How would you vote on the Twins ballpark? Yes? No? Yes, if they gave you a
seat between home and first?
Well, you may get a chance to cast a ballot. An amendment calling for a statewide
referendum on the stadium is expected to be proposed Friday when the state House Tax
Committee takes up the ballpark bill.
Although Minnesota law doesn't allow for a standard referendum of the kind held in some
other states, it does permit a non-binding referendum that would essentially record the
voice of the people, according to opinions issued by lawyers at the Legislature and
attorney general's office.
No such vote has ever been taken in Minnesota, although the state has held non-binding
presidential primaries, a similar ballot format.
While advisory, the ballpark message from voters would carry plenty of weight with
legislators as they try to gauge the people's will amid a storm of pro and con phone calls
``I can't imagine an elected official taking any vote of the people lightly,'' Rep. Dan
McElroy, R-Burnsville, an assistant majority leader who favors the idea, said Tuesday.
McElroy said he or one of his Tax Committee colleagues likely will propose the
``This is an unusual issue. Public sentiment has softened some, but there are some
strong feelings that the vested interests are pushing this thing and the people don't have
a choice. I'd be surprised if (the amendment) is not offered,'' he said.
Compared with the price of the ballpark -- $300 million plus roughly $50 million in
land and infrastructure costs to the city where the ballpark is built -- the referendum
expense could be fairly minimal.
If the vote were held during an even-year statewide election, the referendum would cost
about $110,000, according an estimate made in the mid-1990s, said Senate Counsel Peter
Wattson. If it were held in an odd year such as this, when no other statewide matters are
on the ballot, the cost could be $2 million to $3 million, he said.
The cost savings would not be the only incentive for waiting until 2002, in the minds
of many legislators. Since the ballpark bill requires Major League Baseball to share its
wealth with the Twins and other lower-revenue teams before a ballpark is built, waiting a
year gives the league time to do that. A new contract with the players' union, for
example, won't be reached until this fall at the earliest.
Twins president Jerry Bell said the team supported such an advisory ballot five years
ago, because it would have given the Twins a chance to sell the ballpark details to the
``But now it's too late. It would require a campaign that would take a year and be very
expensive, and we've already spent a lot of money promoting this thing over the last four
years,'' Bell said.
Should the referendum become part of the House ballpark bill -- assuming it receives
approval on the floor -- a battle with the Senate is likely.
``That's ducking the issue,'' Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, chief sponsor of the
measure in that body, said of the ballot.
The Senate bill, which has passed one committee, resides in the Tax Committee of that
chamber while Johnson and supporters observe progress in the House, which revived its
moribund bill Monday. The Twins' winning spree and recent public relations campaign were
credited by leaders as major reasons for giving the bill a new hearing.
The referendum may win the support of the bill's chief House sponsor, Rep. Harry Mares,
R-White Bear Lake, who said he's also been thinking of requiring a referendum in the city
that gets the ballpark.
Other amendments likely will be proposed Friday. A sales-tax-free zone at the stadium,
which would benefit the Twins, likely will be removed from the bill. Also, the source of a
$140 million interest-free loan from the state probably will be changed. The bill
currently targets excess insurance reserves in the Workers Compensation Assigned Risk Plan
as the source, but House leaders said that money has been earmarked for other projects.
That raises the possibility that the Legislature would refrain from designating a
source for the loan until next session, or instead choose another method for raising the
money, such as selling bonds. Should lawmakers stick with a loan, it's virtually certain
the bill will be amended to add an interest rate, somewhere between zero and the market
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, a longtime opponent of publicly funded stadiums,
said that with enough changes, including a guarantee that no taxpayer dollars will be
used, the bill might be acceptable to him. The implication was that it could pass.
However, his comrade in arms, Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, R-Eagan, said he's unlikely to
support the bill under any circumstances.
The bill requires the Twins and other private sources to pay $150 million in upfront
cash before the other stadium money kicks in.