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Ventura says surtaxes for stadium are an option
by Robert Whereatt, Kevin Diaz and David Phelps

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 services.

"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 funding suggestions.

"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 decisionmaking process.

"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 ourselves.

"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 Monday.

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.