A Vikings stadium deal is coming together the only way it can: In secret.
Gall. Arrogance. Chutzpah.
Call it what you will, but the tone-deaf insistence of the Minnesota Vikings and their lackeys in the Legislature to push forward the team's preposterous plans for a megadome funded by the public is simply stunning.
It is time for taxpayers to draw a line, whether they are Tea Party stalwarts, Democratic progressives or Republican conservatives. This is no time for bread and circuses, and the Vikings want us to bake them one helluva cake: A $900 million stadium financed mostly by the public. The fact they can talk at the Capitol about such irresponsible absurdities without receiving a shower of ripened tomatoes is a warning of how vast the disconnect is between the governed and their governors.
Last week, Vikings President Mark Wilf, the brother of Zygi Wilf, told business leaders that the NFL franchise has been working with legislative leaders on a plan that could be approved before the 2010 session ends next month. Really? What are the details? When were the hearings held? How was the public involved? Or were we too busy going to meetings trying to save health care for the poor and stave off devastating budget cuts and keep essential state services running to attend hearings on a $750 million subsidy for the richest pro sports league in the world?
Such a subsidy would be an outrage, so maybe that's why they've been keeping it on the down-low. But there seems to be a coordinated back-room stadium deal being brokered by some of the most hypocritical political leaders in the state, starting with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty but including some of the state's top DFLers, too.
Pawlenty had a private meeting with Zygi Wilf in December and has done a lot of hand-holding with Zygi since, suggesting that a state lottery game might help fund a stadium. When T-Paw speaks, of course, things happen: The Vikings now want a piece of the lottery pie as part of an annual subsidy of their lucrative business.
Pawlenty fears it would be bad for his legacy if the Vikings, who are contractually bound to play at the 28-year-old Metrodome through the end of the 2011 season, should leave Minnesota. Man, I tell you, we are living in crazy times. Given everything that has happened on Pawlenty's watch, the idea that his reputation might be damaged if the Vikings leave is hilarious. But the private campaign to give Zygi public money for the stately pleasure dome he has decreed is no laughing matter. The Democrats aren't much better than Pawlenty: They're playing footsie with the Wilfs and their minions in the hope of becoming football heroes.
State Sen. Tom Bakk, a DFLer who heads the tax committee and who recently ended a campaign for governor, has opened the door to an 11th-hour Vikings bid to scoop up some loose cash from the bankrupted state coffers before the session ends. His thinking: Next year may be too late because the state will face billions in budget shortfalls, not just the $1 billion deficit that needs to be fixed now.
Brilliant, Bakk. We owe you our gratitude for withdrawing from the governor's race.
Despite the nonstop poor-mouth act, the Vikings are not in danger of losing money, and no one forced them to play in a stadium that wasn't built to their specifications. (That's what happened to the Twins, who were crowbarred into the Metrodome to make the finances work for a building that was built as a football TV studio.)
Is the Dome fancy? No. It is the Kmart of football stadiums in a country of Neiman-Marcuses. But the Wilfs knew that when they bought the team in 2005, and they also knew the resistance of the public to a new publicly funded football palace. Still, they have profited handsomely: Forbes said last fall that the Vikings franchise has appreciated in value by 39 percent -- from $600 million to $835 million -- since the Wilfs took over. Check your portfolio and see if you can say the same.
Oh, when will Sarah Palin and our leaders stand up and say it is time to stop the spread of socialism? Or is it just socialism that benefits the poor that bothers them?
If you want jobs, get the governor to take back his veto of $300 million in public projects to build civic centers and libraries and museums and other publicly owned structures. But any talk of a Vikings stadium not paid in full by private business is an attempted shakedown and comes at a time when the Minnesota public cannot -- and should not -- pay one dime for anything that isn't 100 percent in the public's interest.
It is time to say so.
It is time to say No.
Nick Coleman is a senior fellow at the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.