Giving the Metrodome to the Vikings would bring a measure of sanity to the debateby John Marty
Zygi Wilf and the Vikings are attempting to make their Ramsey County stadium deal sound like a run-of-the-mill, routine proposal. It is not. The Vikings are asking for the No. 1, all-time, biggest taxpayer subsidy of any sports franchise anywhere in American history.
At a time when many families are struggling to pay their bills, the Vikings and their political allies want Minnesotans to put up more taxpayer money than any other community ever - think of that -- to subsidize a team owner.
I joined with Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines, to offer a bipartisan alternative: Give the Metrodome to the Vikings in exchange for a 25 year contract to play in Minnesota. This proposal does not require any public funding. No Ramsey County sales tax, no Ramsey County automobile tax, and no state taxes or fees or other revenues. Taxpayers would be fully compensated for the value of the Metrodome through property taxes, from which the Vikings are currently exempted.
In contrast, the Vikings' Arden Hills proposal requires $350 million from Ramsey County taxpayers, $300 million more from still-to-be-determined state taxes, plus $15 million from the Metro Sports Facilities Commission -- and a sales tax break on construction materials (that's an additional $19 million to $30 million public subsidy), plus a property-tax exemption that is worth several million dollars year after year.
Giving the Metrodome to the Vikings is not a perfect solution, but one that reflects fiscal responsibility and fairness for both the Vikings and the taxpayers of Minnesota. We are by no means alone in wanting a fair resolution. Minnesota voters oppose the use of public money for a new Vikings stadium by more than 3 to 1 (22 percent favor using public funds, 74 percent oppose). Yet the Ramsey County Board and some state officials are talking seriously of a taxpayer subsidy of more than $650 million.
Of course the Vikings' initial reaction to our proposal has not been favorable - who wouldn't prefer a $700 million handout? Recognizing that three of every four Minnesotans reject any subsidy for the Vikings, state leaders should remove the Ramsey County proposal from the table. At that point, when the Vikings conduct an honest assessment of the Metrodome proposal, they will understand the fairness of our offer.
The Vikings' first response to our proposal was to call it a "non-starter." Until recently, Christian Ponder was a "non-starter" as Vikings quarterback. Now he is a starter. Things change. The Vikings need to take another look here.
The only reason any politicians are even considering a $650 million tax subsidy for the Vikings is the possibility that the Vikings could move to Los Angeles. But Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has staked his personal integrity on that matter.
Making it clear that what is most important to him is his family's integrity, he has promised to keep the team in Minnesota: "From Day 1 ... I have promised that I would keep the team here in Minnesota forever... ." When asked whether that's true whether we have a new stadium or not: "Yes, I've stated that from Day 1 ... all I can tell you is this, that I live by my commitment."
Some who claim to be his allies think he will break his promise. So let's compare this Metrodome transfer proposal to the Los Angeles options. The best of the Los Angeles stadium proposals is to give Zygi Wilf the land on which to build his own stadium, at his expense. We would give him the land with a stadium already on it, and he could improve, enhance or rebuild it as he desires.
Los Angeles offers no public subsidy. We offer no public subsidy.
This Minnesota option is a reasonable, competitive alternative. And under our proposal Wilf avoids a $250 million (or more) NFL "relocation fee," and he gets to keep his integrity and a truly loyal fan base.
At a time when most Americans, including the populists from Occupy Wall Street to the Tea Party, are angry at outrageous corporate bailouts, some politicians want to force Minnesotans to pay for the biggest corporate subsidy in sports history. It's time to inject some fiscal sanity into the stadium debate.
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, is serving his eighth term in the Minnesota Legislature.