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April 25, 2005

The hand we've been dealt

Long time readers of the Greet Machine know the basic parameters of any Twins stadium financing plan that I think would work. Basically, for months I've been harping on the fact that the Twins first need to pick a site, and then increase their rumored upfront contribution. Well, I guess one out of two ain't bad.

For years the Twins have been playing our fair Twin Cities off of each other hoping for the best deal possible from either. Finally, we have confirmation that the Twins and Hennepin County have struck a deal to get the job done at the Rapid Park site of Minneapolis. That, of course, is wonderful news. However, Pohlad has agreed to only increase his upfront contribution by $5 million dollars. Technically it is an increase, but it wasn't nearly what I wanted it to be. So, what does that leave us with?

Surprisingly this is a pretty good plan. Now, usually I am very pessimistic towards these kinds of things, and while there are still a lot of reasons to be pessimistic there is also reason for optimism. While Pohlad is still sticking with his approx. $120 million upfront contribution, the Twins and Hennepin County have made up for that by taking the state out of the equation. Brilliant!

Regardless of how much Pohlad contributed there would always need to be a community money and involvement. For nine years we've also thought there would need to be state money and involvement too. Wrong! The Twins and Hennepin County have decided to foot the entire bill themselves with $125 million from the Twins and a 0.15% general sales tax in Hennepin County.

Here is what is great about that plan. Any tax in Hennepin County to build a Twins stadium would be controversial. A hotel tax, a restaurant tax, a hospitality tax it didn't matter, it would always be controversial. So, why not put together a plan that can raise a boatload of money in the broadest way possible? No more numerous funding sources, no more state funding necessary, this plan has only two funding sources and such a broad tax that it will be both unoticeable to the average taxpayer (3 cents on every $20 spent) but also predictable in its potential revenue (unlike TIF or user fees or other stadium district financing methods). In fact, a 0.15% tax is more than just predictable, it also has the likely potential of paying off the debt relatively quickly. In other words, I seriously doubt it will take 30 years to pay for the ballpark.

Who could be against such a simple plan? Well, a lot of people actually, but let's focus on who is in favor so far. According to the Star Tribune:

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, and House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, both said on Saturday that they would support the proposal.

"This is a very workable plan because it does not require any state general fund money," Johnson said. "Three cents on $20 falls out of most people's pockets before breakfast."

Sviggum called it a "reasonable" plan. "Obviously, it's a significant commitment of the Twins owner," he said.

So, we've got the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader saying they will back this proposal. Looking at it another way, we have the leader of the Republican House and the leader of the DFL Senate both in favor of this plan. It is hard to believe, I know, but it looks like we could have bipartisan support for this plan. Dean Johnson was actually on The Sports Huddle with Sid and Dave this morning on WCCO Radio and he was practically gushing about this plan. He seemed very optimistic about the plan's chances in the legislature. But he hesitated when discussing the chances of Pawlenty signing the corresponding bill into law.

You see, Pawlenty has pledged no new taxes during his reign as governor of Minnesota. Would Pawlenty consider this as a new tax, even though it is really just a tax hike on an existing tax? Will he look favorably on the fact that only Hennepin County will be levied this tax hike? Will he be swayed by the fact that it is only 3 cents on every $20 spent, or $30 for every $20,000 spent? Sid Hartman seems to think so.

This is why I listen to Sid on Sunday mornings. He is so connected. As Johnson was suggesting that the legislature would do it's part and that it is all really up to Pawlenty to make this happen, Sid said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "I just had lunch with Pawlenty last Tuesday at Vescio's and he said he would support this plan." Needless to say, this made my heart skip a beat. Could it be true? Later on in the afternoon WCCO also quoted Mike Opat (the Hennepin County Commissioner we all have to thank for this) as saying Pawlenty was on board with the plan. Speaker of the House? Check. Senate Majority Leader? Check. Governor of Minnesota? Check? Sorry, I'm still pessimistic about this one. I want to hear Pawlenty say it himself.

Who else can we count on to support this plan ... well, I would think out-state legislators for one. They literally have nothing to lose. When they go to vote on this plan they aren't voting on any state money. They aren't voting to tax their own constituents. They have nothing to lose and nothing to fear. Will they be enough? Can they overcome the anti-stadium backlash that is sure to come from metropolitan legislators? Hopefully we'll get a chance to see.

Finally, in terms of support, I was surprised that while listening to the radio this afternoon almost everyone that called in supported this plan. There were a few nay-sayers, but the vast majority of the people who called in basically said the same thing: it is time to put this behind us.

Man! What a day. Lots of stuff to be positive about. Now let's look at the negative. Let's look at what chances this bill really has to get passed.

First of all, stadium opponents have time on their side. According to the StarTrib, both Johnson and Sviggum have both said that the legislature will "not consider a stadium proposal until after the budget bills for health care, education and transportation were done." That is a tall order. I can just hear Phil Krinkie cackaling. All stadium opponents have to do is wait. All they have to do is argue the state budget until the bitter end, and this proposal is dead. And don't think they won't do it. Don't think Phil isn't so bitterly against stadium financing that he won't do anything he can to thwart this effort. Remember, he jeopardized the passage of the state bonding bill because he thought a part of it could possibly be used to help fund a new Vikings stadium. The man is insane when it comes to being anti-stadium.

Secondly, the Twins have already stated the deal is dead if a referendum is attached. They don't want a referendum for two reasons: 1) it increases costs to wait for a referendum to pass and 2) a referendum would never pass in Hennepin County (or anywhere in Minnesota for that matter). The Twins aren't stupid. And neither is Phil Krinkie. Why do I keep coming back to him? Because he is the chair of the House Taxes Committee. If he even agrees to hear the bill (and it is in his power not to) he will fight to attach a referendum at the bare minimum. If I could suggest something, we should all write the rest of the members of the House Taxes committee and tell them to support this bill as is. There is a chance that this bill could get out of the House Taxes committee without a referendum but the rest of the members will have to overcome Mr. Krinkie.

That is if there is even time for the plan to get out of committee in the first place.

Finally, stadium opponents have the most powerful argument of all. Why should we fund a Twins stadium when we are struggling to fund police, when we are cutting funding to health care, when we can't adequately fund education? Well (broken record time), given the choice of inadequately funding, say, education, and building a new stadium, or just inadequately funding education, I will take the former every time. Not funding a stadium is no gurantee that education will receive extra funding. Why do we constantly tie them together? Steve Thompson, WCCO radio host, also had some interesting things to say about this problem. Essentially, he said, this is the way the game is played. We can argue about whether or not publicly funding stadiums is good or bad until we are blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is this is the way stadiums are built. Do we want major league baseball in our state or not? Is the expense of a new stadium worth it to have this unique entertainment option for the people of the Upper Midwest? Because this is how stadiums are built. Well, it looks like we are going to find out if we think it is worth it real quick.

May 23rd is the last day of the legislative session. Write your legislator now. Beg. Plead. This may be Pohlad's last try. Let's put this behind us and back a plan that not only has a fantastic shot of building a Twins stadium but also of paying off the debt in half the time.

Well, I've got to wrap this up. I know I'll talk more about this in the coming week. Before I close let me just say that I've been typing this while watching The Sports Show with Sid, Patrick Reusse, Mike Max, and Dark Star. Dark Star and Patrick Reusse have both basically said they don't have a lot of faith that this deal will go through. Reusse gave time as a reason for his pessimism and Dark Star just said "Krinkie" as his reason. Sid was the only one that came out and said he thinks this is finally the plan that will result in a new Twins stadium. You can take that for whatever it is worth.

Me? I'm sitting at 50/50 right now. I am excited about this plan. I am happy that it seems to have bipartisan support from our legislative leaders. I am thrilled that public reaction that I've heard so far has been positive. But we may simply run out of time.

Posted by snackeru at April 25, 2005 7:52 AM | Stadiums

Comments

Hi-zah!

And may the Croggity Krinkie stub his toe really hard this morning.

Posted by: Vince at April 25, 2005 12:38 AM

Shane,

I sure hope this is it...I am so cynical when it comes to our legislature, however. Even if T-Paw comes out in favor of the plan, it doesn't mean his Republican caucus in the House will go along with he and the Speaker. Krinkie is a creep and T-Paw/Swiggum will have to sequester the bum if they want this thing to pass. What stinks about this is the county needs permission from the state in order to levy the tax increase. Gee, if that's not big brother intruding, I don't know what is!

I live in Roseville, it kills me that this city keeps re-electing John Marty.

The fact is, it's the SAME PEOPLE always siding against the stadiums. These people will NEVER be for a stadium even if the owner built it himself! The would argue, the owners should then be donating that money to schools, homeless, etc.

I'm so sick of their whining! We haven't built the stadium in the 10 years we've been debating it, and there are still homeless people, education is still underfunded....WELL, I THOUGHT NOT BUILDING THE STADIUM WAS GOING TO SOLVE ALL THAT???!?!?!?!?!

Just build the damn thing already and STFU to the whiners!

Posted by: Kevin at April 25, 2005 11:25 AM

Kevin, thanks for the comment. Believe me, I am as cynical as you are when it comes to the legislature's ability to do anything of value. However, I am really trying to keep positive about this plan. Again, it is the hand we've been dealt. We need to support this plan, write our legislators, and put the pressure on.

I will say my optimism will increase with a strong statement from Pawlenty. If he comes out against this plan today after it is officially unveiled ... all hope is lost. I'm sure we'll find out tomorrow.

Marty and Krinkie ... combined they are the bane of my existence. I am sorry that you are stuck in Roseville with that clown Marty. Thankfully, my senator is Steve Kelly of Hopkins. Now there is a guy with his head screwed on straight!

And regarding your tirade about the homeless and education, amen brother. It seems the legislature is hellbent on not doing anything for anybody rather than actually solving problems. Man! It is infuriating...

Posted by: Shane at April 25, 2005 12:01 PM

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