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Vikings stadium proposal is bad public policy and profoundly unfair

The Minneapolis City Council should act now to push the reset button.

Paul OstrowPaul Ostrow

How does a progressive Democrat explain $728 million for the “luxury” of a new stadium when so many are in need? How does a Republican committed to ”no new taxes” and to “the free market,” explain $728 million in new government spending to subsidize a wealthy sports owner who claims the free market just won’t work in football?

The perfect political solution may be at hand. Remarkably, it is quite possible no one will have to take a tough vote. A tentative agreement to pay for a new Vikings stadium and future “operating costs” apparently relies on $398 million in new gambling revenues and $330 million from the dedication of city sales and entertainment taxes.

For the over 90 percent of Minnesotans who do not live in Minneapolis, this is a pretty sweet deal. You might be a bit uncomfortable with this use of public money, but at least it won’t be your money. If you are not a gambler and if you don’t live or work downtown, you get to enjoy the Vikings pretty much for free.

Much is made of how tough a vote this will be for legislators in an election year. Really? The Legislature got a free pass when Hennepin County decided to fund Target Field. It was an easy vote to let Hennepin County raise someone else’s taxes. This bill is another free pass. Once again the Legislature will not be raising anyone’s taxes – only allowing someone else – the City of Minneapolis – to use  taxes from its residents and business patrons for the next 30 years to pay for the stadium. 

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This proposal is bad public policy and is profoundly unfair. The Minneapolis City Council should act now to push the reset button. The city should pledge to work with the state and the Vikings on a new stadium in Minneapolis and to commit up to $10 million to its construction. The City Council and Mayor R.T. Rybak were unanimous in their support for the City’s Charter during the Target Field discussions. The same message needs to be delivered now on the Vikings Stadium.

Paying an ever increasing premium

The greatest threat to the continued vitality of Minneapolis is the ability to fund basic city services at a competitive property tax rate. City property taxpayers have reason to fear a future of continuing erosion or elimination of local government aid, no access to sales taxes for critical services and an increasing burden to fund sports facilities and regional amenities. City businesses and residents are paying an ever increasing premium for the privilege of providing the region with beautiful parks, sports and cultural facilities and a world class convention center.

The response from many legislators is that Minneapolis benefits so Minneapolis should pay. The reality is that everyone benefits but Minneapolis pays. It is the state, not the city, that will lose $20 million a year in income and sales taxes if the team leaves. At best, dedicated city entertainment taxes reimburse the city for stadium-related public-safety and traffic-management expenses. A large area of downtown that would otherwise be used for housing or office towers will be dedicated to a use that will not generate significant property taxes.

Ever since the City of Minneapolis provided the bonds for Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington 50 years ago, the City of Minneapolis has come through for the sports fans of this region. Minneapolis paid for the Metrodome. If you love Ricky Rubio as much as I do, you owe a big thank you to Mayor Sayles Belton and the Minneapolis City Council. (If you are a Minneapolis taxpayer, you may not be as grateful). And don’t forget that 40 percent of the Hennepin County tax for Target Field comes from Minneapolis.

Dual responsibilities

In the past, there was a healthy understanding between the State of Minnesota and the City of Minneapolis. City leaders accepted a responsibility to play a leadership role for the region, and the state acknowledged the importance of Minneapolis to our state. Sadly, those days appear gone. A year from now, as the state faces its next budget crisis, rest assured that the Legislature once again will be  debating the reduction or elimination of local government aid for Minneapolis.

The best idea to date for funding a new Vikings Stadium is the proposal by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman for a two-cent surcharge on every drink in every bar in Minnesota. Republicans could label such a surcharge an “entertainment impact fee.”  Democrats could support it on the grounds that new gambling revenues could be dedicated to repay our school districts.

If all else fails, a statewide referendum could be held this November. Maybe it could be the one issue in November that unites Democrats, Republicans and independents.  After all, we are all Vikings fans. 

Paul Ostrow is a former member of the Minneapolis City Council (1998-2009), who served as the council’s lead on Target Field. He served as council president from 2002-2005 and as budget chair from 2006-2009.


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