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.