Last night’s Minnesota state house hearing, ostensibly for opponents of the Twins stadium deal, began amidst tailgating and chants by season-ticket holders bused in and outfitted with Twins caps by team management. Three hours later, it ended with the house taxes committee allowing a stadium sales tax hike to move forward without a local referendum, as would otherwise have been required by Minnesota law. Twins president Jerry Bell called the vote “a huge step forward” that “provides us momentum.”
In between, 33 Minnesota residents spoke out against the plan to help fund a new Twins stadium with $373 million in sales-tax money. Referendum campaign leader Laura Lehmann noted that new school buildings need approval by referendum, while Minneapolis resident John Zimmerman countered a guy who showed up with a jar of pennies by estimating that that “three pennies on each $20” sales-tax hike would add up to $600 per family over 30 years. A few stadium supporters also spoke – their official time to testify had been the previous day – including former Twins outfielder Tony Oliva, who declared, “I come from Cuba. Taxes for me are no big thing.” Does that mean he’d also endorse public ownership?
In related news, the Forbes magazine estimates of baseball team value were released yesterday, and the Twins’ value had gone up 21% since last year, from $178 million to $216 million. While stadium-subsidy opponents argued that this shows that Twins owner Carl Pohlad can afford to pay for his own stadium, Forbes associate editor Kurt Badenhausen argued that “although the Twins have a small profit, in order to keep up with the rest of Major League Baseball, they need a new stadium. The Twins have one of the worst stadium deals in all of baseball.”
Badenhausen is half-right: The Twins’ lease at the Metrodome is indeed lousy for the team by baseball industry standards, with the team’s public landlords collecting half of gross concessions revenues, one-quarter of stadium ad revenue, and 100% of parking fees. But that should make the Twins more willing to cough up their own money for a stadium, not less: They get so little revenue from the Metrodome that the marginal revenue from a new stadium – the difference between what they earn now and what they’d bring in from a new home – would be enormous, making a privately funded stadium more feasible.
That Pohlad is instead offering to kick in only about one-quarter of the $522 million price tag – and most of that “private contribution” would come from naming-rights fees on the publicly owned stadium – shows both the degree to which he’s a cantankerous old coot, and that he knows that the local newspaper are never going to try explaining “marginal revenue” when there’s a jar of pennies to write about.