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ISSUE 119 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/5/2006

Inside the Lines: So close, yet so far

By Ryan Maus
Staff Writer

Friday, May 5, 2006

With the Minnesota Twins playing some of their worst baseball since the “Dark Years” of 1993-2000 (perhaps there are a few of you out there that still remember those infamous days of Scott Stahoviak, Rich Robertson and Butch Huskey), for much of the past month, baseball fans were able to console themselves with the fact that the Twins’ stadium deal seemed to be making real progress in the state legislature.

Unfortunately, like the outcome of a typical Rondell White at-bat (the Twins’ designated “hitter” who has six RBI in 95 plate appearances), even that tiny bit of positivity seems to have been left stranded on base.

Baseball supporters in the this state have been fighting for a new outdoor venue for the Twins since 1997. Before the Minnesota Senate unceremoniously killed the most promising stadium plan (to date) Monday, it looked like 2006 might finally be the year our state government actually got something done for a change. Before this week’s events, a palpable feeling of optimism existed amongst baseball purists (including myself) who openly despise the musty confines in which the Twins currently reside, aka the Metrodome.

We should have known better.

The plan that was so rudely interrupted by the Senate calls for a .15 percent sales tax to be enacted in Hennepin County to pay for approximately two-thirds of the $522 million structure. What is controversial about the plan is that Hennepin’s citizens have no say as to whether or not they will be taxed – the original bill did not require a referendum. As undemocratic as that sounds, realists (i.e. those whose heads do not reside within a certain bodily crevice) know that a stadium referendum has no chance of ever passing – most school referendums even fail these days.

Critics of the plan argue that billionaire Twins owner Carl Pohlad should build his own stadium, and that money for a stadium would be better spent on more important things like education or healthcare.

Do you know what I say to those people? You are absolutely, 100 percent correct.

Pohlad is Minnesota’s second-wealthiest citizen, and with the sale of another bank or two, could undoubtedly afford to plunk down the half-billion dollars necessary for a new field. And the state of Minnesota could always use more money for education and healthcare, two areas that are woefully under-funded not only here but throughout the entire United States.

However, the reality of the situation is that neither one of those things is ever going to happen. Pohlad, a notoriously stingy man, has absolutely no incentive to pay for a new stadium himself when his fellow billionaire owners around the country all received public funds to aid in the construction of their new parks (some 16 in all). What reason is there for a penny-pincher like Pohlad to pay up when no one else has?

And here’s an interesting question for all you naysayers out there: Guess how much extra money has been spent on things like education or healthcare since the stadium debate began in 1997, or how many extra tax dollars will be allocated for such things this year in lieu of a stadium bill?

If you answered “zero,” “zilch,” “nada” or “nothing” you would be absolutely correct. Such issues (while critically important) will never go away, and if we’re waiting on their resolution before we move forward with any other public projects, then we might as well just shut down the whole government right now.

I am not anti-democratic, but I am a realist. I realize that if we want to keep professional sports in Minnesota (a commodity that a great many people value highly), we’re going to have to pony up the dough sometime, somehow.

Unfortunately, if things continue down their current course, it appears as though the citizens of Minnesota will be left standing at the plate after yet another called third strike, just like the aforementioned Rondell White.

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