ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With less than four weeks remaining in the 2006 legislative session, the chance of the Minnesota Twins attaining their biggest win in years keeps improving.

A plan to fund a new $522 million, 42,000-seat ballpark cleared the House Ways and Means Committee late Monday on a bipartisan 18-16 vote. Sponsored by Rep. Brad Finstad (R-Comfrey), HF2480 is expected to be before the 134-member House Wednesday.

"It doesn't get any easier, but we're on to the House floor, which is what we've wanted all along -- an up or down vote on a bill that builds a ballpark," said Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports Inc. "Ten years of working towards this is a long time. It'd be nice for all of us and our fans to finally be able to play baseball outdoors on grass where's it's supposed to be."

"We're making no predictions," said Team President Dave St. Peter. "We're expecting a long day with a lot of amendments."

Knowing that at least one legislative leader believes the team will hit a home run on the floor, team executives are cautiously optimistic that their perseverance will finally pay off.

"The speaker of the House predicts it'll pass, and I'd like to believe the speaker," Bell said.

To do that, the plan will need to overcome the objections of some members, who believe, among other things, that Hennepin County voters should be able to vote on the proposed property tax increase.

In addition to a $130 million team contribution, plans call for a 0.15 percent increase to the county sales tax -- 3 cents on a $20 purchase -- without voter approval, which is now required by state law. Both team and county officials have said the referendum is a deal-breaker.

"Forget the hype, forget the nonsense. Let Hennepin County voters decide if they want to be taxed hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 30 years," said Rep. Phil Krinkie (R-Lino Lakes), whose amendment to do so was defeated 17-15, with one abstention and five members absent. A motion to later reconsider the motion was defeated 18-16.

Krinkie chairs the House Taxes Committee, which approved the plan after three days of hearings last week. The five county legislators on that committee each voted no. Three county legislators not on the tax committee voted yes Monday: Deputy Minority Leader Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Minneapolis), Rep. Steve Smith (R-Mound) and Rep. Barb Sykora (R-Excelsior).

"It's another important step in the process," St. Peter said. "We're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

An amendment successfully offered by Rep. Lyndon Carlson (DFL-Crystal) would require an agreement from Major League Baseball that the Twins remain in Minnesota for 30 years.

A companion bill (SF2297), sponsored by Sen. Steve Kelley (DFL-Hopkins), awaits action by the Senate Taxes Committee.

"We'll maybe find out something there later this week," Bell said.