Urgency for special session heightens

Urgency for special session heightens

Key players in the effort to secure a new ballpark for the Twins have renewed calls for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to hold a special session to vote on the proposed spending bill for the project. The bill made its way to the floor of the legislature this spring, but did not come to a vote before the session was adjourned.

University of Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi delivered a petition to Gov. Pawlenty on Sept. 12 with 3,000 signatures of people who want a special session called to vote on the proposed new Golden Gophers football stadium. That same day, Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, a Democrat from Willmar, expressed his support for a special session in November to deal with the football stadium and Twins ballpark issues.

In a letter addressed to his constituents, Sen. Johnson, the chief author of Twins ballpark bills in past sessions, notes the growing urgency of the situation -- one of the anticipated effects of Hurricane Katrina is a sharp rise in the cost of construction materials. Sen. Johnson noted that the sports facilities "will no doubt continue to cost more to build if we do not act now."

Hennepin County commissioner Mike Opat, who has been one of the biggest backers of the ballpark plan, said that Sen. Johnson's words were very encouraging, but he's still waiting for movement from the governor's office. Opat says that this is a critical time for fans to speak up if there is to be progress in the near future.

"Anyone who thinks that the ballpark is important needs to get on the phone," said Opat. "The Governor needs to hear from fans, because if there's not a special session, I don't think the ballpark is even going to be on the agenda next year."

Under the state's constitution, the governor is the only person with authority to call a special legislative session. Twins fans interested in expressing their desire for a vote on the ballpark bill can contact Gov. Pawlenty by clicking here or by calling (651) 296-3391.

Sen. Johnson said that the three days before Thanksgiving would be a good time for a special session, as it would put pressure on legislators to get their work done before the holiday break. Meanwhile, Twins officials admit frustration at the continued talk of a special session, but no real movement on the part of the governor.

"The problem that we've seen is that we keep hearing good things, but there's no action," said Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports Inc. "It's extremely frustrating."

The proposal to be heard before the legislature, if passed, would allow Hennepin County to increase its county-wide sales tax by a small percentage. The resulting revenue would be used to fund a new open-air ballpark in the Warehouse District north of downtown Minneapolis. Original projections put the project's cost at $360 million.

The Twins have pledged to pay for $125 million of the construction costs up front, although Bell acknowledged that the probability of increased costs has risen dramatically in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In the meantime, he and countless Twins fans continue to wait, and hope that the governor will take the first step toward a vote on the ballpark proposal by calling a special session.

"We thought as far back as last winter that we had the votes to pass something if we could just get it to a vote," said Bell. "But we've still never had a vote."

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