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Vikings stadium: Let’s inject fiscal sanity into the debate

Zygi Wilf and the Vikings are attempting to make their Ramsey County stadium deal sound like a run-of-the-mill, routine proposal. It is not. The Vikings are asking for the No. 1, all-time, biggest taxpayer subsidy of any sports franchise anywhere in American history!

Sen. John Marty
Sen. John Marty

At a time when many families are struggling to pay their bills, the Vikings and their political allies want Minnesotans to put up more taxpayer money than any other community ever — think about that — to subsidize a team owner.

I joined with Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-53A, to offer a bipartisan alternative: Give the Metrodome to the Vikings in exchange for a 25-year contract to play in Minnesota. This proposal does not require any public funding. No Ramsey County sales tax, no Ramsey County automobile tax, and no state taxes or “fees” or “other revenues.” Taxpayers would be fully compensated for the value of the Metrodome through property taxes, from which the Vikings are currently exempted.

In contrast, the Vikings’ Arden Hills proposal requires $350 million from Ramsey County taxpayers, $300 million more from still-to-be-determined state taxes, plus $15 million from the Metro Sports Facilities Commission, and a sales tax break on construction materials (that’s an additional $19-$30 million public subsidy), plus a property tax exemption that is worth several million dollars year after year.

74% of voters oppose public subsidy
Giving the Metrodome to the Vikings is not a perfect solution, but one that reflects fiscal responsibility and fairness for both the Vikings and the taxpayers of Minnesota. We are by no means alone in wanting a fair resolution. Minnesota voters oppose the use of public money for a new Vikings’ stadium by more than 3 to 1 (22 percent favor using public funds, 74 percent oppose). Yet the Ramsey County Board and some state officials are talking seriously of a taxpayer subsidy of over $650 million.

Of course the Vikings’ initial reaction to our proposal has not been favorable — who wouldn’t prefer a $700 million handout? Recognizing that three of every four Minnesotans reject any subsidy for the Vikings, state leaders should remove the Ramsey County proposal from the table. At that point, when the Vikings conduct an honest assessment of the Metrodome proposal, they will understand the fairness of our offer.

The Vikings first response to our proposal was to call it a “non-starter.” But things do change. A week ago, Christian Ponder was a “non-starter” as Vikings Quarterback. Now he is a starter. The Vikings need to take another look here.

The only reason any politicians are even considering a $650 million tax subsidy for the Vikings is the possibility that the Vikings could move to Los Angeles. But Vikings’ owner Zygi Wilf has staked his personal integrity on that matter.

Wilf’s promise
Making it clear that what is most important to him is his family’s integrity, he promised to keep the team in Minnesota forever: “From day one. I have promised that I would keep the team here in Minnesota forever.” When questioned if he plans to keep the team here, whether we have a new stadium or not: “Yes, I’ve stated that from day one … all I can tell you is this, that I live by my commitment.”

Because some, who claim to be his allies, think he will break his promise, let’s compare this Metrodome transfer proposal to the Los Angeles options. The best of the Los Angeles stadium proposals is to give Zygi Wilf the land on which to build his own stadium, at his expense. We would give him the land with a stadium already on it, and he could improve, enhance, or rebuild it as he desires.

Los Angeles offers no public subsidy. We offer no public subsidy.

A reasonable, competitive alternative
This Minnesota option is a reasonable, competitive alternative. And, under our proposal Wilf avoids a $250+ million NFL “relocation fee,” and he gets to keep his integrity and a truly loyal fan base.

At a time when most Americans, including people from Occupy Wall Street  and the Tea Party, are angry at outrageous corporate bailouts, some politicians want to force Minnesotans to pay for the biggest corporate subsidy in sports history. That’s incredible.

It’s time to inject some fiscal sanity into the stadium debate.

John Marty, DFL-Roseville, is a state senator. He first published this article in his newsletter, “To the Point!”

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 10/24/2011 - 09:55 am.

    The most I’m inclined to favor the Vikings is to simply hold the door open so it doesn’t hit them in the butt on the way out. However, if we must reach a “deal,” it’s good to see that there are finally some brains on this side of the bargaining table.
    I’m sure this plan isn’t perfect, but at least we stand to be guaranteed a return on investment. Granted, it’s only a dollar, but it’s better than half a billion in additional debt.
    The Vikings are not a necessity. Not a business necessity. Not an entertainment necessity. Not a cultural necessity. Food, water, housing, education–those are all necessities. And by even THINKING of spending a half a billion dollars with no guaranteed return on investment on the Vikings, someone will go without an actual necessity. And even one person going homeless (for want of a shelter or a mortgage assistance) or hungry (for want of a school meal program) or thirsty (for want of clean water) or without a quality education (for want of a fully funded school system) is too many.

  2. Submitted by myles spicer on 10/24/2011 - 11:45 am.

    Frankly, I am baffled as to why the Vikes have rejected substantial subsidies for the downtown stadium, and/or Marty’s generous offer to just GIVE them a valuable asset. I can only conclude that Wilf has a hidden agenda in demanding the Arden Hills site, and state/county subsidies. That is, he is a developer by trade, and the Arden Hills site offers him the land, the infrastructure and the funding to provide substantial ADDED development beyond just the stadium. That is fine, but not at the taxpayers’ expense to help fund this extra asset.

    If I were the owner, and just had ONLY the future of my team involved, I would jump at Marty’s offer. The Metrodome is well situated, has good football sight-lines, easy to reach, and with Wilf’s own funds, without any legislative bickering, he could transform it into a more than competitive, fan-friendly facility with excellent income potential.

  3. Submitted by Rod Loper on 10/25/2011 - 07:00 am.

    This is an interesting proposal. Don’t expect the MSM to give it the play it deserves.

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