Thursday, June 16, 2005

Fair Stadium Funding Act would share new revenue

By John Knight

Would you take your hard-earned money and go into a deal like this? You pay almost all of the expenses of a business and give away all of the income to someone else.

Hennepin County's stadium deal does exactly this — taxpayers would be on the hook for $1.1 billion in new taxes and pay nearly 80 percent of stadium costs, but would receive no stadium revenue.

After you remove the pretty gift wrap, inside the box you will find an unpleasant surprise: one of the worst stadium deals in the country. In other states and cities, private funding has significantly paid for recent stadiums.

Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Lino Lakes, and Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, recently proposed a simple solution for any new professional stadium. The Fair Stadium Funding Act is a fair deal for everyone, including taxpayers and team owners.

The law would work like this — increased revenue generated by a new stadium would be shared with taxpayers based on the amount of their subsidy. Team owners would still receive 100 percent of their current revenue. What legislator or local official could argue against that? If we subsidize 60 percent of stadium expenses — we would receive 60 percent of increased revenue. It is fair to all investors and significantly reduces the stadium tax.

The people have been clear. Citizens are not demanding new taxes to fund professional sports stadiums. There are other priorities with our limited funds — roads to be built and school buildings needing repair.

By the way, the stadium backers seem to forget the teams already have a perfectly good stadium. What if a group of teachers or students demanded a new school building to replace one barely 25 years old? Why should we as taxpayers be forced to pay for unreasonable demands of the super-wealthy?

The response by Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat and Twins President Jerry Bell has been disturbing. No changes allowed. We need every cent. Their "take it or leave it" ploy is insulting to taxpayers.

Opat has also said the economics of professional baseball are not in our control. This is true. However, it is not the job of taxpayers to satisfy the cash appetites of billionaire owners and millionaire players.

Whoever has been negotiating this deal on behalf of taxpayers needs to be fired. Memo to Opat: In the business world, you would not "make the cut" representing anyone. This is why legislators need to protect the interests of taxpayers.

The over-heated rhetoric of the stadium boosters is growing tiresome. They say the teams will leave town and "their deal" is the only way. However, our legislators and governor were elected to represent our views — not a special few who would gain all of the stadium income.

The Fair Stadium Funding Act is a compromise solution that ends the stadium debate and significantly reduces any stadium tax. It makes sense — we ought to pass it.

John Knight, a lawyer from Minnetonka, is affiliated with Citizens for a Stadium Tax Referendum. This commentary originally appeared in the Pioneer Press on June 14, 2005.


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