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Want to Buy a Stadium?
By Martin Kaste
June 18, 1999

Governor Ventura today invited people who support public financing for a new Twins stadium to donate their own money to the effort. On his weekly radio show, Ventura said he intends to set up a state-run gift fund for new sports stadiums. Some state leaders have dismissed the surprise proposal as a joke, but the donation fund may undermine the current effort by Minneapolis and St Paul officials to build a new stadium with tax dollars.

THE GOVERNOR CALLAS HIS STADIUM-DONATION proposal "democracy at its finest." Rather than getting state politicians wound up in another gruelling debate over whether to subsidize new stadiums for the Twins and Vikings, Ventura says average Minnesotans should vote with their wallets.
Ventura: This will show in my opinion what level people all over in Minnesota want to participate in the stadium issue.
Instead of dipping into the treasury, Ventura says, the state could offer St. Paul or Minneapolis whatever comes into the fund as the state's contribution to a new stadium. Would that be enough money? Ventura thinks so, especially considering Minnesotans are about to receive $1.3 billion dollars worth of tax rebates in the mail.
Ventura: For example, if the St. Paul plan is used, that means, according to what I've read, we'd only have to get about $100 million as the state to participate. As the state, that means roughly only one in 10 rebate checks.
That means roughly one in 10 Minnesota taxpayers would have to give up rebates worth $600 dollars, on average. Or, calculated another way, one million Minnesotans would freely donate $100 dollars. An unscientific survey on the streets of St. Paul indicates Minnesotans aren't that generous.
Woman: He's kidding, right? No way, no way, no way.
Man: Maybe, maybe not. MPR: If maybe you did, about how much would you be willing to write a check for?
Man: Not a whole lot. Maybe like on the tax form, where it says a dollar can go to the DNR fund, I don't know.
I do follow the teams, but when it comes to billionaires paying millionaires to play sports, I feel they have their own resources to back up their own enterprises.
Ventura says he wouldn't donate to the fund. He says he's got better uses for his money, and he doesn't think the Twins need a new stadium. Mayor Norm Coleman was not available to comment on the Ventura proposal this afternoon, but a spokesman said they'd have to study the plan more closely.

Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, who is putting together a competing stadium-financing plan, is worried that the donation fund will be seen as a measure of Minnesotans' willingness to support a stadium.
Sayles Belton: I don't know about you, but if I thought I was getting a windfall in August, given what I do in the summer, which is prepare my kids for school or prepare a last-minute vacation, I may have already planned to spend that money.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he expects Minnesotans will not donate a lot. He says that should be seen as a measure of their attitude toward public subsidies.
Sviggum: The message we would read is that people are not all that interested in voting with their own money in a stadium, they'd be more interested in participating with someone else's money.
Sviggum strongly opposes public money - especially state money - for a new stadium. In fact, the general attitude among legislators toward a stadium subsidy seems very poor. They still have fresh memories of the stadium battle of 1997 when angry constituents swamped the Capitol switchboard.

Governor Ventura says his donation plan could keep the matter from getting to legislators, if the fund gets big enough. But unless Minnesotans donate $300 million or so, legislators won't be so lucky. The new stadium's home city would still probably have to raise local sales taxes; something that requires the Legislature's approval. In '97, legislators said no to everything from cigarette taxes to baseball-merchandise taxes to a special surcharge on athlete's salaries.

St. Paul Senator Sandy Pappas says she doesn't see why that attitude would change.
Pappas: People really have their mind made up. They think baseball is messed up as an industry. And that if we don't address those issues of salaries for players, competition between cities, first, and have local ownership of the Twins, which is increasingly popular, if don't do that first before we address the stadium, then we're doing things backwards.
Still, legislative leaders are leaving the door open a crack. Speaker Sviggum says although he opposes public money for the stadium, he's open to some user fees - fees or taxes collected directly from baseball fans.

Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe is even more positive. He supported user fees in 1997, and he says he's glad Mayor Coleman has put the stadium issue back on the public agenda. But he says legislators will not move on the issue without leadership from Ventura.
Moe: Then it's dead-on-arrival. There's no question about it. Something like this, you need a bully pulpit.
However, Moe does not see Ventura's donation-fund idea as the kind of leadership required to get the stadium built. After hearing about it this afternoon, he called it "laughable," and wondered whether that was Jesse Ventura the Governor at work, or Jesse Ventura the entertainer.