I had a chance to catch most of the Minneapolis DFL Mayoral Candidate debate at the Humphrey Institute yesterday, including the opening question on why the heck the city thought it was a good idea to commit $675 million over 30 years to an NFL franchise so they could tear down and rebuild a stadium for less than 300 uses over 30 years.
One of the strangest comments came from Mark Andrew, who opposed how the stadium was funded, but also likes to talk about the green initiatives he’s been involved with over time, including building the Midtown Greenway and getting the Twins stadium LEED certified. When it came to the Vikings stadium bill, he said this:
Andrew said he opposed the stadium’s Metrodome location and financing plan, particularly the use of gambling revenues. But he will embrace the facility because of the jobs. “As mayor, it would be lunacy to advocate presiding over a hole in the ground,” he said.
That doesn’t make sense on a couple levels.
First, we already have a stadium, with a new roof and new turf, so we weren’t dealing with a hole in the ground vs brand new stadium situation.
Second, if Mr Andrew would like to do the greenest possible stadium plan for the Vikings, reconstructing the Metrodome would surely be more green than tearing it down only to replace is with a much larger stadium. That’s what Vancouver did, and did at a price that may have allowed for no capital costs from the City of Minneapolis.
Third, the Metrodome side of downtown Minneapolis has been growing like crazy despite the fact that there is an NFL stadium that sits largely empty 265 days per year. If it actually did turn into a hole in the ground, it seems quite likely that developers would jump at the chance to build a new neighborhood and businesses on that land, which would return a big chunk of downtown land to the property tax base, which would benefit everyone in the city.
That said, none of the mayoral candidates were suggesting that Minneapolis should kick out the Vikings. The city council members who are running for mayor, Gary Schiff and Betsy Hodges, argued that the city accepted a bad deal, and a deal that violated the city charter which clearly states that any spending on a pro sports stadium greater than $10 million should go to a referendum so city residents can decide whether it’s a good use of tax dollars. If the plan was sound, a referendum would pass. Would spending $675 million of city tax dollars over 30 years to subsidize the cost of building and maintaining a stadium built to Zygi Wilf’s specs pass a referendum vote? Doubtful. And that’s their point.
But, the worst responses on Vikings stadium questions came from Don Samuels and Jackie Cherryhomes. Both candidates played up the fact that building something we don’t need, to replace something we already have, on behalf of a guy in New Jersey who can afford it without our help, creates jobs. That’s such a ridiculous argument, because it ignores the fact that everything the government spends money on creates jobs, so money should be spent on things we need rather than things that the NFL wants.
When they say “this is a jobs bill” I hear “this is stupid way to spend taxpayer’s money, but at least it will create some jobs”. That’s not how I want the spending of my tax dollars justified.
They also brought up that we were coming out of a recession and tons of construction workers have been on the bench. It’s certainly true that there were (and still are) many un and under employed construction workers, but this seems to be based upon a bubble bar. As in, there are fewer construction workers working today than when the economy was overheated, and darnit, we need to return that industry to peak bubble levels. Here’s a look at historical construction workforce numbers from the BLS:
Don Samuels argued that 25% of construction workers were on the bench when he voted for the stadium, which is why he was able to justify building something we don’t to replace something we already have as a jobs bill. Think about that 25% figure. In May of 2012, when Samuels subsidized the NFL with corporate welfare, the BLS reported 5,615,000 construction jobs. If Samuels was using a “25% of construction workers were on the bench” justification, he would have been making a comparison to the bubble times between 2006-08 when at least 7,480,000 construction workers were on the job.
There were people on the bench 2012 who wouldn’t have been on the bench 2012 had it not been for the bubble in 2006-08 which allowed them to get into the industry in the first place. As the economy corrected and worked its way toward post-bubble levels, Samuels chose to use the bubble-level jobs numbers to justify a corporate welfare project as a jobs bill.
So, not only did he justify a poor use of spending of taxpayer dollars based on jobs creation, his jobs creation justification was also poorly justified.