By Jon Tatting
Whether you love it or hate it, a new Vikings stadium is coming to Minnesota.
Last week in St. Paul, state legislators spent long hours debating, amending and debating some more while the public watched on local television and in person. The bill eventually passed 71-60 in the House and 36-30 in the Senate.
Voting against the $975 million stadium project were the three Republican legislators who represent Isanti and Chisago counties. And they had their reasons when asked by the Post Review last week.
Rep. Kurt Daudt (Crown-Dist. 17A) said his issue dealt more with the project’s funding source — gambling, which through such games as electric pull-tabs and pin boards is suppose to help generate revenue for the state’s $348 million share of the stadium project.
Actually, it’s the “expansion of gambling” that Daudt has a problem with as the issue hits close to home. So much, in fact, he thought about sharing his story with the House floor.
“I had a close relative with a gambling problem,” he said. “It was a secret until we read about it in her suicide note. No one, not even her husband knew she was going to the casino. She ended up taking her own life (because) it was easier than facing up to her problem (and) telling her loved ones.”
Aside from not wanting to expand gambling to build a stadium, Daudt also didn’t like the unknown or inability to get an accurate projection of how much gambling would generate. Even with backup measures, such as luxury suite taxes, those dollars wouldn’t come in until after the stadium opened, he added.
Instead, Daudt said he likely would have supported a funding source involving general obligation bonds, which is typically how the Legislature pays for projects. “They didn’t look at it until it was too late,” he noted.
According to Sen. Sean Nienow (Cambridge-Dist. 17), “There’s a grand philosophical argument about whether government should subsidize sporting arenas, and particularly for highly profitable billion dollar businesses.”
On the stadium issue, he claimed he didn’t even need to dig that deep before discovering “fatal flaws” in the proposal.
“First, the provision, (which) not even directly related to the Vikings stadium, to vacate the Minneapolis Charter so the city can refurbish the Target Center without a referendum,” said Nienow. “Minneapolis residents added that provision to the charter in the 1990s specifically to prevent that from happening, and it was done in direct response to the city spending money on an arena without voter approval.
“I said all along that I would not vote to send a stadium bill to the governor for a signature if that provision to circumvent the electorate was in the bill — it is a clear and direct violation of their expressed wish.”
The state senator continued:
“If the Legislature can ignore those Minnesotans’ voice today, tomorrow it might be ours. I won’t support that happening. It’s not even necessary for the Vikings’ portion of the bill, and it should have been removed.
“The funding mechanism as currently structured in the bill is not going to be sufficient for debt service. Here at the Capitol everyone knows that is true (but not everyone is willing to publicly acknowledge it), which is why the House tried to find additional funding mechanisms and the final bill included nominal (yet insufficient) fallback mechanisms when revenues fall short.
“I had suggested and proposed a couple alternatives for a legitimate and stable funding approach, but they kept the flawed funding structure,” concluded Nienow.
In Dist. 17B, Rep. Bob Barrett (Lindstrom) noted he learned the true meaning of the word, “passion,” last week when he received much public feedback and took it into consideration when making his decision on a new professional football stadium.
“Ultimately, deciding how to vote came down to standing up for Chisago County schools and taxpayers,” he said. “If we look at our county’s education funding, we have received disproportionately low funding for schools compared to kids from other zip codes for too many years.
“And our homeowners and main street businesses are continually hit hard with burdensome taxation. In fact, many businesses just can’t compete in such a high cost environment,” he added.
With this in mind, “I could not in good conscience vote to take $400 million of state general fund money — fronted by an unproven form of electronic pull tab revenue and new but illegal sports-themed tip boards — to support this project,” Barrett continued.
That last part may have caught you off guard, he admitted, so he reiterated, “This bill includes as a funding source an illegal source of gambling that is projected by the experts to produce $500 million in revenue. This means the state’s general fund will be responsible for picking up the slack when these funds and the backup sources of revenue don’t come in.”
Further, the project included an additional $150 million from Minneapolis residents whose right to a referendum was “trampled on,” he stressed. That and the timing wasn’t good with the state’s economic progress.
“Everyone got hit hard in the last few years, many are still suffering, but the Legislature was able to successfully balance the budget last year after four years of doom and gloom and increasingly massive state budget deficits… The state is finally starting to experience some stability, and now, with this bill, we’re going to drag Minnesota further into debt,” Barrett explained.
Yet now that the voting is over, he did acknowledge — not as a state representative, but as a two-way starter on a state champion high school football team and lifelong football fan — “the excitement of long-suffering Viking fans who now have something to be extremely excited about.”