Gov. Jesse Ventura said Wednesday that placing surtaxes on top of existing
stadium-related sales taxes would be an acceptable way to fund the public's
share of a new stadium.
It was the first time the governor has been specific about revenue sources
for a stadium other than his oft-repeated call for authorizing legalized betting
on professional sports and taxing it.
But Ventura said he would oppose using existing taxes on ticket sales or
concession sales or the income taxes generated by players. That money now flows
to the state's general fund.
The general fund is the central pot of money that pays for most state
"Don't take my [general fund] revenue from me," he cautioned.
The governor's comments may help guide an 18-member task force that is
considering whether new stadiums should be built for the Twins, the Vikings and
the University of Minnesota football Gophers and, if so, how to pay for them.
The task force will hold its second meeting at 1 p.m. today in the State
Office Building in St. Paul.
The governor gave 10 radio and television interviews Wednesday to discuss
Major League Baseball's decision to eliminate two teams. The Twins and the
Montreal Expos are thought to be the most likely targets of contraction.
In the past, the Twins have resisted suggestions that they raise the price of
tickets or concessions as a way to fund a stadium. Such a move, they have said,
would discourage attendance -- resulting in no net gain and an inability for the
team to pay off its share of a new stadium.
Twins President Jerry Bell declined to comment Wednesday on the governor's
"I'm not prepared right now to get into a stadium discussion and how to
fund it. Our focus is how to stay in business for another year or if we
will," he said.
Ventura said he would resist earmarking for a stadium the income taxes paid
by Twins and visiting players, contending it would establish bad tax policy.
"That's a slippery slope," he said. The income tax collected from
Northwest Airlines was not redirected to that airline when it needed massive
state help, he said.
"What's next? The actors at the Guthrie? 3M employees don't get their
income taxes reinvested in 3M. You have to be fair," he said.
The governor said his heart is in the effort to save the Twins, though he is
not sure the team's salvation is in a new stadium.
In a radio interview with Boston station WEEI-AM, he wondered whether
contraction is not a ploy by owners to bring the players' union to heel as they
start negotiating a new contract.
"I think the ultimate thing is here they're going into a collective
bargaining agreement, and they've got to have all their chips. They have to line
up for their big poker game with the players' union, and I think this is part of
it. Otherwise, why won't they name the teams?" he asked.
Vance Opperman, a central figure in the Twin Cities business community's
fight to save the Twins, called Ventura's proposal "a creative approach, a
creative first step."
Opperman in the past has suggested dedicating players' income taxes to the
stadium funding as well as granting a sales tax exemption on construction
materials used to build the facility. He argues that those taxes would not exist
absent a new stadium.
But he was supportive of Ventura's proposal and encouraged by the governor's
willingness to look at new options.
"To start a public dialogue that allows a creative approach, that's a
good step," Opperman said.
Dayton offers a plan
U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, meanwhile, stepped squarely into the stadium fray,
outlining a four-step process for keeping the Twins in Minnesota by building a
new stadium with "non-tax revenues."
His proposal, contained in an "open letter to the people of
Minnesota," would depend entirely on a public opinion poll to determine
statewide support for a new stadium.
"If there's not public support under any realistic terms or conditions
we can create, then that's the public will," said Dayton, D-Minn.
He did not specify a stadium funding plan, other than to say that it should
involve public revenue bonds backed entirely by stadium-generated revenue.
Only if a "large majority" of the public supports a stadium
project, he said, should the governor and the Legislature work during the
upcoming legislative session to locate, finance and administer a new facility.
A new Vikings stadium, Dayton added, should also be included in the
"Now we must decide," the senator said in his letter. "Do we,
the people of Minnesota, want to undertake one or two more of these stadium
projects? Not for [Twins owner] Carl Pohlad. Nor for any other owner. For
"If we collectively say Yes," the letter continues, "I am
confident that Governor Ventura and our current state legislators can carry out
our own instructions. ... If we say No, we must know that we will lose the
Twins, soon, and probably the Vikings thereafter. It's our decision."
The poll and a stadium finance plan would be Steps 1 and 2 of Dayton's
proposal. Step 3 would be making sure the Twins have a "strong, committed
and successful owner," and Step 4 would be a guarantee from Major League
Baseball that it would keep the team in Minnesota for at least 20 years.
Dayton said that pending legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone,
D-Minn., to take away part of baseball's antitrust exemption has "zero
chance" of passage this year. The best hope for saving the Twins from
contraction, he said, is to commit to a new stadium.
Initial reaction to Dayton's plan was mixed.
Dayton said Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig remained
"noncommittal" after a 15-minute telephone presentation of the plan
Paul Moore, a spokesman for Ventura, said the governor is "willing to
listen to anything, particularly if it doesn't involve raising taxes."
Dan Wolter, a spokesman for Minnesota House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon,
said Dayton's plan doesn't address pro baseball's underlying payroll and revenue
disparities. "The speaker thinks it's ironic that Dayton is refusing to
acknowledge the economic issues of baseball," he said. "The real issue
they need to be talking about in Washington is how to make small-market teams
more viable and competitive."
Vic Moore, chief of staff for state Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe,
DFL-Erskine, welcomed Dayton's initiative. "Senator Moe's position is that
the more support we can get to keep the Twins here, the better," he said.
Bell said he was not familiar with Dayton's plan and could not comment.