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Senate committee approves Twins stadium bill
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
February 15, 2022

The ballpark debate has returned to the state Capitol on two fronts, and lawmakers seem more receptive to stadium plans than in past years. A Senate committee has given the green light to a proposal for a St. Paul Twins ballpark. And House lawmakers introduced legislation to construct a joint Vikings and University of Minnesota football facility.

Members of Progressive Minnesota protested the stadium bill at a Senate committee Thursday.
(MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)

St. Paul Mayor and former state senator Randy Kelly knows as well as anyone the fierce opposition ballpark bills have attracted in recent years. But his presentation before the Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee found a mostly welcoming audience.

Kelly is asking the Legislature to authorize a three percent bar and restaurant tax and stadium ticket surcharge in St. Paul to pay for the city's share of a new Twins facility.

"You can look at it in almost any given way. You can shake your head; you can decide to walk away rather than take the political hits that come with addressing this particular issue. But if we do walk away, I believe, honestly, that we lose Major League Baseball in Minnesota," Kelly said.

The plan was forwarded to its next committee stop on a voice vote that generated only one audible dissent. The committee seemed poised to approve the bill with a recommendation that the full Senate pass it as well.

Members decided not to offer a recommendation, but only because previous bills had not received the same courtesy. The committee also approved a bill providing for a portion of the Twins franchise to be sold to individual stockholders.

DFL Committee Chair Jim Vickerman of Tracy says the ballpark debate has changed dramatically since the league's threat to fold two teams arose last fall.

"If you'd have asked me a year ago if I'd be sitting up here in favor of building a stadium, I probably would have said no. And I would have said no because they told me don't come back home if you vote for that stadium. That whole thing has changed. Instead of saying don't vote for that, they said you better not let those Twins leave this state," Vickerman said.

Details of the funding plan weren't available, including how much revenue the taxes might raise or how to split construction costs between the city, the team, and possibly the state. Estimates for overall cost have ranged between $300 and $350 million.

The plan, however, is similar to a 1999 proposal which would have raised the St. Paul sales tax a half-cent to fund a Twins ballpark. That plan was rejected by city voters after a campaign mounted, in part, by Progressive Minnesota.

Dan Dobson, a St. Paul resident and member of Progressive Minnesota, questioned why the mayor and the bill's chief Senate sponsor - DFLer Chuck Wiger of North St. Paul - would circumvent a state statute that requires voter approval for most local sales tax increases.

"Mayor Kelly, Sen. Wiger, and the supporters here are afraid to put this matter to the voters of St. Paul. Why? Because they know they will lose. They are trying to do it with this legislation," Dobson said.

The bill now moves to the Senate Taxes Committee. Companion legislation is awaiting a first hearing in the House.

On the same day the stadium debate got a little more crowded as the Minnesota Vikings presented a plan to build a football facility to be shared with the University of Minnesota Gophers.

Vikings consultant Lester Bagley notes that a recent tripartisan stadium task force recommended lawmakers consider two stadiums this year.

"It does make sense that we do both and that we don't come back year after year and fight over stadiums. And further, it makes a lot of sense that we do the football stadium before it reaches a crisis as the Twins now face," Bagley said.

The Vikings plan draws on in-stadium taxes, taxes on sports memorabilia, and a new lottery game to finance what would be - if it includes a retractable roof and parking ramps - a $500 million facility. But many of the revenue sources identified in the bill currently flow into the state's general fund, where they support everything from education to health care to transportation. Those provisions are likely to draw criticisms from opponents of publicly-subsidized stadiums.