A Viking referendum: Would you vote yes for this language?

There’s nothing quite like the rewriting of history and, in this case, the instant rewriting of alleged history.

In a column ostensibly supporting a new stadium for the Vikings, Patrick Reusse, my former colleague at the Star Tribune, wrote mockingly Sunday of how artists in Minnesota will be receiving a windfall because of the passage last week of the “Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.”

The state constitutional amendment, which won overwhelmingly last Tuesday despite much skepticism by most of “the chattering class” of political observers, raised the statewide sales tax to help fund, among other things, outdoors habitat for hunters and anglers, the cleaning of the state’s lakes and ponds, maintenance of parks and trails and support of arts organizations.

Reusse’s main point — I think — was that the football Vikings missed out on joining up with the somewhat odd coalition that formed to pass the amendment.

No reason to think stadium belonged in amendment

Well, duh, lots of issues missed out on that opportunity, but who said linking a Vikings stadium to such an amendment made any sense or that the Vikings even ever pondered inclusion?

They didn’t, according to my sources.

Why?

First of all, Vikings lobbyists and advocates aren’t fools and understood that there was no room or political pragmatism in joining the group. Do you think a $1 billion Vikings stadium effort — with about $700 million of that coming from the public — would have increased votes for a constitutional amendment?

As it was, the pioneers of the amendment idea — the sportsmen with bullets and hooks — were wary enough of the arts being included … until they saw the political power of the statewide arts and cultural organizations.

(For all the sports fans we have in this state, those who cheer for the teams have never delivered politically when it comes to raising taxes for their sports teams. Odd, very odd.)

Indeed, the height of irony is hearing a sports booster yearn for a stadium referendum. That sort of aspiration has long come from anti-stadium foes who want “the will of the people” to make such decisions.

The Twins and their boosters for a ballpark desperately avoided a referendum by the voters of Hennepin County because they were fearful that such an initiative would go down in flames. Reusse would have a great ally in Taxpayers League President Phil Krinkie were he to call for a public vote on funding a Vikings stadium.

It’s the sort of ally Reusse should avoid at all costs.

Reusse also took the opportunity to trash parks and trails and the arts and incorrectly describe how the amendment’s proceeds will be used.

He wrote that his spouse can “paint a nice landscape and has long expressed the desire for a small art studio. The State Arts Board can go ahead and send the check to me here at the office. Ten grand out to cover it . … What we’re going to have here in a couple of years will be the only urban area in the world without a starving artist.”

Not having starving artists is a good thing … although this amendment will not eliminate that class of folks.

Secondly, throwing a check for $10,000 to a no-name, amateur painter is not the mission of the amendment’s benefits. Hundreds of arts organizations from the around the state — hammered by state budget cuts — will need to submit grant requests to the Arts Board and regional arts councils. Once those grass-roots experts analyze the demands, then the Legislature will approve the funding.

Your typical suburban hobbyist can’t expect to be on the state’s dole. 

Trivializing the arts complicates coalition building
This trivialization of the arts is the sort of thing that creates bumper stickers such as “My hockey player can beat up your violin-playing honor student.”

I prefer “My violin-playing honor student will be your washed-up hockey player’s boss some day.”

This whacking of the arts and parks is just the sort of attitude that keeps pro sports lovers from forming responsible coalitions and blinds them to this critical fact: When a new pro sports stadium is built, it generates new revenue that flows directly into the pockets of Mr. Pohlad or Mr. Wilf.

When the arts and parks and outdoors are funded, there is benefit for the related organizations and communities, for the bait-and-tackle shops and motels near Detroit Lakes, to be sure.

But Tyrone Guthrie and Theodore Wirth are dead. They don’t profit from all this. Pro sports team are for-profit. The arts are not. Big difference.

Sports fans and cheerleaders must also ponder the real numbers. Add up the attendance of the Twins (2.3 million fans), Vikings (630,000), Timberwolves (600,000) and Wild (760,000) on an annual basis and it doesn’t come close to the 14 million Minnesotans who attend art shows, concerts and theater statewide.

(Of course, citizens watch their teams on TV and listen on radio, too, adding to the level of interest.)

Still, the most provocative issue Reusse raises is this: Why shouldn’t pro sports rise to the level of a statewide cultural amenity and key quality-of-life element?

I think it can be argued that the Vikings and a new stadium have no place in the state’s Constitution; I’m sorry, but clean water and natural habitat for our wildlife are rights, while cheering for Adrian Peterson is a privilege.

But the team and its need for a competitive facility do fall under a category of beloved statewide amenity and cultural infrastructure.

Profit-making aside, hunting, fishing, clean water and the arts aside, what do most of your relatives from Poughkeepsie know about Minnesota but the Vikings and the Twins? What events have brought our increasingly diverse state together more than key sports victories? On an autumn Sunday afternoon, what brings more Minnesotans together in their living rooms or in spirit than a Vikings game?

Imagine if this question were on a ballot. Imagine if this question was the one that citizens had to face. Imagine that it’s 2013 and the Vikings and the NFL and Reusse and Krinkie DO support a referendum because owner Zygi Wilf wants an excuse to attempt to move the team out of town. A statewide vote will make his decision easier.

How would you vote?

“Shall the State of Minnesota dedicate general fund revenues to protect our state quality of life; to help develop and build public assembly facilities to be used by the state’s youth; to preserve our professional sports teams; and to protect, enhance and provide continuous support and maintenance of the youth, high school, college and professional sports and fitness infrastructure in the state’s 87 counties by increasing the sales and use tax by three-eighths of one percent for the next three years.”

Yes _

No _

I don’t care, but I hate the arts _

It could come to that. But if sports boosters continue to blame everyone else for their inability to rally the citizenry, they won’t have enough friends to get that dream-like referendum passed.

Such boosters risk winning an award: “Turkey of the Year.”

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Dean Carlson on 11/10/2008 - 04:27 pm.

    I thought that some of Reusse’s comments were boorish too but I think you missed the point of his article.

    Beside’s bashing the arts, I think Reusse’s point was that with a sales tax increase of .375 coupled with the metro transportation sales tax increase and the Twins ballpark sales tax increase in Hennepin County, voters are going to be quite leery of adding yet ANOTHER sales tax increase for the Vikings stadium and that this type of funding mechanism may be tapped out for the near future.

    There may be other funding mechanisms for the Vikings stadium but lets face it, a sales tax increase is a lucrative and relatively painless way to collect funds, if you agree with Reusse that this source is now gone, paying for Vikings stadium just got that much tougher,

  2. Submitted by Spadafora Spadafora on 11/10/2008 - 07:00 pm.

    “…..enhance and provide continuous support and maintenance of the youth, high school, college and professional sports and fitness infrastructure in the state’s 87 counties by increasing the sales and use tax by three-eighths of one percent for the next three years.”???

    No way… that 3 year tax would barely fund the new Vikings stadium. What are the state’s 87 counties going to receive for their votes and tax payments?

  3. Submitted by Jay Weiner on 11/11/2008 - 05:09 am.

    Tony,

    Three years would raise about $900 million, if we use the same analysis as the House Research analysts did for the outdoors/clean water/arts amendment.

    The 87 counties would retain the Vikings and, perhaps, with further thought, seek grants to improve or build youth sports facilities.

    Dean, yes, Reusse’s point that a vehicle for the Vikings’ stadium tax just zoomed by is correct. But that point is irrelevant. There was never a chance or even an inkling the Vikings’ stadium would link up with either of the two taxing vehicles.

    I do agree, however, that a bigger-picture solution would have included all stadiums in some sort of funding plan a few years back. That larger package would have reduced the number of football stadiums to just one – a shared Vikings/Gophers stadium would reduce the costs to the community by $300-$500 million.

    Thanks for weighing in.

  4. Submitted by tom moore on 11/11/2008 - 09:21 am.

    there doesn’t seem to be a way to keep the vikings in town under their current ownership and with a deal that would be fair to citizens, taxpayers and/or voters.

    the twins ballpark, while brought about in an undemocratic way, was a good idea and will benefit the county that is paying for it, in my humble, twins fan opinion (main evidence being the 81 home games to be played a summer in the warehouse district).

    the vikings’ stadium demands are a good out for both sides – the wilf ownership group can move to l.a or elsewhere and make a ton of money, and the metro area and state can shed itself of a pro sports franchise.

    i enjoy pro sports, but this market is probably a little past saturation in terms of its level of interest, spending and attendance. most vikings games are far from sell-outs in actual ticket purchases from fans. our city is about the same size as portland, oregon, and that city is doing just fine with just one, major sports franchise (basketball). saint paul does just fine with their one franchise (hockey), too.

    maybe we can be pro-active about this and just tell the vikings that we’ll be wrecking the metrodome on the day after their lease expires so we can begin building more affordable housing that is needed near downtown.

    the right thing to do is to give the vikings time to plan ahead and to free our legislature from having to deal with this issue (am serious, but know this probably won’t happen).

  5. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 11/11/2008 - 11:17 am.

    Mocking and trivializing this area’s fantastic arts activity, such as Walker, MIA, MN Orchestra, Guthrie (just the highlights and I don’t know if they get the money) and probably struggling and talented writers, visual artists, composers–you name it–keep the quality of life in Minnesota high (despite all the cutbacks and job losses and falling economy). Even if we’re broke, we can still go to many of these events free or very cheaply. People move here because of Guthrie, MIA, and all the attendant art scene events like small theaters. I don’t remember hearing anyone say they moved here because of sports team.

  6. Submitted by Dan Lind on 11/11/2008 - 12:05 pm.

    Though I do not agree completely with Tom Moore’s suggestions and opinions, I do like his idea of being proactive in telling the Vikings that we plan to eliminate the Metrodome once their lease expires.

    For the last few years, the Vikings have threatened local government and taxpayers by saying “Help us build a new stadium or we’ll have no choice but to leave…”

    It would be interesting to see what would happen if local government says “Unless you figure out how to build a new stadium for the Vikings, you will no longer have a place to play once your lease expires…”

    Switching liability and accountability might produce some interesting results.

    By the way, I’m a long time Vikings season ticket holder, am in support of a new stadium (even if it costs me more money in taxes or surcharges), and would be devastated to see any of our 4 professional sports franchises leave town (not including the Lynx, who I have no interest in…sorry.)

  7. Submitted by Spadafora Spadafora on 11/11/2008 - 01:20 pm.

    If an existing NFL franchise moves to LA, the league will charge at least a $300 million relocation fee. All the other franchises would receive about $10 million of that fee.

    Existing franchises got about $15 million from the $530 million Clevelands Browns expansion fee and about $20 million from the $700 million Houston Texans expansion fee.

    Team owners would like to see two new $1 billion expansion franchises so they could receive about $30 million from each.

    The profit windfall Zygi would receive from a Vikings move to LA is much less that most people think.

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