No politician will admit that they consider funding a Vikings stadium a top priority. But for some, it seems to rate higher than education, health care, or other needs.
37 out of 37 Republican state senators – every one of them – sent a letter to Governor Dayton earlier this year, strongly opposing any new taxes or revenues. They made their position clear – no taxes for schools or for health care. No taxes for roads and bridges, or for public safety, or for the environment. No new taxes for anything.
However, some of those Republican senators are making an exception. They recently introduced legislation to raise taxes to subsidize a new Vikings stadium. The one thing for which they are willing to raise taxes is a taxpayer-subsidized stadium?
A Vikings stadium subsidy is not something the voters want. A Minnesota Poll conducted last October showed voters, by an overwhelming 75 to 21 percent margin, reject using taxes for a stadium. Even among Republican voters, fewer than one out of four support taxes for a stadium.
Politicians supporting the stadium subsidy claim they don't have a choice; if we don't subsidize a stadium, the Vikings will move. But Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf has said, "From day one...I have promised that I would keep the team here in Minnesota forever." When asked if his commitment holds even if he does not get a new stadium, he reiterated, "Yes, I've stated that from day one."
If politicians are willing to put millions of tax dollars into a stadium because they believe Wilf is lying, they should provide evidence to support that belief. I have not seen anything to suggest Mr Wilf is anything other than a man of his word. In fact, he has gone out of his way to stress that his integrity is strong: "My most important thing, is having my family's integrity..." When he was asked about the fact that some politicians think he is not being honest about that, he stressed, "all I can tell you is this, that I live by my commitment."
Without any evidence that Zygi Wilf is dishonest about his commitment to Minnesota, and with overwhelming public opposition to a stadium subsidy, why make it such a high priority?
Some DFL politicians support a stadium subsidy because it will create jobs in the hard-hit construction industry. We urgently need more construction jobs, but we could do so by addressing the enormous backlog of public infrastructure needs. For example, within a few miles of the Metrodome, there are schools that were built in the 1930s and '40s that haven't been updated in decades. The deferred maintenance list is huge. By focusing on school buildings, we could create construction jobs and give our children the quality of school facilities they deserve, also saving money through energy efficiency improvements.
If the Governor and legislative leaders would sit down with Zygi Wilf and other business leaders, they could do what the Carolina Panthers did; build an NFL stadium with private funds. A stadium built with private funds would create just as many construction jobs as one built with taxpayer money, and would allow public funds to be used for sorely-needed public infrastructure.
For those who doubt that the Vikings stadium is a top priority for some politicians, note that now there is talk that a Vikings stadium could be dealt with before the budget deficit is addressed.
One final note. The amount of money we are talking about is not insignificant. To put the issue into terms that we can relate to, the Vikings want taxpayers to subsidize each of the 64,000 seats at every Vikings home game to the tune of over $45 of taxpayer money for each ticket, at every game – including pre-season ones – for thirty years. Add a roof, and the subsidy jumps to $65 for every seat.
It is incredible that some politicians make this a top priority when the state budget is in crisis. The voters are right. A Vikings stadium subsidy shouldn't even be on the agenda. Let's fix the state budget and address the huge challenges facing the state. To help the Vikings, state leaders can sit down with business leaders and Zygi Wilf and develop a private funding plan for the Vikings stadium.