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Twins Hopeful About Legislation
By Michael Khoo
May 14, 2001

The Minnesota Twins say they've glimpsed a ray of light in the stadium debate at the state Capitol. On Monday, a House committee approved a package that removes most of the public subsidies from the ballpark plan. The Twins say it's doubtful they would support such a deal, but they say they were encouraged by the suggestion they study the financing plan used for the Minnesota Wild's hockey arena.

The House Tax committee voted 15-to-9 with one abstention to move the Twins bill forward. Left behind, however, are most of the public subsidies the team had originally sought. Twins president Jerry Bell says it's unlikely the franchise could support the new package, but he says he's glad to see the bill moving again. Bell says he was particularly happy to hear committee Chairman Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, ask the team to consider the deal offered to the Minnesota Wild to build the Xcel Energy Center.

"We will do that, and I think that was a positive development. We'll see the results, and whenever they meet, we'll be prepared," Bell said.

Bell says the Twins could very well accept a plan based on the Wild deal, which required no upfront contribution from the team. That plan instead relied on a series of grants and loans from St. Paul and the state. By comparison, the Twins deal under consideration in the dollar cost out-of-pocket. The rest would come from a market rate $140 million state loan and a break on construction material sales taxes. But Abrams says the Twins may be getting ahead of themselves. He says he intended his comments to explore whether the team is willing to forego a sales-tax free zone that was included in its original request. Abrams says he's not ready to support a deal modeled on the Wild plan.

"I have no idea; I haven't looked at the Wild deal in a couple of years," Abrams said. "I opposed the Wild deal when it went through. But it's a little bit disingenuous for the Twins to say that, `Why don't you just do for us what the state did for the Wild?' when they've asked for much more than what the Wild did."

Any plan that restored substantial public subsidies could sour the bill's chances in the House. Some members, including Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview, remain opposed to even the current legislation. Referring to a study published in Forbes Magazine, Krinkie questioned the fiscal health of the team and whether team owner and banker Carl Pohlad needs the help.

"We're talking about giving a $140 million loan to an entity that has approximately $100 million of worth and $84 million worth of debt," Krinkie noted. "Mr. Pohlad wouldn't make that loan to anyone on the same terms that we've talked about here. So why should we make this type of a loan to him?"

A Senate version of the plan contains significantly more public subsidies, including an interest-free loan, a state grant, and on-going sales-tax free zone in and around the stadium. The bill's chief House author, Rep. Harry Mares, R-White Bear Lake, says it's appropriate for lawmakers to drive a hard bargain. But Mares says the House may have gone to far in removing state assistance.
"I'm going to be blunt. You know, if I were the owner of the Twins, would I vote for this? I would have grave reservations about it," Mares said.

Michael Khoo covers politics for Minnesota Public Radio. Reach him/her via e-mail at