Veteran readers of this editorial space will be quite startled to find in it praise for Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, who I have dubbed Governor Goofy II on other occasions. What Dayton is doing presently that I find laudable, is recognizing the need for a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings and standing up to take decisive action now. Some might say, big deal, Dayton has never opposed any form of public spending, so what’s new?
What’s new is that in this case, the governor is bucking very powerful elements of his own caucus who basically think that any new state spending must be directed back to Minnesota government and its various bureaucracies and unions. They are insanely jealous of funding from any source, even if it were only a special popcorn tax at the stadium. Dayton is, in fact, spending valuable political capital on this matter.
On the other hand, the knot-headed meddling in this issue by Republican legislative leaders Amy Koch and Kurt Zellers, in attempting to force a referendum affecting a county they don’t represent, will win them no new or lasting friends, but legions of enemies all across the political spectrum.
It is easy to say, why subsidize the millionaire players and billionaire owners? Let them build their own #!!**# playhouse. This is an emotionally compelling argument but ignores the fact that there are a limited number of NFL franchises and many cities that want them which will not quibble over the price. Currently, the largest urban market in the nation, Los Angeles, has no football team, could easily support two, and has stadiums in place. It is stupid to think that the Vikings won’t wind up there or elsewhere if Minnesota won’t compete. If Zygi Wilf doesn’t move them, he will sell the team to someone who will, in a heartbeat. So the only question is do we want to keep the Vikings or not?
The answer is clearly yes for a host of compelling reasons both financial and emotional. They are too obvious to waste paper and ink enumerating here. Suffice it to point out that if the state scrambled to replace a hockey franchise, what gyrations would it not go through if we lost our football team? The sensible thing to do is get a deal done now.
Funding for the new stadium at this point breaks down to something like $407 million from the Vikings, $350 from Ramsey County, which would derive the benefits of the stadium’s location, and about $300 million from the state. It is that last portion that is contentious. There are powerful arguments against taking anything from the general fund, and an add-on statewide sales tax would be not be tolerated by those who are not interested in football.
On the other hand, the authorization of electronic pull tabs for charities would be entirely painless, and might actually help those charities and their beneficiaries. Those who oppose expansion of gambling ignore the fact that the charity gaming is already in place, and unlike state or Indian gambling, actually has demonstrative positive effects. And, by the way, the tribes do not object to it, a major obstacle to other forms of gaming, such as “racinos,” that have been suggested as funding sources.
There is also the notion of helping to finance the new football venue with a portion of the Legacy funds, originating from a special sales tax initially meant to go to outdoor uses, but which Twin Cities interests refused to support unless 19.75% of it was directed to “arts and cultural heritage.” Surely the Vikings would qualify as part of our cultural heritage, for better or worse. (Art would be a stretch.) That money is in place, and only a small portion would be needed for the stadium.
Let it be one or the other, or portions of each, however the deal can be done. But let’s get it done. At this point the obvious fact that the Vikings franchise will be far more valuable in LA rather than Minnesota is not a factor. It soon will be.