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Beaver: Twins deal still on the burner
N.C. House Leader: 'Postpone May Referendum' On Triad Stadium For Twins; Cites Lack Of Support

RALEIGH, N.C., Posted 5:25 a.m. March 17, 1998 -- A state House leader says he wants the General Assembly to postpone a May referendum on building a major-league baseball stadium while baseball supporters design an alternative financing plan.

House Speaker Pro Tem Steve Wood said his proposal -- which would be brought up next week during a scheduled special legislative session -- would only delay the referendum in Guilford and Forsyth counties.

The move would buy time to create an alternative financing plan to a proposed prepared-foods tax and ticket tax in the two counties. The Legislature approved the May 5 vote last year.

"The approach I'm taking would not be killing the election. It would merely postpone it," said Wood, R-Guilford, who has criticized the public financing. "Then if they can come up with private financing, we wouldn't need the tax election."

Approval of the taxes, which would pay for $140 million of the $210 million stadium, are a key component of bringing the Minnesota Twins to the Triad region. Hickory businessman Don Beaver, who is working to buy the Twins and move them south, says he would go to Charlotte if a stadium can't be built in the Triad.

Wood says it's bleak right now for supporters of the new taxes: "Unless the polls are wrong, unless the sentiment is wrong, it looks like it's going to fail."

Members might entertain a local matter if a local delegation requests it, but several legislators say they are reluctant to suspend rules during the special session and take up such an issue.

Under current rules, it would take a two-thirds vote in both houses to suspend the rules and take up an unrelated bill. But the rules may be drawn even tighter when the Legislature convenes to take up a proposal to expand health coverage for uninsured children.

"When you start suspending the rules, that's a bad idea," said Rep. Richard Morgan, R-Moore, the House Rules Committee chairman. "Doesn't that go against the grain of things when the General Assembly authorizes people to vote on something and then jerks it away from them?"

Sen. Mark McDaniel, who proposed an alternative financing plan of his own last month that would have created no new taxes, says the referendum would be better left alone.

"The voters are sick of hearing about it, reading about it, talking about it and seeing anything about it," said McDaniel, R-Forsyth. "The ones I talk to are ready to vote. Let's leave it to them."

Walt Klein, the manager of the Vote Yes for Major League Baseball campaign, agreed.

"This proposal is right where ... state legislators said it ought to be -- right before the voters in two counties," Klein said. "I'd certainly rather have the question of major-league baseball in the hands of voters on the streets than in Rep. Wood's hands or those of his colleagues who have opposed it all along."

And Walter McDowell, the president of Wachovia Bank of North Carolina and a co-chairman of the baseball campaign, said that baseball supporters spent two years working on various financing proposals.

"In my view, May 5 is when it happens one way or the other," McDowell said. "This is the only thing we could get through the General Assembly."