A Minnesota Vikings official stressed the various ways in which the team gives back to the state as he debated other experts Wednesday about whether public funding should be used to build a new stadium for the NFL team.
Jeff Anderson, the Vikings' assistant director of public affairs, said the team provides revenue, jobs and public service during the debate at the University of Minnesota. The team wants taxpayers to help pay for a new stadium to replace the 29-year-old Metrodome, which Vikings executives say is not profitable enough compared to other NFL facilities.
However, Art Rolnick, former Minneapolis Federal Reserve research director, rejected Anderson's assertions that the Vikings create more jobs, participate in more civic engagement and generate more tax revenue. He said the team is no different in those respects than other successful Minnesota companies, such as General Mills or 3M, and should be treated as such.
"If you can't fund your business, if you can't get your customers to pay the price for your services, you go out of business," Rolnick said.
None of the speakers disagreed with the assessment that the Metrodome needs to be replaced. The question was who should pay for it even as the state faces an estimated $5 billion budget deficit.
The Vikings have sought a state financing package to help pay for construction of a new NFL arena for years. The team's lease at the Metrodome ends after the 2011 football season, and team officials say the Vikings won't keep playing there after that.
Anderson said the Metrodome generated $340 million in tax revenue since it opened and the Vikings were responsible for $186 million of that. Although he didn't present a specific funding plan, he said the project wouldn't use any general fund money and would lean on partnerships between the government and the private sector.
"Never once will you hear the Vikings say that we're the No. 1 priority and we should be dealt with over education or health care ... but we do believe it's an important issue and we believe now is the time to resolve it," Anderson said.
Rolnick called for a public referendum on the issue. He stressed other high-priority needs in the state, such as education, at-risk families and aging infrastructure.
Rolnick also said there's an inherent conflict of interest in politicians raising taxes to fund a stadium, because it'll undoubtedly boost their chances of re-election, the whole model undermines government.
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, cited a Star Tribune poll that found 75 percent of Minnesota residents don't support using taxpayer money. He said a taxpayer subsidy on every seat in a 64,000-seat stadium would amount to $45 per seat per game, including preseason games, for the next 30 years.
Like Rolnick, Marty said the Vikings should be treated like any other corporation.
"There are some things (government) shouldn't be involved in, and I'd argue that subsidies to private businesses is something we shouldn't be involved in," Marty said.
Cory Merrifield, the founder of savethevikes.org, a website dedicated to finding a replacement for the Metrodome, presented a funding plan for the stadium: one-third from the Vikings, one-third racino money, one-third user-based fan fees. The racino proposal, a perennial issue at the Legislature, would set up gambling machines at horse racetracks that would generate money for the state.
Several Republican state lawmakers who have been working on stadium legislation have repeatedly delayed the introduction of a stadium bill — first saying it would be ready in January, then February, then March. Even supporters of a new stadium have said it will be a tough political sell in a year when lawmakers are deeply cutting state budgets.
Associated Press writer Pat Condon contributed to this report.