Stadium debate likely front and center next yearby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings stadium debate is likely to be front and center when lawmakers return for the 2012 session in late January. Next year is also an election year, when every seat in the Legislature is on the ballot.
That could leave tough decisions for lawmakers who worry the Vikings could leave the state but who also see polls that show most Minnesotans oppose public funding for a stadium.
Gov. Mark Dayton has been consistent about his support for a new Vikings stadium. Throughout the 2010 campaign for governor, Dayton said that he supported a "people's stadium" that would serve the needs of the public and the Vikings. He called again for a new stadium after he won the election even before he took the oath of office.
As to the anti-stadium sentiment reflected in the polls, Dayton said he's pushing forward with the plan anyway "because it's right for Minnesota."
"It's going to create thousands of jobs," he said. "That's the responsibility of leadership, to look beyond the immediate polling data and say what's right for the state."
While Dayton has already survived one election as a pro-stadium candidate, some people running for office now are running on their opposition to a new stadium.
Among them is Peter Wagenius, a Democrat running in a special election for the Minnesota Senate. The DFL-heavy district he aims to represent includes northeast Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota and the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.
Wagenius said the DFL primary on Dec. 6, will be a referendum on the stadium.
"The system is rigged against the middle class and it's rigged against the priorities that they care about," he said. "And the tax system is rigged against the middle class. They pay more while people of privilege pay less and less. That also applies to people with political power and money and clout at the Legislature. The stadium is a symptom of the broader problem."
One of Wagenius's DFL opponents, former city council member Paul Ostrow, supports using public money for a stadium.
But Kari Dziedzic, another candidate in the race, said voters are focused on other issues.
"Anybody who says that this special election is a referendum on stadiums has his priorities upside down," she said. "My priorities, and what I'm hearing in talking to constituents, are jobs and the economy, education and taxes."
Dziedzic said she'd consider a user tax as a possible way to pay for the stadium.
Of all those who may eventually vote on a stadium plan, state Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud, is in a unique position. His job outside the legislature is teaching economics at St. Cloud State University.
"I never imagined in a million years when I started teaching sports economics that someday I might be casting a vote on a stadium bill myself," he said.
Banaian said studies are clear that professional sports stadiums don't create an economic benefit. Instead they just capture money that people would spend anyway on other forms of entertainment. Still, Banaian, who won in 2010 by 13 votes, said he's not sure how he'll vote on the stadium.
"Admittedly when you're in the classroom and it's just a sterile research question, it's pretty easy to come down on one side of this particularly when the economics all point in a single direction," he said. "When you actually are the person facing the voters and you hear the stories of your father and grandfather who watched the Vikings, well, that has real value. Just because there's not a price-tag attached to it. You can't ignore the fact that that's a value that has to be weighed against the economics values too."
Banaian said he's been lobbied by at least one student to support a stadium financing bill. He's teaching his sports economics class again in late December. He may have some fresh material based on personal experience.
- Morning Edition, 11/25/2011, 6:20 a.m.