Private Sector Puck

GOVERNMENT BELT-tightening usually slams the low-paid bus drivers of the world, but the rich do suffer the occasional collateral damage. For example: the so-far fruitless quest for $20 million in government funds to lure the Winnipeg Jets, slated to play before gentry who will fork over an average $35 a ticket to former health-care mogul Richard Burke.

With National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman in town to lobby the Pro Sports task force this week, fat cat efforts to squeeze the money out of the public sector continue. But within the bowels of Minneapolis City Hall, some are grumbling that an important private individual has managed to stay off the hot seat: Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor. According to those who negotiated and supported the Target Center bailout, Taylor received at least a $500,000 annual windfall when the bailout's ticket-tax financing plan was replaced, due to IRS intervention, with a property-and-entertainment-tax substitute. One source puts Taylor's gain at $1 million a year.

The understanding, these sources say, is that Taylor would channel the found funds toward luring hockey. So far, he hasn't. Hockey boosters estimate they need between $1.5 million and $2 million a year to create the Minneapolis Jets. Taylor's windfall could provide as much as half the financing to making the deal real.

Taylor backers argue that the Wolves owner has already done his share, giving back $500,000 of the gain to Ogden Corp., Target Center's manager, which agreed to take more money up front in return for assuming the risk of filling the building.

Another painless source of funds is new parking money--as much as $800,000 a year in the overbuilt TAD ramp system on the western edge of downtown, assuming 4,000 hockey fans drive in per game. Dedicating the profits--maybe $600,000 a season--would not reduce current city revenues, since Minneapolis cannot legally make a profit on the state-owned ramps.

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