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COL Governor promised to solve Twins' ballpark woes

By Mike Opat

As the possibility for a special session of the Legislature grows more and more remote, it is important for the people of Minnesota to be clear about what will be lost if Gov. Pawlenty fails to exercise leadership and declines to call lawmakers back to St. Paul to resolve key issues of state importance.

Construction costs for a badly needed hospital in Maple Grove will climb. A struggling pension fund for teachers will go farther under water.

And the unprecedented agreement between Hennepin County and the Minnesota Twins for a downtown ballpark will expire.

In 2004, when Gov. Pawlenty boldly announced that he would act to solve the Twins' obvious ballpark problem on his watch, we took him at his word. Throughout subsequent legislative sessions, Hennepin County has worked to accommodate the conditions set forth by the governor's Stadium Steering Committee.

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The Hennepin County/Twins partnership will get a new ballpark built without a state contribution. In addition, our agreement guarantees an upfront cash contribution by the team of $125 million before the first pitch is thrown in a ballpark, and the Twins will cover ballpark cost overruns.

Our legislative leaders have been active and vocal supporters of the county's effort and they have answered the governor's call to action. House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, D-Willmar, have worked with Hennepin County and the Twins to advance the legislation and garner support. They have been good leaders.

Much has changed since Hennepin County and the Twins announced our plan for a new ballpark. Fuel prices have increased. Construction inflation is up -- partially in response to the massive hurricanes in the South. And interest rates continue to climb. Our agreement is still valid, but its expiration at the end of 2005 is a certainty, not an option.

The governor started the ballpark discussion. He set conditions and called on local government to respond. We listened and answered the call. It is now time for the governor to lead by calling a special session. That responsibility comes with the office. And if there is a question about the votes -- he shares the responsibility to secure them.

Mike Opat of Minneapolis is a Hennepin County commissioner.

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