Wednesday, May 03, 2006

So Close, Yet So Far

Wow, a column that is actually up-to-date! I just wrote this the other day, and it contains information that is actually current through today. If you're looking for more commentary on the stadium issue, Twins Chatter is your new source! Look for a response from my partner in the coming days.

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” that 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 Northland have been fighting for a new outdoor venue for the Twins since 1997. Before the Minnesota Senate essentially killed the most promising stadium plan (to date) on Monday, it looked like 2006 might finally be the year our government actually got something done, for a change.

Before this week’s events, there existed a palpable feeling of optimism amongst baseball purists (including myself) that openly despise the musty confines in which the Twins currently reside, a.k.a. the Metrodome.
We should have known better.

Despite the passing of a workable bill through the House last week, the Senate, in the true spirit of Minnesota political indecisiveness, has halted the plan’s momentum by bogging it down with numerous add-ons, all but nixing our already faint hopes for a solution.

Nearly everyone who has ever taken in a baseball game at the Dome can agree on one thing: The facility is most assuredly not a suitable home for our national pastime. Baseball is meant to be played on green grass and under the sun, not on synthetic fibers with a dirty white roof obstructing the sky. The need for a new park is absolutely undeniable, but as is the case with every political issue, the real question is this: Who’s going to pay for the thing?

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 un-democratic as that sounds, realists (i.e. those whose heads do not reside within a certain bodily crevice) know that a referendum would essentially kill the plan – it is nearly unthinkable that people will voluntarily raise their taxes for anything (including education), let alone for something as nonessential as a baseball stadium.

Critics of the plan argue that billionaire owner Carl Pohlad should build his own stadium, and that this money 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 are 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 sixteen 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 bit of trivia 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 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. Simply put, the whole “put-that-money-towards-education-instead” argument is quite possibly the most na├»ve thing I have ever heard. If we were going to put more money towards such things, we would have done it already – the citizens of Hennepin County will just as surely reject a .15 percent “general education” sales tax in a referendum, and the politicians all know it.

I am not anti-democratic, nor am I “against the children” because I’m pro-stadium, but I am a realist. I realize that if we want to keep professional sports (a commodity that a great many people value highly) in Minnesota, we’re going to have to pony up the dough sometime, somehow. The plan that the Senate is doing its best to kill right now makes sense economically and should be workable politically.

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 Rondell White.