The Twins ballpark bill passed its first test in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, and the Senate is poised to debate a parallel bill to grant Hennepin County the authority to levy a .15 percent countywide sales tax to build a new Twins ballpark. Sen. Steve Kelley, the bill's sponsor in the Senate, talked with MLB.com about the current atmosphere in St. Paul regarding a new ballpark, his role in the process and what work is left to do.
MLB.com: We've been down this road many times in the last 10 years. In your opinion, in what ways does this proposal differ from past failed efforts to get a ballpark built?
Kelley: The first is that it has a clear funding source that appears to be sufficient to the task. In the past, the funding source was either barely adequate or not adequate to cover the cost. When we did pass a bill in 2001 or 2002, for example, there wasn't enough money in it to cover all the costs, and my recollection is that St. Paul and the team couldn't come to an agreement about the cost overruns from the site, because there just wasn't enough money. So I think that's the key difference.
Another difference is that you have an agreement between a local unit of government and the team on the front end, rather than having the Legislature throw things up in the middle and have Minneapolis and St. Paul argue over it.
MLB.com: What is your role as the Senate sponsor of this bill?
Kelley: My job is to be an advocate for this solution, but also to be an advocate for the fact that we have to have some solution to the ballpark dilemma, so I'll be trying to explain to the members the virtues of this solution and trying to persuade them that now is the time to act, because we won't get this behind us until we actually build a ballpark.
On a related note, I've always been concerned about limiting the impact on taxpayers and making sure it's a fair deal. To some extent, that role is still an issue, but the Hennepin County Board has negotiated the deal and taken the primary role in protecting interest of taxpayers.
MLB.com: How would you characterize the Senate's attitude toward this proposal at this stage of the game?
Kelley: I think there are some members who have always been opposed to any public assistance who will remain opposed, but my general sense is that members think this is a workable proposal. If there's any lingering concern in those who are open to promoting a ballpark it's the absence of a roof.
MLB.com: Are you and your colleagues keeping an eye on the bill's progress in the House, or do you have enough on your plates to worry about without being concerned with what they're doing across the hall?
Kelley: On the Senate side, we've tried to make it clear that we're going to act on our principles with respect to the priorities. We're not going to ask for a hearing in a senate committee until we get senate floor action on our major bills. We've got one bill left, which is the transportation bill, which we hope we'll do by Friday and then possibly move the Twins bill through the process next week.
MLB.com: How about public input? Are you getting more feedback than usual from your constituents, or will you rely mostly on public testimony at committee hearings?
Kelley: I think all of us are getting phone calls and e-mails from constituents both for and against the stadium. Certainly testimony at hearings will be important, but we try to represent our districts and I think each of us is trying to solve this problem from the point of view of our districts.
MLB.com: What, if any, reaction do you have to the repeated requests for a referendum on this issue?
Kelley: I think legislators and local elected officials, most constituents expect them to do their jobs and take responsibility for those decisions, so that's how I approach things, and I'm going to urge that we not use a referendum. The other thing that's important to keep in mind is that a referendum, even if the public approves it, the timing of a referendum will certainly add to the cost of construction materials and potentially on financing.
MLB.com: Last year, the state budget impasse derailed the ballpark bill before it could reach the Senate floor. What reason is there to believe this legislation won't meet a similar fate this time around?
Kelley: Last year, we didn't have to be called into a special session if we didn't reach an agreement. This year, if we don't reach an agreement, we have to pass a budget, because this is the year we have to do that. Government operations wouldn't continue after June 30 if we don't pass a budget. So that's one part of the dynamic. Another part is though we may go into a special session -- and I hope we don't have to -- the sense I get is that the Governor and Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader understand we need to get something done. The public was unhappy with gridlock last session, so we'll try to do it as smoothly as possible. I think there is agreement that we won't pass a stadium bill ahead of passing a budget.
But I think as we're talking about other bills, we'll be working on the stadium bill in parallel, and my hope or expectation is that we'd have a stadium bill lined up ready to go in each body so that in the end, all one needed to do is take a vote.
MLB.com: So, what's the process that this bill will follow over the next week and a half?
Kelley: First, we'll get a committee hearing in the State and Local Government Committee, and the House bill has already had a hearing in the corresponding committee and passed it. Then we'll go through the Rules Committee and the Tax Committee, and from there to the Senate floor for a vote. There's no reason there would be huge differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, but there could be some differences that develop in the process so we'd try to resolve them before they pass off each floor so there wouldn't have to be a conference committee. But if we have to have a conference committee, then each bill would have to be passed again.
Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.