Stadium Funding IS top priority for Legislators and the Governor

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When people criticize the Governor and Legislature for prioritizing stadium funding, there is always a sharp denial from proponents of the stadium.   “No,” they say, “while it would be nice to get a new ballpark for the Twins and stadium for the Vikings, it is not anywhere near as important as funding for education, or healthcare, or transportation, or  any other core government services.” 

But the reality is that stadiums are the priority at the Capitol. The frenzy to fund new stadiums is pushing other legislative issues aside this year, not only in terms of political attention, but in terms of budget as well. 

A political analysis by Conrad Defiebre in the Sunday Star Tribune gave an example of one item that didn’t meet the House’s priorities the way stadium funding has: “Gov. Tim Pawlenty's $10 million-a-year proposal for early childhood education is languishing in the House, whose Republican majority he used to lead. GOP Speaker Steve Sviggum said there's no money for it.”

Yet, despite the lack of funding for early childhood education, the House still voted to support public funding for a new ballpark for the Twins and a new football stadium for the Gophers, with the Vikings stadium under active consideration.

Minnesota’s economy is not flourishing for all families.  Despite holding jobs, some adults cannot afford health care or housing for their children.  And some seniors on fixed incomes cannot afford the rent for their apartments.  The Governor and Legislature would like to help out, but budgets are tight. 

In the Senate, the Vikings and Twins subsidy legislation was pulled out of committee to make sure that the proposals would not be defeated there.  I do not recall the Senate ever pulling legislation for education funding out of committee, or early childhood programs, or healthcare, or public safety, or natural resources or transportation funding.  In fact, it may never have pulled any funding legislation out of committee other than these stadium funding bills. 

Governor Pawlenty and the Legislature will express concern about the inability to address housing or early childhood needs, but not enough concern to make sure the state seriously addresses those issues before legislative adjournment.  Don't be surprised if Governor Pawlenty calls a special session to deal with the Twins' stadium if funding for it does not pass before the mandatory adjournment date.  In contrast, for the Governor it would be unthinkable to call a special session to deal with homelessness or early childhood programs.   

Why do the Governor and Legislature push stadium funding so aggressively? Follow the money.   Look at the multi-million dollar lobbying and PR efforts by the owners.  Look at the big campaign contributions to the Governor and legislative caucuses. Lobbyists for homeless kids don’t have that kind of clout. 

Despite frequent denials, stadium funding – to subsidize the private investments of wealthy team owners – is a top priority at the capitol.  Minnesota can do better than that.

John Marty