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Vikings owner Zygi and Mark Wilf greeted Vikings fans outside the Capitol before a press conference after the stadium was passed in the Senate and House on May 10, 2012 at the State Capitol.

Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

Pity the Pohlads! Pity the Wilfs!

  • Article by: Jason Lewis
  • August 17, 2013 - 5:44 PM

Now that the heirs of Carl Pohlad’s estate are caught up in the very confiscatory tax regime their favorite politicians helped create, it is tempting to root for the taxman just to make a point.

Seems the IRS believes the Pohlad boys undervalued their prized possession, the Minnesota Twins, to the tune of $269 million as part of their late father’s estate. Now the greedy hand wants at least $121 million from the franchise the taxpayers built.

Rich, isn’t it?

All the more so given the fact the Pohlads were charter members of a “Gang of 200” — wealthy liberal elites who took out a full-page ad in this paper a few years back declaring “We can afford to pay more state taxes and we can’t afford not to.”

Hey, no one said anything about the estate tax, right?

Recall it wasn’t that long ago when some of us were questioning the wisdom of Hennepin County taxpayers handing over $392 million for a family that could have built its own ballpark. And now that sales and use taxes, not to mention attendance (according to the Business Journal, the Twins are on pace to draw just more than 2.5 million this year, not far off from their final year in the Metrodome) are substantially down from their peak inaugural season, we naysayers are looking a bit more prescient with every pitch.

Of course, the Pohlads are hardly the only ones who’ve cashed in on America’s obsession with subsidizing professional sports. And to be fair, it’s a bipartisan scam just as likely to attract hypocritical “free-market” Republicans rationalizing their favorite form of welfare. It’s just especially galling when those “fair share” progressives endlessly demanding more tax revenue are the ones getting most of it back.

In fact, it all smacks of a tight-knit little group of well-connected insiders for whom big government has been very kind. Are we really to believe, for example, that after a national search for the most qualified point man for the Vikings’ billion-dollar pound of taxpayer flesh, Mark Dayton had no other choice but to anoint Ted Mondale as the $157,000-per-year executive director of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority?

Not that ’ol Ted won’t have to earn his keep, since the Vikings’ stadium deal has already run into a couple of major roadblocks. The “we promise not to use general-fund revenues” line already had to be revised once the electronic pulltab scheme faltered. So that was replaced by a retroactive tax on smokers along with a “reformulated” unitary tax on corporations — money that would have gone to, you guessed it, the general fund.

And just last week, the ability of the Vikings to live up to their commitments was called into question in the aftermath of a New Jersey judge’s opinion citing the “bad faith” of Zygi and Mark Wilf in their real-estate dealings.

Then again, you’ve got to remember what Mondale admitted when he was helping to shepherd the Vikings subsidy through the Legislature: “The whole reason we’re doing this is so the team can make money.”

And make money they will. According to Forbes, the team’s value has now skyrocketed 22 percent in the last year, to $975 million — a tidy 62 percent return, during bad economic times, from Zygi’s 2005 purchase price of $600 million. The special-interest sports lobby (including fans, media, players and owners) that makes this possible is sadly indicative of society’s inability to put sports in their proper perspective: as a metaphor for the vicissitudes of life, not a substitute.

The whole “bread and circuses” thing is leading to one absurdity after another. The Tax Foundation notes that downtown Minneapolis diners suffer under the highest retail tax in the nation while the sporting public gets subsidized. The Detroit Red Wings get $284 million in state tax dollars as their city files for bankruptcy.

What’s next? A self-aggrandizing Bob Costas lecturing gun owners from his ­multimillion-dollar perch on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football”?

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Jason Lewis is a nationally syndicated talk-show host based in Minneapolis-St. Paul and is the author of “Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States’ Rights” from Bascom Hill Publishing. He can be heard locally from 5 to 8 p.m. on NewsTalk Radio, 1130-AM, and at jasonlewisshow.com.

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