Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Monday, May 09, 2011

More on the Viking Stadium Deal

I've had a chance to see the specifics of the Mayor and Council President's proposed stadium deal.  There are some aspects designed to make the bitter pill easier to swallow, but there are also details to dislike, and some of the ways that the plans supporters are touting it strike me as more than a little dubious.

On the plus side:
  • The City of Minneapolis would no longer own the Target Center and we will no longer need to use property taxes to pay for it.  We never should have owned this facility in the first place, and it would be good to be done with it.
  • The Metrodome would not become a vacant problem property to manage.  It will be expensive, difficult, and likely take quite some time to realign the street grid and make east downtown - which the Metrodome itself has helped to turn into a wasteland of surface parking lots - a livable space.
On the minus side:
  • The team would pay less than half of the costs of the stadium, with taxpayers picking up the majority.
  • The existing downtown restaurant and liquor tax would potentially be extended to all bars and restaurants in Minneapolis.  I have a real problem with this.  Do small restaurants in Seward, Prospect Park, Southeast Como, or even the West Bank benefit from the Vikings' presence in downtown?  I don't think so.  This is a clear case of taking money from people who can't afford to pay - struggling small businesses on razor-thin margins - and giving it to some of the wealthiest people in our state.
  • The citywide sales tax imposed (in an undemocratic way, with little to no community engagement) for the Twins stadium would be doubled.  As bad as property taxes are, sales taxes are worse.  They are the most regressive form of taxation available to us, because poorer folks by necessity spend a greater percentage of their income on sales-taxable goods and services than wealthier folks.  Again, this is a way to take money from those who are struggling and give it to those who are doing extremely well.
  • A parking surcharge would be placed on downtown parking spaces on game days.  I actually support a parking surcharge, but not for this.  If we are going to fight for the ability to impose a parking surcharge, let's use it for the common good, for something with real public benefits for all, and something transportation-related.  Streetcars are a good example, or Bus Rapid Transit.  Not a stadium.
  • The Target Center, while no longer owned by the City of Minneapolis, would still benefit from almost $100 million in public subsidy (through the above taxes).

Now, on some of those dubious claims. 
  • Proponents argue that this deal "lowers property-tax burden on Minneapolis businesses and homeowners."  While that's technically true, it's extremely misleading, because it raises the total tax burden on Minneapolis businesses and homeowners.  So while your property taxes might not go up as much, because we won't have to continue throwing money at the Target Center, you will pay additional sales taxes.  And if you go to a restaurant anywhere in Minneapolis, you'll have to pay the restaurant and liquor tax.  This isn't a tax-reduction proposal.  It's a tax-increase proposal with a shift of some liabilities from one kind of regressive tax to a worse kind of regressive tax.  And it's all for two sports facilities that should stand on their own.
  • Proponents note that "significant site improvements enhance fan experience, spur development and tax-base growth."  Some of that might be true, but I have my doubts that a refurbished Metrodome (40% of the existing building will remain in place) will spur much development, especially given the experience we've had with the actual, existing Metrodome.  It also promised to spur development.  What it spurred was closer to blight.
  • Lastly, they promise that the deal will "end stadium debates."  I am not so sure.  The hockey arena and baseball stadiums are noticeably absent from what could have been a real "global" solution.   Worse, this solution ends debate by again setting the precedent that the public will be forced - whether they like it or not - to prop up privately owned, profit driven, professional sports teams.  All this does is set up the next round of stadium debates with that same presumption.
On balance, it's not a good deal for the people of the Second Ward, or of Minneapolis generally. The people of Minneapolis will be forced to carry the costs and burden of regional amenities. So far, as it stands, one thing is clear This is a proposal I cannot support.

No Public Financing for Stadiums

I've been getting calls and emails opposing the most recent proposal, supported by the Mayor and Council President Johnson, to have Minneapolis fund 20 - 25% of the cost of a new Vikings stadium. 

In general I am opposed to public funding for sports stadiums, especially those build and maintained for privately owned professional sports teams.

I can think of very few situations in which I might find it appropriate for the public to foot any portion of the bill for a stadium. I would consider it if it was a publicly-owned facility for a publicly-owned team, for example, or if those who were bearing the costs voted affirmatively in a referendum on the new taxation, as I said in this post

This position is informed by two of the key philosophical values that shape my thinking: social and economic justice, and grassroots democracy.  Too often, government sides with the wealthy against the rest of us, redirecting public funds to those who need it least.  Billionaire sports franchise owners simply don't need the City's help as much as less-well-off Minneapolitans do.  And too often, when we make decisions in favor of things like public financing for stadiums, we do so over the express opposition of residents and taxpayers.  If we put it to a vote, I'm confident that the people of Minneapolis would reject the idea that we should fund a new Vikings stadium.  Ignoring that reality doesn't make us serious, it makes us antidemocratic.

So in almost all cases, I oppose public funding for stadiums.  But it's almost unbelievable that we would even suggest committing the City to financially support a stadium at this point in our history.  In the last budget, we rescinded a promise we had made to neighborhood groups - who perform crucially necessary work in our communities.  This ignited an ugly, unnecessary fight over neighborhood funding at the Legislature, in which the Mayor is lambasting supporters of neighborhoods for somehow "causing" a property tax increase by trying to undo the City's bad decision from last December.

And remember what was held completely harmless even as we were gutting funding to neighborhoods: the ongoing debt fiasco that is the Target Center.  I'm sure that public support for that facility seemed like a good idea to someone at some point in the past, but for my entire tenure on the Council it has been an albatross, sucking tens of millions of public dollars away from other public needs. And time and again I have heard that those dollars are "off the table" when it comes to cuts, winning out over cops, firefighters, neighborhood groups, etc.

The cold reality is that we are planning for a grim few years, especially if Republicans in the Legislature succeed in cutting off all Local Government Aid.  Vital City staff will likely be laid off.  I worry that some of my colleagues will try again to completely destroy smaller City departments like Civil Rights.  And even with these painful cuts, property taxes will very likely still have to rise.

So if there's any capacity for Minneapolis to generate more tax revenue in a creative way, there are higher and better purposes for which it could be used.  Keeping our promises to neighborhoods.  Keeping cops and firefighters on the streets.  Maintaining our crumbling infrastructure.  Sustaining our smaller but vitally important departments like Health and Family Support and Civil Rights.  I would appreciate seeing the creativity and willingness to come up with bold ideas about these pressing needs that bring direct benefit to to Minneapolis residents,  rather than what I see as unnecessary, unjust corporate welfare achieved through undemocratic means.