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Woodruff criticizes stadium boosters, calls for spending transparency

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: October 10, 2013 - 1:32 PM

Mayoral candidate Stephanie Woodruff said Thursday that Vikings stadium boosters at City Hall misled the public during the 2012 debate, adding that city spending should be more transparent.

At a press conference on the Lowry Bridge, Woodruff observed that the taxes now committed to the Vikings stadium could have been used for other city projects -- counter to what the public was "led to believe," she said.

The suite of taxes -- a citywide sales tax, downtown liquor and restaurant taxes and a hotel tax -- currently pays down debt on the Convention Center, a process that will likely be complete in 2020. The Vikings stadium bill locked them in until 2045, directing much of the money to stadium costs and leaving excess for Target Center improvements and other city initiatives.

Rybak argued during the stadium debate that "the Legislature has the power simply to take [these taxes] from Minneapolis at will" and the city had no control over how to spend the money -- both of which, he said, be solved by the Vikings stadium bill.

He has since said that the Vikings stadium deal lowered taxes by $5 million a year by allowing the city to renovate Target Center (a process that has not yet begun).

Woodruff noted Thursday that they were never set to expire, however, and could have been used for other city priorities prior to the bill's passage. That statement resurrects an argument made by Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, during the stadium debate.

"The people of Minneapolis were led to believe that the Vikings stadium deal would lower their taxes," said Woodruff, a software executive and member of the city's audit committee. "By dedicating $675 million dollars in future revenues to the Vikings stadium, they guarranteed further pressure on property taxes for decades."

State law prior to the Vikings bill said that the city "may use the excess revenue in any year to fund capital projects to further residential, cultural, commercial, and economic development in both downtown Minneapolis and the Minneapolis neighborhoods."

Rybak responded at the time that there was no "excess" until 2020, and the stadium bill fronted the city money to begin Target Center renovations immediately.

"For those advocating for the stadium, information was something to be managed, controlled and spun," Woodruff said. "Too many in positions of power failed to do their job to make sure that the public had all the facts."

Woodruff was less certain about what she would do in relation to the Vikings stadium as mayor, noting that she would have to explore what legal recourse the city has.

Woodruff also criticized the city for receiving a D- this January from U.S. Public Interest Research Group for spending transparency. Woodruff said as mayor she would institute "checkbook-level" accounting on the city's website, illustrating all payments that leave the city treasury.

Currently, it can be hard to determine precisely where and how much money the city spends apart from the competitive bidding process and annual budget. Cities like New York and Chicago make this information available at a central place online.

Woodruff said that public data should "be truly public data -- on our website and easy to find for neighborhoods and citizens alike."

City spokesman Matt Lindstrom said in response to the MPIRG report that a checkbook-level website for the stimulus program, MinneapolisRecovery.us, drew only 6,100 views over three years despite "a sizeable cost to both develop and maintain."

"In my mind it's a cop-out excuse," Woodruff said Thursday. "If someone says the public isn't interested in this, therefore we're not going to do it, that's not good enough. It should just be a given that our government has that type of transparency."

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