You Know You Want It

Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) demonstrates the pitch that nearly struck out the Twins stadium in a House committee
Craig Lassig

Normally when we open the Star Tribune, we expect the petulant whining on behalf of a new baseball stadium to be Sid Hartman's province, with perhaps a soupçon of Souhan and a rasp from Reusse emanating from the peanut gallery.

But last Thursday, the psychological ravages wrought by the Strib's longstanding edifice complex spread to its editorial page, in a howler of a screed entitled "Just Do It." Perversions of logic and/or reality stood out in nearly every paragraph, but two in particular practically glowed. The backroom deal that negotiators from the Twins and Hennepin County readily admit was crafted in secret and sprung at the end of the legislative session in order to deter thorough public comment and scrutiny was said by the Strib to have "gained remarkable momentum in recent weeks." Sure it has--if you ignore the paper's own Minnesota Poll, which revealed that a substantial majority of the public opposes both the financing of the $353 million deal and the waiving of state law required to bypass a public referendum that would surely be a loser for ballpark proponents.

Strib editorial writer Steve Berg, the author of the unsigned piece, took a second trip through the looking glass a little later on when he termed the circumventing of a public referendum on the tax assessment "a matter of statewide fairness."

"Hennepin County gets economic advantage from hosting the Twins," Berg wrote, "yet its voters would have the power to scuttle baseball for the entire state and region." Stop those voters now, the Strib seemed to plead, before they move on to assassinating grandmothers and poisoning apple pies throughout the Upper Midwest. And why would they do that? To deprive themselves of an economic advantage!

While it may not yet be evident to the best minds at the Star Tribune, hysterical threats about "scuttling" the Twins have zero credibility at this point. Indeed, the boys who cry wolf don't even bother ginning up evidence to support their doomsday scenarios anymore. This time around, there isn't a contraction vote by the other baseball owners or a reported deal to sell the team to business interests in some faraway place. Three division championships later, the ballclub is still here, and Carl Pohlad still owns it.

More to the point, study after study has demonstrated that bankrolling ballparks is not an economically sound endeavor. Furthermore, in last week's local government committee meetings of the Minnesota House, Rep. Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington) revealed that state economists estimate that between 85 and 93 percent of the sales taxes used to pay for the stadium would be borne by Hennepin County residents.

"The authors of the stadium bill said verbatim how it was created: People got together in a room and cut a deal," said Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis), another Hennepin County representative who sits on the committee. "They bent the rules to get a legislative hearing after the deadline. And now they want to bend the rules by forgoing a referendum."

Hornstein's amendment to adhere to state law and allow voter approval on the stadium was defeated in the committee by a narrow 10 to 9 margin. Due to a series of amendments by Hornstein, Lenczewski, and Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville), some of the more egregious language in the bill was modified, including one provision that had an unelected, newly created Ballpark Authority usurping the zoning authority of the city of Minneapolis (language that Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat allowed may have been "a little too aggressive").

Shortly before the local government committee moved the bill on to the House tax committee by a 12 to 7 vote, its chair, Mark Olson (R-Big Lake), decried the hurried pace at which it had been heard. "It concerns me that we had to have 25 amendments withdrawn" due to time constraints, he said. (Most of these were to come from Lenczewski, who said she didn't even get to view the proposed bill until May 11.) "We are approving things without things being complete. For example, imagine how the public would feel [about the stadium funding] if there were a [player] strike. We had two [unheard] amendments to that effect. I submit to you, members, that we haven't finished our work."

But no matter. To the delight of the Twins and the Strib's editorialists, they "just did it" anyway.

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