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Ballpark possibilities could grow
by Aron Kahn

If the Minnesota Twins want a better ballpark deal than St. Paul is offering, they could get some help from any of the four major party candidates for governor.

DFL candidate Roger Moe, Republican candidate Tim Pawlenty, Independence Party candidate Tim Penny and Green Party candidate Ken Pentel all said Tuesday they would favor allowing Hennepin County to assist Minneapolis in bidding for a ballpark.

Hennepin County was prevented from helping Minneapolis by the 2002 state ballpark law, which specified that only cities could use taxes to contribute to stadium construction.

Minneapolis is limited by its charter to spending a total of $10 million on a ballpark, but wants a chance to convince the 2003 Legislature and a new governor to let the counties in.

St. Paul has been the only city to actively try to build a ballpark in the wake of 2002 state law, but sources close to the Twins told the Pioneer Press on Monday that the team won't exclusively commit to a St. Paul ballpark, even if St. Paul passes a required referendum on stadium taxes.

Mayor Randy Kelly, who in the past repeatedly said he won't call for a referendum without a commitment, said Tuesday that reaching such a deal with the team in time for a September referendum appears to be "extremely, extremely difficult."

If the St. Paul venture falls through, the Twins and Minneapolis are expected to go back to the state Capitol seeking the addition of Hennepin County and perhaps other changes to the law.

Twins President Jerry Bell has said it would be easier for owner Carl Pohlad to sell the team if a Minneapolis site is an option.

Although passing a ballpark bill is very difficult at the Capitol, the four major party candidates for governor said they will go at least as far as supporting a law change to allow Hennepin County to participate in the stadium battles.

"I'd be open to that if the Hennepin County Board asked to be part of the process," Moe said.

"Tim agrees Hennepin County should have been included" in the 2002 ballpark bill, Penny spokesman David Ruth said. "He would be in favor of bringing in Hennepin."

Republican candidate Tim Pawlenty voted against the ballpark bill as House majority leader, but said he would be willing to allow counties to compete, as long as the taxes they impose don't fall on a single city.

Green Party candidate Ken Pentel said a ballpark is very low on his priority list, but he wouldn't stand in the way of Hennepin entering the bidding. "Local units of government can do what they want," he said.

A governor's support of a bill does not automatically lead to passage, and in the case of the controversial and very political ballpark issue, predicting an outcome is almost impossible.

Hennepin County was prevented from helping Minneapolis in a close vote in conference committee at the end of the 2002 session. The result could be repeated in 2003, or not.