Pohlad and private interests would be upfront money. The state's loan wouldn't be needed until 2003 or 2004, he said.

And the state loan wouldn't be available unless Major League Baseball agreed to certain economic changes that help small-market teams, including increased revenue sharing.

Krinkie objects

Krinkie said it is a waste of legislators' time to consider the bill in the final two weeks of the session when the major spending and tax bills need to be resolved.

"Why don't we just wait until such time as Major League Baseball has concluded their player negotiations? Then we'll all know what those arrangements are," he said.

The contract between the players and the owners expires Oct. 31. If a new agreement includes revenue sharing and salary limits, legislators could better judge whether the Twins would be able meet the commitments of the legislation, he said.

Krinkie also said, with some irony, that stadium advocates contend a new facility is needed to generate enough income to pay salaries for a competitive team. The Twins now are in first place in their division with a bargain basement payroll.

"The facts seem to belie what the stadium proponents are telling us," he said.