As Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton struggle to reach an agreement on how to erase a projected $5 billion budget gap, some lawmakers are wondering why a new Vikings stadium has become a top priority.
They say there's no way officials should be considering raising taxes for a stadium when the state is so short of money.
A deal announced this week between the Minnesota Vikings and Ramsey County would put a new football stadium seven miles from state Rep. Mindy Greiling's house. It also would likely add a half percent to the cost of much of what she and her neighbors buy.
“We said we weren't going to raise taxes.”Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville
Greiling, DFL-St. Paul, is not happy about that. The former chairman of the House education committee said it's hard to stomach as she debates the state's K-12 school budget.
"I think it's immoral that we're cutting education $44 million, and still people want to raise money for a stadium," she said. "Just the sports memorabilia tax alone would fund our needs for early childhood for poor kids. Not to mention the county pitting libraries and roads and health and human services, nursing homes, against a stadium."
Greiling has plenty of company. Even some Republicans say that a new tax on Twins caps, Vikings jerseys and sports memorabilia flies in the face of the GOP agenda.
"There are a lot of reasons not to contribute tax money to a stadium, but I think one of them is that we said we weren't going to raise taxes," said state Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville.
"You can call them user fees if you want, but anybody who goes and reads the bill, which I have, will learn that there are things being taxed that will be paid by people who will never use the stadium," Thompson said.
It's a sentiment that's growing louder as debate over the proposed $1 billion construction project builds at the Legislature, in Arden Hills and in Minneapolis.
Critics are asking why lawmakers are holding the line on taxes that pay for schools, health care and public safety, but not for millionaire football players and their employers.
The plan's staunchest supporters say privately that they regret the timing, coming as it does at one of the lowest financial points in the state history.
Even Vikings officials acknowledge the difficulty.
"We've been at this for 10 years. We have been here at times of surplus and times of deficit, and there's never a good time to resolve this issue," said Lester Bagley, a team vice president. "But our lease is up, the roof has collapsed, and we have a deal with Ramsey County to step up and resolve this long-running issue."
The Vikings' backers say it's like many other long-term problems -- they're compounded by bad timing, but have to be dealt with anyway.
They say turning down the NFL now might drive the Vikings out of the state. They say that would only increase the eventual cost of what many consider a key amenity, much like wooing the NHL back after the North Stars left.
State Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said she considered the stadium deal a business decision, like any other economic development initiative.
"Minnesota without a viable stadium, or without the Vikings, is a daunting thought," she said. "It attracts businesses, it retains businesses."
Rosen, who met Friday with Dayton, Transporation Commissioner Tom Sorel and Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission chairman Ted Mondale, said the business community wants the stadium built.
Both Gov. Dayton and state Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said Friday there isn't a simple substitution. They said the money to pay for the project is separate from the funds that pay for things like schools and roads.
Supporters put it another way -- there wouldn't be luxury box fees or taxes on NFL jerseys to give to the schools, without the Vikings to generate the sales in the first place.
Lanning said it's a simple formula: "Those who benefit, those who are engaged in that activity, whatever it is, will pay for it."
He said he hopes to incorporate the Vikings deal in Arden Hills into his stadium bill within days.