Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Stadium tax: "money talks, democracy walks"

From Hennepin County:
Hennepin County Board authorizes sales tax for Twins ballpark

The Hennepin County Board today adopted Ordinance 26, which authorizes a countywide sales and use tax to help finance a new Minnesota Twins ballpark in downtown Minneapolis.

The vote was four to three, with Commissioners Mike Opat, Mark Stenglein, Peter McLaughlin and Randy Johnson voting in favor, and Commissioners Gail Dorfman, Linda Koblick and Penny Steele voting against the ordinance.

The ordinance establishes a 0.15-percent sales and use tax for construction of a new Twins ballpark, infrastructure and related activities described in Minnesota Laws 2006, Chapter 457 – the state’s authorizing legislation.

The sales tax on goods and services purchased in Hennepin County will go into effect Jan. 1, 2007, and will be collected by the Minnesota Department of Revenue. In accordance with state law, the tax will not apply to motor vehicles, clothing, most groceries, and medical supplies and services.

The Hennepin County/Minnesota Twins' proposal for a 42,000-seat, open-air ballpark was approved by the State Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in May. The legislation did not require a referendum in connection with the county sales-tax increase.

The county's share of financing the ballpark -- to be located on the Rapid Park site, adjacent to the Target Center -- is $350 million for construction and infrastructure costs, while the Twins organization is to contribute $130 million.

The board held three public hearings during the week of Aug. 21 to obtain input from citizens before voting on Ordinance 26.

The county will issue tax-exempt revenue bonds in 2007, payable with revenues from the sales-tax increase.

The board plans to spend up to $2 million of excess tax revenues annually to support youth activities and amateur sports in the county, and up to $2 million of excess tax revenues annually for additional library hours in both the county and Minneapolis library systems.

Upon final approval by the board, ballpark construction is expected to begin next year, with the new ballpark scheduled to open for the start of the 2010 Major League Baseball season.

Nick Coleman, Star Tribune:
The commissioners voted 4 to 3 (boys against girls, as usual) to levy a billion in sales taxes without letting the people say yea or nay, as was required by state law until the county got the Legislature's OK to thumb its nose at the voters. In Iraq, voters get a purple finger. Here, it's just a finger.

The stadium will be a textbook case for years to come. A case that shows that money talks and democracy walks.

Linda Koblick, Hennepin County Commissioner:
"No vote is no voice. This isn't about baseball. It's about taxes, government and representative democracy."

Koblick issued the day's most blistering final attack on the stadium plan, saying the project had made the county dysfunctional and blaming the Star Tribune for inadequately covering the debate because of its corporate interests in wanting the stadium to be built. She also took direct aim at Commissioner Mike Opat, the County Board's lead stadium negotiator , and pointed out that Opat's top aide, Dan Kenney, had been named executive director of the Ballpark Authority "with a $50,000 bump in salary. "It's about money and greed and ego," she said. ["Hennepin County Board approves ballpark sales tax," Star Tribune, August 30, 2006]

Ray Rossberg, Eden Prairie:
The "knee-jerk" referendum for the Twins' stadium tax the Star Tribune derides in Monday's editorial was put into the law to prevent just the type of abuse of the electorate now being perpetrated by the Hennepin County Board.

If it was the intent of the Legislature to have local branches of government operate purely as republics, there would be no referendum provision or a need for the voters to approve any bonding issues.

The referendum requirement for local sales taxes simply makes the law consistent with other funding mechanisms -- schools, parks, community centers, sewer improvements, etc.

To elevate a stadium above these types of expenditures is to say that the need for sports facilities is greater than for educational and other civic improvements.

A strong case can be made to eliminate the ability of the Legislature to waive the referendum requirement since no waiver provision exists for other types of bonding decisions.

The imposition of a stadium sales tax without a referendum should be seen for what it is -- an admission that a poorly negotiated agreement by a disdainful county board which subsidizes a privately owned sports franchise has no chance of being approved by the voters.

This is evidenced by the voting in the Legislature on the exemption, which gathered barely 25 percent approval by the legislators from Hennepin County, many of whom were retiring members.



Sue For MN 2006 said...


I am SO MAD at the governor right now. Nope, not even mad at the commissioners.

See, I'm mad cuz Pawlenty didn't even have the balls to veto a BAD BILL without a PROVISION TO ALLOW A VOTER REFERENDUM ON THE TAX.

Damn him.

I'm voting for Sue Jeffers on Sept. 12

And you all should too. No more of Pawlenty's BS, and naturally, nobody wants Hatch.

Bill Heyman said...

The text from Hennepin County Ordinance #26 (authorizing the stadium tax) can be found here:

Matt said...

Thanks Bill!

lloydletta said...

Mark Stenglein needs to be defeated. Greg Gray has a good chance to defeat him.