Twins stadium opponents haven't given up yetby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Opponents of the Hennepin County Twins ballpark finance plan showed up in force for a public hearing Tuesdsay night in Minneapolis. The majority of the 45 people who testified in front of the Hennepin County Board voiced their opposition to the plan that would impose a county-wide sales tax to raise nearly $400 million for the stadium construction. The board is expected to pass the measure next week. But opponents told commissioners that it wasn't too late to change their minds.
Minneapolis, Minn. — The Hennepin County Board was granted permission by the state Legislature last session to levy a .15 percent sales tax to help build the ballpark. And they were allowed to do so without putting it to a vote by county residents.
Twins officials had told the county that a referendum would be a deal-breaker. They said it would cause a delay that would spoil the deal. Many opponents of the county's plan, like Dave Janssen, say they think there's another reason why the Twins, the Legislature and the county board don't want a referendum.
"I think that Mr. Pawlenty and the legislators and some of you folks -- who will remain nameless -- are afraid of the referendum on how it would come out, based on what you've heard tonight," said Janssen.
Public opinion polls have shown that a majority of Minnesotans don't favor public financing for stadiums. But that doesn't mean they necessarily don't support the Twins, says Josiah Smith. He says Minnesotans love the Twins, but they love democracy more.
"The role of the government in a democracy is to represent the people, and to do what we say -- not to be elected and do whatever they want. That's dictatorship," said Smith. "Our elected officials are not meant to be masters of the people but to be servants of the people. All the way to the president of the United States, our elected leaders are elected to do what the public wants, even if the public is wrong."
Commissioners didn't respond to the testimony during the hearing. But in past debates about the stadium deal, commissioners who support the plan have said the public doesn't always have to vote on everything elected officials decide. They say elected officials are voted in to make decisions, and if the people don't like the job the official is doing, then the people can vote them out.
Three of the four commissioners who support the stadium taxing plan are running for re-election this fall, and some of their challengers showed up to testify against the stadium tax.
There were also some voters who testified that they are ready to support some of those challengers. Even self-described apathetic voters like Karl Juhnke says he's taken an interest in the issue after finding out there was no referendum on the tax levy.
"There's a funny thing about us who don't vote. Even while we're not voting, we feel like we have a right to vote, if we wanted to," said Juhnke. "And us non-voters -- even when we're not voting -- if you say we can't vote, then we might get upset."
About a dozen people testified in support of the stadium finance deal. Many of them spoke to the benefits that the stadium will bring to downtown businesses. And there were others, like longtime baseball fan Lorraine Pazzella, who say watching the game outside again would be -- fun.
"I can't think of anything more wonderful than if you give us this baseball park. Vote for it," Pazzella told the county board. "I know all these people have given all kinds of reasons, and I can't compete with that. I can just speak from my heart. I really want that baseball park. And I want you to give it to me. And I'll go. I'll be 88 when it opens, but I'll be there."
The county board will listen to more testimony Wednesday night in Bloomington and later this week in Maple Grove. The vote on the stadium tax comes next week. And so far, the four commissioners who support the measure say they aren't changing their minds.
- Morning Edition, 08/23/2006, 7:25 a.m.