Tevlin: Lessons on buying meat and paying for Vikings stadium

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 16, 2013 - 10:53 PM


Many years ago I took a “professional basics” cooking class from a chef, Eberhard Werthmann, and he gave me some good advice about the importance of correctly calculating the amount of food you need to feed a crowd.

“Never ask a butcher how much meat to buy,” he said.

Too bad our legislators never took a class from Werthmann. Not only would they be better cooks, they’d be better legislators.

The tip came back to me in recent days as I’ve watched them squirm over how to come up with the cash to fund the Vikings stadium, now that it’s becoming painfully obvious that the electronic pulltab gambit isn’t working and may never work.

As this newspaper has uncovered, elected officials including legislators from both parties, Gov. Mark Dayton and his appointees all relied heavily on the gaming industry to provide estimates on how much the state could raise to pay for the stadium. As luck would have it, the gaming industry gave the elected officials the number they needed to sell the stadium.

Surprise! They asked the butcher how much meat to buy and he sold them too much meat.

Then Monday it was announced that, “after being in the field,” the much touted electronic bingo games are on the fritz, and have been pulled back for repairs.

Ladies and gentlemen, clear your cards.

For the past year, officials pushing the stadium have backed the numbers. Minnesota Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans, among others, called the $34 million guess “a very reasonable and conservative estimate.” His confidence, “on a scale of 1 to 10 … it’s above 5, probably 8.”

Not everyone bought it.

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, said it was “based on a wing and a prayer.”

“There was nothing to base it on,” said Nienow. “It was willful blindness.”

He said many legislators, even those who voted for the stadium, admitted “in the shadows” that it wouldn’t work. “They thought it would come closer, that they were mostly right. Now, they are mostly wrong.”

Former Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, predicted more than a year ago that “there will be an I-told-you-so moment” about gambling projections.

Howe lost his election, but refused to gloat because the miscalculation “will lead to added taxation, and not on the people who use the stadium.”

Asked why so many people accepted the numbers, Howe said: “Fear is a terrible motivator.”

Howe also said funding decisions were made in secret. “How is it the conference committee report was done before the conference committee met? There was no input.”

You can find other skeptics of the gambling numbers easily “in the field,” by which I mean Elsie’s Restaurant, Bar and Bowling Center in northeast Minneapolis. (Someone had to do the field work.) It is one of just four Minneapolis bars with the machines.

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