Several weeks ago, the Vikings Stadium bill was described as a "Hail Mary," the last-second deep pass play in football with little chance of success. In reality, it was more like the closing scenes of a poorly-scripted WWE wrestling match. You might be rooting for the nondescript everyman in blue spandex, but sooner or later we know that the referee will turn a blind eye so that a hulk with a moniker like "Captain Anabolic" can knock him out with a folding chair.
So the Vikings got their hail Mary, but thanks to that blind eye from both our city attorney (no referendum, no motions) and a legislature that undid Senator Marty's amendment that would have upheld the city charter, the Wilfs and the gang of seven got the ball back too. And just like the end of a football game when the leader has possession, these officials appear primed to sit on the ball and let the clock run out.
CMs Gary Schiff and Cam Gordon accompanied fifty or so protestors at City Hall yesterday, speaking in favor of such novel ideas as upholding their oath of office and allowing Minneapolitans to vote on stadium spending. Only fourteen years ago, Minneapolis voters sent a message loud and clear: When it comes to publicly financing professional sports stadiums, we do not trust our elected officials to do the right thing and negotiate deals that are in the best interest of our city. Over 62,000 people across this city voted in favor of that referendum. And the Minnesota Taxpayer's League conducted an admittedly unscientific poll about the stadium in four key wards. Fifty-five percent of people who voted in the last election said they oppose the current stadium proposal.
Contrast those results with other elections, such as...
...R.T. Rybak's 2001 win, when 57,739 people voted for him. Or 2005, when he garnered 43,198 votes. Or most recently in 2009 when only 33,234 turned out in his support. Furthermore, when CM Reich was elected in his own ward, he received a lower percentage of the vote (50.31%) than the percentage of poll respondents who have come out against the stadium bill.
Worse still, we don't even begin to make payments on the stadium financing for roughly ten years. That's a more foolish funding structure than the most predatory of subprime loans that led to the housing crisis. In all likelihood, the gang of seven, the city attorney, and the governor will be either out of politics by then or working in different capacities. Since those who make such financial blunders will in essence be shielded from any accountability by the time the bill comes due, a referendum is absolutely essential.
Sen. Marty summed up the Mayor's and Council President's actions quite nicely:
Mayor Rybak and Council President Johnson pulled together a stadium funding package, then came to the capitol and lobbied aggressively to get the state to adopt it. They asked the state to take your city’s future sales tax revenue and spend it on the Vikings stadium. They succeeded. The state will take the future revenue from your local sales taxes and use it to pay for the Vikings stadium.
Then, they turn around and tell the public that the charter does not apply – because it isn’t the city spending city money on it; it was the state taking city tax money and spending it. That is disingenuous – kind of like the story of the man who killed his parents and then begged the court for mercy because he was an orphan – the mayor and council president begged the state to do this, and then they tell the public that the city didn’t have a choice because the state forced it on them.
We have one more day to send this bill back where it belongs--first to the legislature so it can be reworked, and second to the voters of Minneapolis if funding triggers a referendum.