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Miffed legislators try to tackle both Vikings stadium and Mayo Clinic complications

Dr. John Noseworthy
Courtesy of the Mayo Clinic
Dr. John Noseworthy told the National Press Club that 49 other states would be eager to have the $3 billion expansion that Mayo has planned for Rochester.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether politicians are trying to be serious or funny.

For example, Wednesday afternoon the House Taxes Committee gathered to discuss two headliner Minnesota institutions, the Mayo Clinic and the Vikings. Both the Vikes and Mayo have made veiled threats about leaving the state, unless they receive large amounts of public money.

Mayo’s threat came on Tuesday, when Dr. John Noseworthy, president and CEO of Mayo, went to Washington, D.C., and told the National Press Club that 49 other states would be eager to have the $3 billion expansion that Mayo has planned for Rochester.

The expansion just might go somewhere else, Noseworthy and other officials said, if Mayo doesn’t get $500 million from the state for infrastructure upgrades in Rochester.

At the tax meeting, some Minnesota legislators expressed how miffed they are about the Noseworthy threat.

But Noseworthy wasn’t at the committee meeting to hear the anger. Lesser Mayo officials were. And that’s where it got sort of amusing.

“I know it’s hard to come in here and you can’t say this,’’ said Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul. “But I’ll say it. It was a dumb thing to say. It was dumb, dumb, dumb.’’

'Dumb, dumb, dumb'

Lesch was right. The Mayo lessers didn’t tell committee members that their boss had said “dumb, dumb, dumb’’ things.

No matter what Noseworthy says, by the way, it’s pretty obvious Mayo isn’t going to get everything it publicly is seeking. Not this year at least. 

Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, head of the taxes committee, is meeting with Mayo and Rochester officials and is expected to offer up a “downsized’’ version of the Mayo plan next week.

Lenczewski isn’t just working on the Mayo project. She’s also attempting to salvage the scheme that was supposed to fund the state’s portion of construction of the Vikings’ stadium.

Given that Lenczewski never has been a big friend of public funding for pro sports teams — she opposed the Vikings stadium plan — it seemed surprising that she offered a proposal that would back up the failing electronic pulltab plan.

But Lenczewski said the Legislature must act “responsibly’’ this session to come up with a plan to back-up electronic pulltabs, given that receipts from those devices are running a mere 95  percent below expectations at this point.

Under her plan, which does not have the support of the Vikings or any of the other pro teams, the state would slap a sales tax on private suites at the new stadium. More importantly, it would place a 10 percent tax on all pro sports memorabilia. (College sports memorabilia would be excluded.)

Her plan is projected to come up with about $12 million a year, although right now the phrases  “projected revenue” and “Viking stadium’’ don’t have much Capitol cred.

Funny reactions

Lenczewski’s proposal created some funny reactions in the committee.

Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, explained why he was opposed to the sales tax on things like jerseys. It’s because of the children, he explained, with a straight face.

He said that he would advise all the mothers and fathers and grandparents of the state to buy their children “a jersey this year because next year you won’t be able to afford it.’’

Could Zellers be serious? An official Vikings, Twins, Wild or Timberwolves team jersey, so important to the well-being of our children, cost more than $100. Suddenly, $110 is going to make such a necessity unaffordable?

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, did seem to find a little humor in the memorabilia tax, though he opposes it on principle. He doesn’t believe it’s right for the T-Wolves, Twins or Wild to have to subsidize the Vikings.

(Other legislators were quick to point out that all of those franchises have not been shy of coming to the Legislature with their hands out and will certainly be back in the future.)

“Would a Packer fans who buys a Packer jersey in Minnesota be subsidizing the Vikings?’’ Davids asked.

“Yes,’’ he was told.

“Might have to think about this,’’ said Davids, laughing.

Wide array of proposals

Lenczewski did get pats on the back from some of her colleagues, including a strange one from Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa. He said Lenczewski deserved credit for “at least admitting’’ that the stadium funding plan had been a bad one. It apparently had slipped his mind that she’d been an opponent of the plan.

One legislator, John Benson, DFL-Minnetonka, used the funding woes to talk about a favorite GOP subject, accountability.

Benson said that it was “a huge credit’’ to Lenczewski that she was “stepping up to fix the problem. Sometimes you have to step up and clean up the mess.’’

Vikings stadium design by HKS
Vikings stadium authorityA proposed Vikings stadium design from Dallas-based HKS.

There are other proposals floating around for “fixing’’ the stadium funding problem.

Some legislators are talking about racinos again. Others are talking about slot machines in bars and restaurants. Still others believe the state should return to the Vikings and tell the team to up their portion by $200 million.

None of those options seem probable. Lenczewski’s seems to have a chance at passage.

Rep. Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul, believes most fans wouldn’t mind paying extra for their bobbleheads and jerseys.

He compared fans to anglers, who last year came to the Capitol asking for fishing license fees to be raised to improve the quality of Minnesota fishing. And he compared the fans to people who supported the Legacy amendment, voting for a tax increase to improve the state’s quality of life.

“Those who benefit [from pro sports] should pay,’’ Lillie said. “Minnesotans will get it.’’

He turned to Zellers.

“I will bet your son will still have a jersey; your daughter, too, I hope,’’ Lillie said.

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Comments (20)

Big Money Whiners

Regarding the Vikings... Why NOT make up the financing deficit with a surcharge on player salaries and on the overall income of the Vikings organization? What OTHER highly-profitable business gets away with asking the citizens of the state to substantially build and equip a completely new set of facilities for them every 30 years or so?

Meanwhile, although Mayo is clearly an important medical facility and does excellent work, each and every hospital and hospital system across the state of Minnesota can make the same claim.

I'm sure the U of M Hospitals (perennially underfunded simply BECAUSE they were part of the "U"), Centracare, Sanford, and every regional and local hospital or health care system would be justified in proclaiming their OWN importance and asking the taxpayers of the state to substantially invest in improvements to support their own facilities.

I have a very hard time believing that the residents of Rochester, and Olmstead County could not underwrite, through bonding, the cost of the improvements needed to allow Mayo to expand.

At the very least, the state's underwriting of these improvements should be based on the percentage of Mayo's patients who actually come from areas within Minnesota outside of Olmstead County. The State of Minnesota should NOT be underwriting expansions designed mostly to attract and provide service to Mayo's interstate and international patients.

My eldest has made it to age

My eldest has made it to age 8 without any pro-sports jersey; thus far the ill-effects have not been manifested. I'm all for taxing the fans who buy the overpriced swaths of purple.

Currently, my Minneapolis-dwelling family that really doesn't care much about the vikings is on the hook to pay for part of the stadium, whereas my inlaws in Woodbury (decked out in purple every Sunday during fall) are only on the hook if they opt to go gambling. Which is odd, since they were big stadium supporters, and we felt state funds should go to more pressing needs.

But yet currently we non-fans paying, and those die-hard fans are not. This would change that dynamic.

What's wrong

The fact that we are spending money on the economic black hole of stadium construction, and not spending money on projects like the May where the economic benefits are huge, and where there is a guarantee of a long term increase in our quality of life, pretty much sums up what's wrong with state politics today. And the fact that opposition to the Mayo proposal seems largely based on something vaguely questionable said by one of the Mayo spokespeople is a monument to how we in our society trivialize important issues. Really, isn't it time for the serious people down at the legislature to get serious? At long last isn't it time for them to start paying attention to the things that matter?

Why isn't anyone focusing on why bars aren't adopting the E-tabs

Seems like no one is addressing the core issue at the e-tabs shortfall.

That bars are not offering the service. I have heard anecdotally that bars are not purchasing the tablets to run the e-tabs because the only supplier is located in another state and they are concerned about timely service of the tablets if there are issues.

Seems like the gaming commission is dragging it's feet on approving a local vendor.

Is it really the government that is intentionally causing the income shortfall by intentionally not approving more vendors and getting the product into more bars?

Sports Memorabilia

By the way, given the long term effects of Pro Football on the health of those who play it, it would make far more sense to dedicate the revenues from any sports memorabilia tax to the Mayo project, not the stadium.

In the days when the

In the days when the unaffordable nature of the current system of big healthcare is apparent even to the "shocked" legislators, the demand by Mayo for "mo' money" for even bigger healthcare grates as much as the Vikings stadium demands.

Which could the average Minnesotan better afford---4 hours at a Vikings game or 4 hours in an emergency room? One could kill you, the other could provide you with a new lease on life. You decide which.

But I am very uneasy about huge "investments" in systems that already are unsustainable--whatever they are.

Healthcare and tickets already costs far more than it did years ago--I should help a titan of the industry make my life even more unaffordable?


How can people complain about high taxes and then give away billions to corporations? Boeing this week announced the State of South Carolina will give Boeing $120 million to build a new manufacturing plant there. Is it necessary for profitable companies to go to the public coffers for even more money? It is estimated that state and local governments give away trillions of dollars in incentives to do business in their back yard. This threat of corporations threatening to move unless they are given a financial incentive needs to be outlawed which Congress tried to do but was voted down.

Mayo v Vikings

Which is of more benefit to humankind? Furthermore, the money that Mayo is asking for is not for their facility, it is for public infrastructure - sidewalks, sewer, etc. I am so proud of Minnesota medical care and our reputation, particularly Mayo. People visit Minnesota from all over the world because of the Mayo Clinic. And this happens every day of the week, year round, not for just 10 games. Mayo is in the forefront of medical research and responsible health care costs. We need to encourage the type of work that Mayo has done.


I like doctors. I can tell you in all seriousness, that some of my very best friends are doctor-Americans. That said, and anyone who is worked with doctors in a legislative context, can tell you the worst mistake any advocate can make is to allow any doctor get near a microphone. Dr. Noseworthy's recent encounter with one is only the latest of in the long history of the mingling of medical professionals and auditory devises. That said, Dr. Noseworthy's unfortunate comments are just that, they don't have any bearing on the underlying merits or even lack thereof, of the Mayo's proposals. I think the fact is, expanding the Mayo Clinic creates high paid, long term jobs, both in the building of the facility and in it's future operation. It's return on investment is high, and the money it generates comes from somewhere else, and it largely stays here. It puts to good use, resources in capital and man and woman power that now stand idle. I think all of these are powerful arguments to give the Mayo proposal the most serious consideration, and whatever you think of any of them, not a single one of them is diminished at all, by the doctor's unfortunate words.

"Think of the children"

Oh for crying out loud! You cannot be serious, man. There are wants and there are needs. Some people wanted a stadium. No one needed it. Funding is not happening in the way it was expected (though, how anyone could be surprised, I don't know). So, a tax on additional wants is proposed. No children could POSSIBLY be harmed in the implementation of such a plan. Except for maybe the child labor used in Asia to make that really flippin' expensive pro sport jersey that you can't afford at $110, but can at $100.

Excellent point

Hiram Foster 10:35 am for the win.

Mayo Clinic to be sold to Don Beaver!

Rumor has it that the Mayo Clinic is in negotiations to sell the Clinic to Don Beaver and move it to North Carolina. Apparently, there already is a $100,000 down payment.

Who Cares

I resent having any of my tax dollars go to a stadium at this time; people don't have jobs; the infrastructure is for not, and they want people to pay for a stadium. Most of us can't afford to go to the games. This is about big business, not sports.

As for the Mayo Clinic, let them go elsewhere. This is not a time to be asking taxpayers to give them money.

The lack of common sense in allowing this to happen in the first place is beyond my comprehension.

I'm not seeing any solutions here.

They need $35 million a year. A plan to generate $16 million still doesn't solve even half the problem. This deal needs to be dead. And we still haven't seen MPLS's share of the money.

It is a sad commentary on the

It is a sad commentary on the quality of our legislators that it has taken a year for them to conclude that the users of the new football stadium should in some way contribute to funding it. What's been proposed so far won't do it (and one GOP legislator has proposed cutting the state's from-gambling money to about $125 million instead of $345 million, he's so mad). It's the bonding that makes the issue so crucial.

We have to remember that Mayo is asking for the state to make the city of Rochester and its near environs suitable for the medical elite to want to live in. The state is not being asked to fund anything directly for Mayo, or health care. Mayo is very worried about the huge number of its doctors and expert staff who have pied-a-terre apartments or condos in Minneapolis or St. Paul, where they weekend and much prefer the amenities. Mayo is pretty desperate to build an interesting Rochester for them, to keep them around. Plus, the gigantic part of the expenses for Mayo expansion will be paid for by Mayo.

Given how much Mayo contributes to the state, and will itself to this new project, it's amazing that our Legislature has to doubt this request. It's not as if it's the Vikings, for Pete's sake!

Public benefit from Mayo vs the Vikings: not even close !

The benefits offered by the Mayo proposal so VASTLY outweigh any dream of what the Vikings handout could ever accomplish, there is a false equivalence suggested by pairing them in this column.

On the other hand, the Vikings stadium will cost the public FAR more than the Mayo proposal. So to present them side by side suggests again, a false equivalence.

Sales tax on private suites

Almost as good a fundraiser as the e-pulltabs. In case no one noticed, there are no private suites to tax since there is no new stadium yet. By the time the suite tax kicks in the general fund will have paid for half the stadium (leaving other items unfunded). Is there time to move the new stadium to Rochester?


The Vikings Stadium is kind of a Rorschach Test where people see in it what they want to see. Some folks think of it as a facility that is used by people who physically attend games there. I see it that way sometimes too. But different people see it differently at different times, and at different stages of the process. I think Zygi has a tendency to think of it as one component of a real estate development, or as a set of luxury boxes near a football field. I often think of these kinds of stadiums as TV studios, and the people who attend the game as form of set decoration. In this sense, all of us who tune into a Vikings game are making use of the building as a studio.

I have one word for both organizations:


Vikings stadium

The Vikings stadium deal shows the stupidity of Minnesotans. While lots of cities make millions off of there stadiums, Minnesotans do things on the cheap and everybody pays for it out of pocket. I think before any politician in MN can assume office they to pass the test: Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader.