Minn. Twins Win Stadium Subsidy Deal

Published July 1, 2006

Years of concerted effort by the Minnesota Twins Major League Baseball team paid off on May 26, when Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) signed a stadium subsidy bill before the start of the Twins game against the Seattle Mariners. It was a good night for the Twins, as they won hundreds of millions of tax dollars for a new stadium and then defeated the Mariners 3-1.

But many analysts believe it was a bad night for Minnesota taxpayers.

$392 Million Subsidy

The bill ended years of effort by the Twins to secure government funding for a new, open-air stadium. The final price tag for the 42,000-seat facility is estimated to be $522 million, with $392 million of the cost to be covered by taxpayers. The vote was 71-61 in the House and 34-32 in the Senate.

The stadium deal relies on a 0.15 percent sales tax increase in Hennepin County (3 cents of every $20 spent), in effect removing the state’s 86 other counties from having to contribute to the construction of the ballpark. The sales tax covers everything but clothing and motor vehicles. (The motor vehicle sales tax goes into the state general fund and trunk highway fund.)

As the bill’s chief legislative author, state Rep. Brad Finstad (R-Comfrey) concluded, much of the plan’s success can be attributed to the fact that “this was the first proposal that truly included zero state money.”

Citizens Denied Vote

To set in place the needed public contribution, legislative approval was required for an exemption from Minnesota Statute 297A.99, Subdivision 3 (a), which requires that any local sales tax increase be preceded by a voter referendum.

Understandably, Hennepin County residents wanted to vote.

“The law was created precisely for this situation,” said Laura Lehman of Citizens for a Stadium Tax Referendum, one of several citizen-lobbying groups opposed to the deal. “If there wasn’t a referendum requirement, special interests could hijack the whole process and, with it, the taxpayers’ money.” She said this is what happened.

A Minneapolis Star Tribune Minnesota Poll published during the last week of the legislative session showed only weak support for public funding of the stadium. Most respondents said all three teams mentioned (Twins, Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League, and the Minnesota Gophers college football team) should remain in the Metrodome.

Almost from the moment the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis was completed in 1982 and Minnesota’s major baseball and football teams moved there, the facility was out of date. One of the last multiuse domed stadiums to be built (at a cost of $55 million), it would be only a few short years before new open-air and retractable-roof stadiums would begin to be built in cities across the country.

Push Began in ’90s

In the midst of the 1990s stadium construction boom, the Twins made their first trip to the state legislature looking for financial help to build a new facility, bringing with them threats of relocation or contraction (revoking of the team’s franchise) from Major League Baseball. In 1997, a special legislative session to address the issue was called. That attempt failed, as did every other attempt for the next nine years.

Originally introduced in the winter and spring of 2005, this year’s stadium deal was primarily the work of Twins Sports, Inc. President Jerry Bell and Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat. Previous stadium proposals had fallen apart due to a heavy reliance on state funding, the grind of the legislative process, or a lack of support from one level of government or another.

David Strom, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, described the bill’s final passage this way: “Professional sports teams have a nearly bottomless well of resources from which to draw. If those of us opposed to this kind of corporate welfare bat anything less than 1000, we lose.”

Mark Giga ([email protected]) is director of outreach at the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.

For more information …

Minneapolis Star Tribune Minnesota Poll http://www.startribune.com/784/story/430934.html (article); http://www.startribune.com/784/v-table/story/431029.html (poll results).

“Three who made the Twins’ stadium dream come true,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 23, 2006, http://www.startribune.com/509/story/448986.html.

Research and commentary on public funding of sports stadiums is also available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to http://www.heartland.org, click on the PolicyBot™ button, and select the topic/subtopic combination Economic Development/Stadiums and Convention Centers.