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Senate passes bill to finance ballpark

Senate passes bill to finance ballpark

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It's a basic rule of baseball that to score the winning run, you have to start at first base. That's roughly where the Minnesota Twins' hopes for a new ballpark stand after Tuesday's moves at the State Capitol, where the Minnesota Senate passed a bill that would finance a facility for the team, another for the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, and expansions of the transit systems in the Twin Cities.

By a narrow 34-32 margin, the proposal advanced to a conference committee where differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill will hopefully be worked out in the next week. A final compromised version of the ballpark bill is expected back before the legislature for a final vote prior to adjournment on May 22.

"This is an important step toward securing the future of the Twins and the Vikings in our state, and toward providing sensible transit options to meet the transportation needs of our region's next generation," said state senator Steve Kelley, a Democrat from Hopkins who is one of the bill's chief authors. "There's still work to be done before we can break ground, but with some cooperation and compromise on the part of the House and the Governor, we hope to get this deal done in the next week or so."

While the proposal isn't perfect in the eyes of some ballpark backers, the serious baseball people know that when you're trying to get on base, drawing a walk works as well as hitting a single.

"I consider this a move forward," said Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports, Inc. "We have four more steps to go. No matter what, and we have to go through all four, so we might as well keep going."

The bill is dramatically different from the one which passed the Minnesota House. The Senate bill calls for a November referendum to approve or reject a .005 percent sales tax in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area. If the sales tax is approved by voters, it would fund a portion of the proposed new ballpark, which is planned for the Warehouse District, north of Target Center in downtown Minneapolis.

The tax revenue would also be used to fund a portion of the proposed new Vikings stadium and for future transit expansion. Both sports facilities would be built with retractable roofs. Twins officials have hinted that that they prefer the House plan, but when he was interviewed on Fox Sports North during Tuesday night's Twins pregame show, team president Dave St. Peter said the Senate plan for a retractable roof is a good thing.

"That's one of the advantages of the Senate plan -- more money and it calls for a roof," St. Peter told FSN host Ron Johnson. "We'd love to see a roof, but the challenge is we don't know if the metro-wide tax is politically viable with the House or the Governor."

It was noted that all 34 votes in favor of the Senate plan were put up by Democrats, while every Senate Republican voted no. That's a sign that the Senate plan may not be popular with the Republican-controlled House or Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty. Bell said the Twins would certainly prefer that the ballpark be passed as a bipartisan effort, but he noted that's out of their control. He added that the team's biggest concerns are about the referendum requirement.

"It has a referendum, and we've maintained all along that's a killer, so obviously that's a big problem," he said. "But I feel upbeat. We're making progress, and that's a good thing."

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