There was something for everyone to like — or, of course, dislike — at the first Vikings stadium public hearing, sponsored by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.
If you came to the hearing at the Lake Nokomis Community Center angry that the process is bypassing the voters, you could find friends and get applause for your speech.
If you want the stadium because it will bring jobs to a depressed economy, you had plenty of supporters, too. And if you wanted to pick apart the numbers in the deal, you’d also find allies.
It was an excellent night for those who love to debate public policy — and an easy occasion for everyone in the crowd of about 100 to declare victory for his or her side.
“The construction industry is absolutely in the tank,” said Rybak when asked if the new stadium would bring any economic benefits. He emphasized the job, saying: So few things have been built that we have an enormous number of people out of work.”
The available handout noted that construction of the stadium would provide nearly 7,500 full- and part-time jobs and nearly $300 million in wages.
In response to a question about the wisdom of spending tax dollars on a stadium, Rybak explained that the state’s Minneapolis hospitality sales tax, which currently funds the city Convention Center, would be extended to 2045 and would be used to pay the city’s share of the stadium beginning in 2020.
“If we do nothing, we have no guarantee that we will have any funding after 2020,” said Rybak, noting that the Legislature has been threatening to claim the funds for the state. “This is the only guarantee we have in Minneapolis that these dollars will stay in Minneapolis.”
Rybak said he has worked without success for 10 years to keep more of the revenue from the hospitality tax. He talked about the police that could have been hired and the property taxes that could have been lowered.
“The state imposes taxes on the city, and we have no control of those taxes,” said Rybak. “The state imposes those taxes and has 100 percent control.”
Then came a very pointed question about the City Charter, which was amended in 1997 to require a vote of the citizens for any sports facility requiring more than $10 million in city funding.
“It says no city resources,” came the question, “and you’ve danced around that. How can you say the people don’t have a right to vote on it?”
Rybak repeated his point about hiring police officers.
“We’re not talking about police officers. We’re talking about a billionaire. Do you have a copy of the legal opinion?”
Rybak again went back to how he has spent 10 years trying to get control of the tax revenue.
And later he said: “Do you want me to take an action that will lower your property tax, fund the Convention Center and Target Center?”
“The real issue here on our taxes is replacing our property tax with a sales tax,” said Rybak. “The sales tax from downtown will replace the property tax. It’s closer to a user fee. And there’s also a tax on Vikings tickets. Another user fee.”
The hearing also produced a pointed political exchange.
Carol Becker, who worked for former Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, had the floor. She ripped into the subject of the sales tax, saying it is a city tax that all residents pay.
She argued that the sales tax doesn’t bring overall tax relief to Minneapolis residents, and she took Rybak to task for claiming the stadium plan will bring property tax relief. (Rybak defeated Sayles Belton when she was seeking re-election.)
‘You were involved in negotiating the Target Center deal,” countered Rybak, “I’m trying to clean that up.”
“I was not the mayor’s financial adviser,” said Becker. “I did not have anything to do with that deal.”
Despite the fireworks and strong feelings, the meeting ended on friendlier terms. Rybak gave out his e-mail address and asked everyone to share their thoughts.
For anyone who wants to share his or her views, the mayor can be reached at RT@mpls.org. There’s also another public hearing tonight. The session begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Logan Recreation Center, 690 13th Ave. NE.
Two Cities blog, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul City Halls, is made possible in part by grants from The Saint Paul Foundation and the Carolyn Foundation.