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Twins ballpark legislation stalled

Twins ballpark legislation stalled

St. Paul, Minn. -- If the Minnesota Twins were to prepare a "to-do" list for September, items like "catch White Sox" and "set pitching rotation for playoffs" would surely be included. After a frustrating turn of events at the Minnesota State Capitol, they might have to add "get new ballpark legislation moving" to that list as well.

The Minnesota legislature adjourned its special legislative session Wednesday without voting on the Twins ballpark bill, but the club is hopeful that it will come to a vote during a possible special session this fall.

The Twins are seeking legislative approval for a sales tax in Hennepin County that would be the primary funding source for a new ballpark to be built in the Minneapolis Warehouse District. If approved by the state legislature, the .15 percent countywide sales tax (which has already been approved by the Hennepin County board) would fund much of a $360 million open-air ballpark, scheduled to open in time for the 2009 season. The Twins will make a $125 million cash contribution toward the construction of the ballpark.

Twins officials have expressed unease at the delay but remain cautiously hopeful for a solution before the conclusion of this season.

"Obviously, we're disappointed," said Jerry Bell, president, Twins Sports Inc., shortly after the legislature adjourned. "The word we'd gotten was that they'd vote on the stadium when the budget bills were done, but they didn't say specifically when. Now it looks like we have to wait until the fall, but that's not for sure, either, so it's frustrating."

Sen. Steve Kelley, a Democrat from suburban Minneapolis and chief author of the ballpark bill, said the vote should have been taken months ago.

"I'm most disappointed that we didn't get something done during the regular session," Kelley said. "We should've been able to solve our budget problems in May and hear the ballpark bill then."

Instead, an impasse over the state budget led to the first government shutdown in Minnesota's 148 years of statehood and pushed the stadium issue to the bottom of the priority list.

Bell said he has spoken with legislative leaders and plans to speak with Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the coming days in hopes of getting more assurances that the ballpark bill will receive a vote in the fall. Pawlenty and Commissioner Bud Selig spoke by phone during the All-Star break, and Selig told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he was encouraged by their talk.

Pawlenty's senior advisor for communications, Tom Mason, confirmed during a recent interview on Minnesota Public Radio that the governor may call a special session of the legislature in the fall. According to Mason, the governor would require a pre-agreement on the issues to be discussed before calling a special session. Legislators say there's a good chance of that happening.

"The sense I've gotten from the governor is that it's likely we will have a special session in the fall to consider a limited number of bills, such as the ballpark bill," said Kelley, who has recently announced that he will run for governor in 2006.

Hennepin County officials have expressed concern that further delays in the approval of a ballpark project could dramatically increase the cost of the facility because of inflation in the prices of building materials. Others see a kind of synergy in getting a ballpark bill approved in the fall, when the Twins hope to be in the midst of a battle with the White Sox for a fourth straight American League Central Division crown.

"I hope we get the bill done in the fall, and I hope the Twins are winning a pennant race right around that time," said Kelley.

Jess Myersis a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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