June 9, 2005
Roof or no roof?

It's not often there are two contradictory stories in the Twin Cities dailies, but it happened Thursday. The stories involve whether a new Twins ballpark (which is still little more than a gleam in supporters' eyes) should have a roof. The Pioneer Press put its story on the front page. In it Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, says he'll offer an amendment to the (as yet unintroduced) stadium bill to include a retractable roof at a cost of about $115 million:

"If they want to put the roof on, and if it gets the votes, we're certainly not opposed to it,'' Twins pointman Jerry Bell said.

Tax-increment financing is used widely, but controversially. Supporters view it as a way to spur new development, while opponents see it as lost public funds.

In the case of the ballpark, the roof would be financed initially through bonds and then paid back by new sales and income tax revenue that exceeds what was made at the Metrodome.

It's a risky venture. The plan counts on a speculated revenue stream. If that falls short, the Twins would have to make up the difference.

"We'd be inclined to do it, but we'd need to know the specifics,'' Bell said.

Now there's plenty of controversy about a roof and how to pay for it which is on top of the baseline controversy over the stadium itself. But here's where it gets really confusing. The Star Tribune has a story about how the Twins are satisfied with a roof-free ballpark:

While there's widespread agreement that the price tag would be too high to build a retractable roof now, there has been off-and-on talk about building a roof-ready stadium so that a retractable roof could be added later. That would include additional steel supports and a track on which the roof would run.

However, the Twins want neither a retractable roof nor a roof-ready stadium. Their construction consultants say it would be impractical to build it later, and Hennepin County officials, who voted to foot much of the bill on a new stadium through a countywide sales tax, have no interest in paying for a roof.

"We've come to grips with an open-air stadium," said Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports Inc., the team's parent company, in an interview this week. "It was very difficult for us to do it. We have been trying to get a retractable roof for nine years and we came close but we never really got it, and the main reason is that the state won't put any money into the deal."

What are news consumers like you and me supposed to make of these stories? I can only speculate. One: The Star Tribune story was probably the result of a couple days work while the Pioneer Press story was a quick turn-around same day story. Two: Jerry Bell didn't feel compelled to call back the Star Tribune reporter when he heard about Solberg's plan. And three, and most importantly, if the Twins say they don't need a roof Solberg's amendment is going nowhere. If a stadium bill passes, get ready for rainouts, snowouts, hailouts and any other kind of outs you can think of.

Back to the main event at the Capitol. DFLers are supposed to make their big counter-offer on the budget today. MPR's Tom Scheck has a look at some of the real world effects of the budget indecision:

Julie Steberg, 45, is watching the debate over the state budget very closely. The Zumbrota resident is a stay-at-home mom with four children. Four years ago, Steberg was pregnant with triplets. Doctors ordered bedrest for Steberg, but she still delivered 10 weeks early. Steberg eventually lost her job when caring for the triplets became a full-time responsibility. Steberg and her husband, who's a farmer, enrolled in MinnesotaCare, a state-subsidized program for the working poor.

"I always thought that this would be a stopgap. I always thought that I would have my children, get them into school and then go back into the business field. But most employers now are not even offering health insurance," she says.

Steberg says her kids are mostly healthy, give or take the usual everyday bumps and bruises. Under the proposed budget, her kids will still be covered but Steberg and her husband may lose their coverage. Since budget talks are still in limbo, Steberg says she's not sure if she'll have health coverage in three weeks.

"I don't know how you prepare," she says. "There isn't enough in the budget already to put money aside for a possible health care premium. Some health care premiums are $600, $700, $800 a month. There's months we don't make that amount of money," she says.

I wonder if the jobs at the new stadium will come with health insurance.

We couldn't leave today without checking in on the trial of the Hatch daughters. This is from the Associated Press story:

CHICAGO (AP) - Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed on little as the daughters of Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch went on trial Wednesday on charges stemming from a scuffle outside a Chicago nightclub last year.

Anne Hatch, 22, and her sister Elizabeth Bell Hatch, 23, screamed, attacked police and tried to get special treatment, prosecutors alleged during opening statements. Defense attorneys, however, denied the sisters tried to benefit from their father's position and claimed officers used excessive force against the two.

"Not everyone was on their best behavior that morning. ... But no crimes were committed," defense attorney Cynthia Giacchetti said.

The Hatches were charged with misdemeanor counts of battery, resisting arrest and criminal damage to a vehicle. Elizabeth Hatch allegedly slapped an officer on the face causing his glasses to fly off, and Anne Hatch allegedly kicked out a squad car window after police placed her in the back seat, according to testimony Wednesday.

The testimony continues today.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:32 AM