Twins Stadium, Chapter 83462398
The endless push for a new Twins stadium finally wore out Strib columnist Doug Grow, who waved a sheepish white flag in favor of the Hennepin County sales tax deal in this morning's paper. The Hennepin County commissioners are in the midst of another marathon song-and-dance this afternoon that will almost certainly culminate in the county adding another $20 million in inflation-adjusted cost to the public investment in the proposed ballpark, bringing the tab for taxpayers up to $349 million.
But the watershed (Waterloo?) moment for the latest stadium money-grab will happen later this week, as the House Tax Committee takes up the bill that, as currently written, would authorize Hennepin County to levy bonds and implement the sales tax without seeking public approval through a referendum, as is currently required by state law. Chaired by Rep. Phil Krinkie (R-Shoreview), one of the staunchest fiscal conservatives at the Capitol, with Hennepin County legislator and stadium opponent Rep. Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington) also a prominent force, the committee probably represents the most formidable obstacle in the path of Twins stadium proponents.
Krinkie has shrewdly scheduled his committee's hearings on the bill as a two-part process. Those in favor of a stadium will be testifying beginning tomorrow at 3 p.m. in Room 5 of the State Office Building. Opponents of the ballpark will get their say beginning at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Oak Grove Middle School, 1300 W. 106th St. in Bloomington. Thus, the opponents get the final testimony, at a time more accessible in the schedules of most taxpayers, and in a Hennepin County location that also happens to be in Lenczewski's district. And if you think the Hennepin County hearings have been lengthy, just wait until Krinkie and Lenczewski start loading up proposed amendments to the bill around 9 or 10 on Thursday night.
"I'll likely have a couple of amendments," Krinkie acknowledged last week in a brief phone interview before he went home for the Passover/Easter break. "I want an amendment offered to include the referendum. I don't know whether or not it will pass, but it is current law and I don't understand why we should bypass it for a project of this scope. Once a tax get passed, it almost never goes away. Voters have the right to say whether or not they want it, so why should we remove [that right] in this case? The other thing, this bill has an exemption for sales tax on construction materials. I don't particularly like that idea and there might be amendment or something happening there." He added that Lenczewski likewise is going over the bill, noting that "I think she said she had about 40 amendments she could have offered last year [on pretty much the exact same bill] if it had been necessary." It wasn't, as the stadium bill became a victim of the cantankerous budget fight and never made it out of the committee.
This year, however, ballpark boosters not only have the newfound momentum of Grow's change of heart and the county's (likely) increased commitment from today. They also have to be buoyed by the favorable reception at the Capitol for building a new on-campus football stadium for the Gophers, and by the fact that most leglislators considering the Twins stadium bill can vote for it (in an election year for all of them) knowing that it will incur no cost to their constituents unless they wander into Hennepin County and buy stuff.
"Obviously, human nature being what it is, there is a chance it might pass because 86 counties are able to skate on this without paying the cost," Krinkie says. But the House Tax Committee chair is spoiling for this fight anyway, his philosophical opposition to stadium subsidies abetted by a potential political dividend. Krinkie currently is locked in a tough battle to secure the Republican endorsement for a chance to represent the 6th U.S. Congressional District in Washington, with, among others, fellow Rep. Jim Knoblauch (R-St. Cloud). Krinkie and Knoblauch have already bruised legislative elbows vying against each other over aspects of the House budget. Given that Knoblauch voted for a Twins stadium bill in both 1997 and 2002, Krinkie sees this as an another opportunity to differentiate himself with 6th District delegates. "I am campaigning on the idea that I am the consistent conservative in this race, so I hope my position on this is helpful to me," he said. "I know it's consistent."
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