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Ventura gets into stadium game
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
March 15, 2002

Gov. Jesse Ventura has entered the Twins ballpark debate with a plan of his own. Ventura's proposal avoids any new taxes, user fees, or surcharges, and relies strictly on a multi-part financing plan to shift the costs entirely onto the team. Lawmakers say the plan shows promise, but the package requires a substantial upfront investment by the Twins. The team has recently balked at paying cash upfront.

Gov. Jesse Ventura on Friday proposed letting the Twins use the state's credit card and other government perks to finance a $330 million ballpark, but the team would be on the line for most of the cost. Listen to Ventura's presentation.
(MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)

Gov. Ventura has repeatedly resisted attempts to raise taxes or use general fund revenues to support ballpark efforts, and he was quick to point out his new plan avoids both.

"To be blunt and honest, I couldn't believe that it took this long to come up with it. I mean, with all the brainchilds behind building stadiums and all the new ones across the nation that have been built, it was really a little - I don't know what term I want to use - with amazement that I thought something could be this relatively simple," Ventura said.

The plan takes advantage of low interest rates to issue $330 million in bonds. At the same time, the Twins would contribute half that amount to an investment account that Ventura estimates would outperform the bonds, allowing the investment earnings - along with annual payments from the team - to retire the debt in 30 years. The bottom line: not one cent of state tax revenue would go to the stadium.

Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, who is leading the ballpark effort in the Senate, says the plan has merit. And he says it could be the best deal the Twins will see.

"They ought to take a serious look - a very serious look - at this proposal. And we only have this window of opportunity and these economic times because the interest rates are very, very competitive. In two weeks or four weeks they're going to start to rise. And that's what this proposal is predicated on is low interest rates," he said.

A Twins spokesman declined to comment on the governor's plan until the team has studied it further. But Twins President Jerry Bell has said recently that they'll have a difficult time selling the franchise if the buyer must not only pay for the team, but also make an upfront contribution to the stadium.

The plan also calls for $10 million annual payments from the team. Johnson points out, however, that the proposal allows some flexibility. For example, the various revenue streams from the stadium could flow entirely to the team to assist them in making those payments. And Johnson says the governor notably did not rule out public assistance from a city or county that wants to host the ballpark.

On the House side, Rep. Harry Mares, R-White Bear Lake, says the governor's input could help move a bill through a skeptical Legislature.

"I thank the governor for showing some leadership and coming forth with a plan. I think it's the first time in a number of years, anyway since he's been in office, that he has put forth something that we can at least look at and evaluate," Mares said.

Both the House and Senate ballpark plans rely on new taxes, a difficult proposition, particularly for many House Republicans. Mares says elements of the Ventura proposal could be incorporated into a House plan to improve its chances.

The governor's plan has already impressed some critics of publicly-subsidized stadiums. Dan McGrath of Progressive Minnesota says he's not ready to support the Ventura package, but he says it's a substantially better deal than other recent ideas.

"Clearly this is a proposal that gets much closer to something that I think the public can live with. The fact that of the matter is people have voted twice against tax increases for a stadium, and this finally takes the burden off taxpayers directly," McGrath said.

The Senate has already passed its ballpark plan. And the House version will be up for consideration in committee next week. Ventura says he hopes his input can help resolve the debate once and for all, so that lawmakers can turn to what the governor says are the more important legislative items: solving the budget deficit riddle and passing a capital investment bill.

More from MPR
  • Audio: Gov. Ventura's news conference
  • Senate passes stadium bill 3/13/02
  • Ballpark financing bill advances... barely 3/12/02