I want to make abundantly clear that I do not support any of the current public funding schemes for a Vikings stadium. As you may recall, I did not support publicly funding the new Twins stadium either, and was the only Council Member to call on the County to let Minneapolis residents vote on the new taxes that paid for it. I do not, in general, support devoting public funds to private stadiums.
Stadiums are not effective ways to create jobs or economic development. They are not good long term investments - just look at the continuing drag the Target Center places on the City. They are not good ways to improve underdeveloped parts of our city - just look at the sea of surface parking lots surrounding the Metrodome.
In addition, there are a lot of specifics to dislike in the most recent proposal from the Mayor and Council President, now being branded as the "People's Stadium."
Sales taxes are regressive, arguably as regressive as property taxes. The proposed citywide sales tax presents another problem, because many small businesses - including many in the Second Ward - will have to bear the costs and competitive disadvantage, while gaining no conceivable benefit. Will a stadium downtown help El Norteno restaurant on Lake Street, the Birchwood Cafe in Seward, the Cupcake Cafe in Prospect Park or Muddsuckers in Southeast Como? No, I don't believe so. So why should we make them pay for it?
If the stadium is to be considered an asset - which is a stretch, from my perspective - it is a statewide asset, and the costs should be borne by the state. If it is to be considered a driver of local business development - an even more questionable assertion - then the costs should be borne by those who might conceivably benefit, like the downtown zone. Either way, a citywide tax makes no sense. To echo my colleague Betsy Hodges, the City is already contributing more than our fair share to the state's budget, through the broken Local Government Aid program. Why would we voluntarily worsen this already-bad situation?
I am also concerned about the casino proposal that has been tied to the stadium deal. It's part of Block E, a massively taxpayer-subsidized development that has never lived up to the expectations and promises of its backers. Why should we assume that it will magically start over performing? What happens if the Block E part of this deal does not end up paying in as much as expected?
I want to reiterate the sentiments that I shared with the Star Tribune: if there's an openness to new revenues, there are 50 things I'd rather fund than a new football stadium. We are laying off essential City staff. A significant number of the staff who have done the real work to move forward the Homegrown Minneapolis initiative - one of the Mayor's top public policy priorities - face layoffs, potentially limiting the amount of progress we can make in the next few years. We're laying off firefighters. We might be pulling back from support for necessary and valuable programs like Restorative Justice and the Domestic Abuse Project (the Mayor's proposed budget zeroes out both programs). The Police Department's Crime Prevention Specialists - a real commitment the City currently has to community policing - are at risk. Our efforts to fight homelessness are being completely swamped by the need generated by the Great Recession.
This is the true "People's" work - the essential services being provided by the City every day. A stadium for a privately-owned football team is not, no matter how loudly its advocates proclaim it to be. At a time like this, if there's an appetite for taxing our residents more, isn't it painfully obvious that there are higher priorities for our tax dollars?
Then there's the anti-democratic process that seems to be underway. There's language in our City's charter that prohibits public subsidy of this magnitude without an affirmative vote by residents of Minneapolis. Stadium supporters justifiably worry that they wouldn't win that vote, because it seems likely that the people of Minneapolis won't support giving public dollars to private stadiums even if we did have an open and healthy campaign debate about it. It is both unwise and unfair to try to get around this legal mandate for a vote. And, worse, prominent stadium supporters at the State level are calling the referendum process a "game."
Lastly, I am very disturbed by the indication from the Governor that he is open to using any portion of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy funds for this stadium. That is not what Minnesota voters supported. The Legacy amendment is for investments in the environment, arts and history. It's not for sports teams and stadiums. An attempt to cynically rebrand the Vikings as a "cultural" asset, rather than an entertainment provider, can only harm the Legacy fund in the long run - in addition to misusing yet more funds that could be better spent on other, higher purposes (as the voters intended).
I hope that no one is counting on my vote for any component of this plan, whether the sales tax or the casino.