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Legislators unmoved by possible contraction for Twins
by Robert Whereatt

A newspaper report Thursday that Major League Baseball may vote next week to eliminate the Twins' franchise was met with detachment at the State Capitol, prompting no calls for immediate action.

The Star Tribune reported Thursday that baseball owners are considering whether to vote on contraction when they meet in Chicago next week. If 23 of 30 teams vote to reduce the number of major league teams by two, that apparently will set in motion the steps to buy out the Twins and Montreal Expos franchises.

Key legislators, including advocates for a new Twins stadium, indicated that the possibility of the vote didn't appear to change the lack of political will for a new stadium in a world that changed profoundly Sept. 11.

"The concern about contraction has been around for many months, so it's not a new development," said House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, R-Eagan. "I think it has already been factored into the thinking of most legislators.

"This is not the time to have a stadium debate, and professional sports should recognize that," he said.

There was talk of writing to baseball commissioner Bud Selig to ask him to delay a vote on contraction, but top House and Senate leaders weren't immediately available to discuss the wording. "It's a concept that we're working on," Pawlenty said.

Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said he is convinced that the talk of eliminating the Twins and Expos franchises is real and imminent, but that that doesn't change the dynamics for most legislators.

In the session that will begin Jan. 29, they must consider homeland security legislation, a capital bonding bill, the needs of education when about 180 school boards are asking voters for excess levies, and a state budget "with some blood clots in it."

Besides, said Johnson, chief sponsor of a stadium-funding bill, "if the vote is taken on Tuesday [to eliminate the Twins] there's not much reason to take it up next session. The ballgame is literally over. The moving vans will just move the equipment out of the Metrodome, and the Twins will be a mere memory.

"But there is a looming question," he said. "Why would you [eliminate] a team that finished second in your division and showed a trend of attendance increase?"

An unidentified baseball official said Wednesday that Twins owner Carl Pohlad would receive a check for $250 million from Major League Baseball if he agreed to contraction, the newspaper reported.

"Either they're serious about this, which is bad, or not serious and they're using it as a ploy to maybe move things along, and that's bad too," said Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine. "We've been there and done that."

Moe, a stadium supporter in the past, said that the Legislature faces important issues next year but that he considers the possible loss of the Twins an important issue, too.

Gov. Jesse Ventura, a consistent opponent of using general-fund tax money for a stadium, suggested Thursday that he isn't interested in heading off any contraction vote.

"What would you ask me to do for them?" he responded to a reporter's question. "Take them over as the taxpayers' Minnesota Twins? It's a private industry, and I'm not going to discuss it," he said, abruptly ending a news conference.

The latest report of a possible vote on contraction may spur the planned announcement of another legislative task force to study possible stadium plans for the Twins, the Minnesota Vikings and the University of Minnesota.

Announcement of the task force membership was expected earlier this fall but it was put on hold after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It has been further delayed to give Ventura an opportunity to have members of his administration on the task force.

On Thursday, Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock said the administration probably will participate in task force talks.