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Ventura might back "user fee' for ballpark
by Jim Ragsdale

Gov. Jesse Ventura said Friday that he would have to break a campaign promise to support public financing for a new stadium for the Minnesota Twins, and that he won't change his position now that the team appears to have been put on death row by Major League Baseball.

But he and his spokesman, John Wodele, indicated Ventura might be open to one avenue discussed in the past for financing a stadium. That is the so-called "user fee" approach, in which those who buy tickets, pay to park, and buy concessions at the games are assessed a fee or tax for stadium construction.

On his weekly radio program, conducted at the Mall of America as part of a program to promote tourism within the state, Ventura said, "I like baseball. I don't want the Twins to leave Minnesota."

He said that during the 1998 campaign for governor, he was asked several times his position on supporting public funding for a Twins stadium. He said his answer then, and now, was no.

"Now I'm being asked to come back and break a campaign promise," Ventura said. "I will not break my campaign promise. ... I said "No,' and I continue to hold that position."

The decision by major league owners this week to designate two unnamed teams to be folded has spiked fears that the Twins will be one of the marked franchises. Ventura has been encouraged by other politicians and community leaders to take the lead in trying to save the team.

Ventura said he believes that the critics who have accused him of inactivity on the issue simply disagree with his position on the Twins stadium and want him to change his mind. He accused the media of being "very much in favor" of building a stadium. "The media is an advocate for the stadium because they directly benefit from it," he said.

In an interview during a break in the program, Ventura indicated that one acceptable source of revenue for a stadium might be the so-called "user fee" approach. In previous stadium debates, the warring factions have clashed over whether such a tax or fee constitutes "public financing" in the same way that a direct state appropriation does.

Ventura's spokesman, John Wodele, said, "The user-fee concept is something that I think the governor would explore. But I think he would need very specific proposals to look at before he would consider it."

Rebecca Yanisch, Ventura's commissioner of trade and economic development, said she has been traveling the state and has found support for the idea that "the Twins are very important to the state of Minnesota." But she said that does not mean the state should step in to solve the team's problems.

She said the first job is to encourage Major League Baseball to address its economic problems. "Until that happens, it's really difficult to talk about other roles" for the state to play, she said.

Ventura and state tourism officials visited a display at the mall aimed at encouraging tourism within the state. The governor announced that he will visit Sioux Falls, S.D., Des Moines, Iowa, and Chicago on Wednesday and Thursday to promote Minnesota as a Midwestern tourism destination.

Ventura took repeated shots at the news media during his appearance, criticizing coverage and commentary on the stadium issue and even the types of stories he imagined reporters would file in the future. During the show, he told reporters what they should and shouldn't pay attention to, making it clear that he expected the reporting about the program to be biased against him.