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Legacy funds for a Vikings stadium? I hope this proposal isn’t serious

Late last week a legislator floated the idea of using the Legacy Arts and Culture Fund to pay for a Vikings stadium. As someone who worked on the campaign along with thousands of other conservation and arts advocates, I hope this proposal is not serious.

I must say I have never seen such a passionate response from arts advocates than when we heard that this had been proposed. In 48 hours people sent over 2,500 letters, and counting, to their legislators in opposition to this bad idea.

Thousands of Minnesotans worked together on the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Vote Yes campaign to ensure dedicated funds for the outdoors, arts and history. Diverting these funds is not only illegal but a bait and switch to the taxpayers who voted for the amendment with the belief that we were preserving the arts and outdoors. The amendment was approved by a high margin by Minnesota’s voters. Indeed, more people voted for the amendment than anything else in Minnesota history.

But apparently to those floating this idea, your vote doesn’t matter.

A slippery slope
I was glad to see Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance’s Don McMillan recognizing that this could be a slippery slope for the outdoors, parks and clean water, as he was absolutely right:

“Opening it up to other uses is a dangerous precedent,” McMillan said. “Once it starts there, I just fear that they’re going to come after the outdoor funds and the clean water funds and try to subvert them.”

So if you voted for the amendment because you support outdoors and conservation, look out, because they’ll be after you next.

Those who have made this proposal haven’t read the Constitution, which is very specific that the Arts and Culture Fund “may be spent only for arts, arts education, and arts access and to preserve Minnesota’s history and cultural heritage.” This language, written by the legislators themselves, was intended to ensure that the fund went specifically and only to preserve Minnesota’s art and history. And that’s where it is going, via grants to local nonprofits in every single Minnesota legislative district … for now.

To legislators, I would ask this: Why would you take resources directly out of your own neighbor’s hands and give them to a for-profit business that is not in your district? Is that really what you want to do?

Delay and uncertainty
Note that this proposal would introduce delay and uncertainty into the Viking’s funding package in two ways:

First, it is clear that legislative intent was to support Minnesota’s arts and history. Nowhere in the legislative debate, nor in the Constitution itself, is there language that says these funds can be used to pay for a for-profit professional sports stadium. Legislative intent is very clear on this matter, which is important if there is a lawsuit. Sen. Richard Cohen has already stated that he would organize the suit himself, and he would win. But it could go on for years and years.

Second, and more important, they need a steady source of funding for the financing to work. Say they did this the first year; there is no guarantee that future legislators would continue to vote for it. It’s a source of funding that cannot be committed in perpetuity. By law, the Legislature must make those decisions every two years. So the Vikings would have to come back and persuade legislators every two years to do this again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And we would continue to fight it every single time.

I am neutral on the stadium issue. But I laughed when I heard the argument stated that the Vikings are a part of our “cultural heritage.” The Vikings are a for-profit sports team. It is a business, and what is being considered at the Capitol is how much of our state’s revenue is going to be given to this for-profit business to keep it in Minnesota. It has nothing to do with the arts, or with history.

I hope the Vikings stick around. But this proposal is not the way to do it.

Sheila Smith is the executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, a statewide arts advocacy organization based in St. Paul.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by John Olson on 10/27/2011 - 06:47 am.

    This idea is yet another example of why the term “dedicated” funds is an oxymoron in Minnesota. Politicians from both parties see any dedicated pot of money and find new and creative ways to spend it elsewhere.

    The closest connection to justifying using any Legacy Funds towards the Vikings is based on an environmental argument: the team stinks.

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/27/2011 - 06:51 am.

    Why are we proposing to subsidize businesses, especially ones that are profitable?

    Welfare capitalism is alive and well.

  3. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 10/27/2011 - 07:29 am.

    Arts and culture?

    Only if the teams exchange uniforms for tutus and do a fine version of Swan Lake during intermission.

  4. Submitted by myles spicer on 10/27/2011 - 11:27 am.

    I kind of favored modest state or county assistance for the Vikes (especially the Marty plan to just give the the Metrodome and let Wilf rehab it at his own expense), UNTIL they put on the hard push for the Arden Hills site and substantial state and county money.

    Why? Because (my opinion) Wilf wants the adjacent land for further development and signficant added revenue gains from activity surrounding the subsidized stadium. That is his business — he is a land developer. The Metrodome, and other downtown venues are much better for the community as a whole, and much of the infrastructure is in place with parking and roads. But there is no opportunity for added development. That, to me, is over the top in seeking government funding.

    At any rate, that is my opinion, and that is what turned me off to “welfare capitalism” (noted by Schulze).

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/27/2011 - 12:02 pm.

    I don’t like the idea of public funding for a private business, but given the fact that tens of millions of dollars of Legacy Fund money is unaccounted for, I’m not opposed to using whats left for a stadium, I guess.

    At least we’d know where it went.

  6. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/27/2011 - 05:21 pm.

    Tapping the Legacy Arts and Culture Fund for a Vikings Stadium would be a “bait and switch” of the worst order. Voters have been clear: “Yes” to arts and environmental preservation funding. “No” to new stadium for the rich owners.

  7. Submitted by Fritz Dahmus on 11/02/2011 - 10:12 am.

    The author Sheila, says; “To legislators, I would ask this: Why would you take resources directly out of your own neighbor’s hands and give them to a for-profit business that is not in your district? Is that really what you want to do?”

    Your other arguement about the intent and language of the Legacy Amendment is really all you needed. The Legacy Fund could build a Vikings NFL History Center…but not a stadium. But please do not get out of your liberal box by using lite versions of libertarian/GOP economic policy mantras.

    Sheila, I’m guessing you are a one-issue-pony. You will use this particular GOP mantra to suit your goals. Apply this arguement of yours to TARP, The Stimulus, Tax Credits to businesses, Tax Deductions for businesses, FREDDIE and FANNIE underwriting home mortgages, TIF financing for Best Buy, hundreds of millions of dollars of TIF financing for many other for-profit businesses. If you did and got your way….we would have none of these. Which is fine with me and my crazy-right-wing-voter-friends!

    Sheila stick to the political principles you vote and lobby by…or jump on our side completely…please!

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