A proposal to repurpose the sales tax that helped pay for Target Field in Minneapolis and use the revenue for future Hennepin County health care infrastructure cleared an important first hurdle Tuesday at the Legislature.

The money that the county borrowed to cover its $355 million share of building the ballpark will soon be repaid, thanks to the 0.15% sales tax approved by state lawmakers in 2006. The tax is equal to about 3 cents on a $20 purchase and raises more than $50 million annually.

Rather than let the tax sunset, Hennepin County leaders want to use about 80% of future proceeds for infrastructure projects at HCMC and other county-owned health clinics. Some money would be set aside for upkeep of Target Field, and the Twins would extend their lease through at least 2059.

A bill that would repurpose the tax for 30 years beginning in June 2025 has bipartisan support in both chambers of the Legislature. After a hearing Tuesday, the Senate Taxes Committee agreed to consider including the change in the tax policy bill that the Legislature typically approves in the final days of session.

"One of Hennepin County's top legislative priorities is to ensure our residents can access top quality health care," Hennepin County Board Chair Irene Fernando told the committee. "HCMC never turns away patients, no matter their insurance, financial situation or complexity of their need."

Stella Whitney-West, CEO of Northpoint Health and Wellness Center, told lawmakers the tax change would ensure residents have access to top-notch facilities. The county is completing a $100 million expansion and update of her facility in north Minneapolis.

"Our impact is real," Whitney-West said. "When the county invests in high-quality health care infrastructure, people and communities benefit."

Details of the proposal

After the county pays off its ballpark debt, more than $40 million raised annually from the sales tax would pay for health care facilities. Hennepin County officials estimate the tax could fund $800 million worth of projects over the next 20 years.

County officials say HCMC and other county health clinics need more than $1.5 billion of work in the next decade; that includes a proposed inpatient tower at HCMC.

Without dedicated funding, county officials say they will have to slowly chip away at that work. For instance, next week the County Board is expected to approve $15 million for safety and accessibility projects at HCMC.

Besides health care projects, more than $10 million from the sales tax would be put aside each year to maintain Target Field and the surrounding infrastructure. The Twins would put $4.5 million annually into a stadium capital fund and extend their lease through 2059 with two possible 10-year extensions after that.

Other spending commitments included in the original sales tax legislation would remain. Each year, $2 million goes to youth sports and activities, and $2 million funds extended hours at county libraries.

What comes next?

The proposal has not had a hearing in the House, where it also has bipartisan support. But it's unclear if tax committee members will back the plan.

Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, who chairs the Senate tax committee and co-sponsors the bill, said Tuesday that lawmakers agreed last year to pause consideration of local sales tax proposals while a panel studied their impact.

Rest said the bill's 2025 effective date could help supporters' case for including the change in this year's tax policy changes.