Football season a reminder of legislative priorities

Politicians punted to the powerful players in stadium deal


Michael Harwell
Guest Writer

The word of the day is “forgetaboutit,” the “it” being the July 1 increase in the tax on a pack of cigarettes to help cover the shortfall for the new Vikings stadium.

I know it’s water under the bridge and taxpayers fussing over the cigarette tax hike would probably be doing their blood pressure a favor by moving on. But geez! The cigarette tax hike is an in-your-face, you-want-some-of-this reminder that the Vikings’ ownership and their legislative allies, having previously chucked Minnesota taxpayers under the new stadium bus, will continue to do so whenever they please.  Checks and balances in our political system? Not when you mix football and new stadiums.

Remember the stadium funding drama in 2012? It was almost a forgone conclusion that St. Paul Democrats, having never met a taxpayer-financed project they didn’t like, would vote convincingly for State funding (73.3 percent in the Senate, 64.4 percent in the House).

At least the Democrats were consistent in their politics, unlike their Republican brethren. The Republican fire-and-brimstone message of low taxes and fiscal discipline decided to sit this one out (but quickly resurfaced once the stadium bill was passed).

Remember that Republicans controlled the Minnesota Senate and House last year when the stadium bill was debated? But rather than insisting on fiscal discipline many Republicans insisted on taking turns with their Democratic colleagues swooning in front of TV cameras in professing their adoration for the Vikings. It was political theater at its best, or worst, depending on how you feel about the Vikings.

Eventually Republicans provided enough votes (45.8 percent in the Senate, 44.4 percent in the House) with Democrats to pass the stadium funding bill in May 2012 in the midst of a struggling economy.

Remember the justification of those voting yes?  The Vikings are an important state asset that we simply cannot lose. I know I was not alone in wondering where in the pecking order other important state assets like our public school system fall, especially after money was ‘borrowed’ from schools to help balance the state budget in July 2011. And while Republicans are always first into the mosh pit when there’s a chance to smack public education around, plenty of Democrats joined them this time, including the Governor. Less than one year later many of these same legislators were all smiles when the stadium funding bill was signed into law, guaranteeing 10 Vikings games per year and all the monster trucks and tractor pulls we could ask for.

We have seen this David-and-Goliath drama over new stadiums play out in this country for more than 30 years, and who plays David and who gets to be Goliath never changes. Unlike the biblical version, Goliath administers a financial beat-down to David every time and Minnesota was no exception.

Perhaps the worst-kept secret in Minnesota is that additional shortfalls in stadium funding will be followed by additional taxes.

Concerned? Counting on St. Paul Republicans and Democrats to stand up to the stadium steamroller at some point?