No politician will admit to thinking that funds for a Vikings stadium are a top priority. But for some, it seems to rate higher than education, health care or other needs.
Thirty-seven out of 37 Republican state senators — every one of them — sent a letter to Gov. Mark 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 that voters, by an overwhelming 75 to 21 percent margin, reject using taxes for a stadium. Even among Republican voters, fewer than one in 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 1 ... 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 1."
If politicians are willing to put millions of tax dollars into a stadium because they believe Wilf doesn't mean what he says, they should provide evidence to support that belief. I have not seen anything to suggest that Wilf is other than a man of his word. In fact, he has gone out of his way to stress that his integrity: "My most important thing, is having my family's integrity. ... All I can tell you is this, that I live by my commitment."
There is even talk that a Vikings stadium could be dealt with before the budget deficit is addressed. Without any evidence that Wilf is being dishonest about his commitment to Minnesota, and with overwhelming public opposition to a stadium subsidy, why make it such a 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 get them 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 sat 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.
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 more than $45 for each ticket, at every game — including preseason ones — for 30 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. And if they still want to help the Vikings, state leaders can sit down with business leaders and Zygi Wilf and develop a private funding plan.
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, is serving his eighth term in the Minnesota Legislature.