How the deal went down!
What happened? Did anyone get the number of that truck that ran us over?
In the last moments of the legislative session a stadium bill came crashing down the highway hell-bent for destruction, and it was going to run over anything that got in its path—the Open Meeting law; the Minneapolis City Charter; the Minnesota taxpayers; the merchants and customers who buy things in Minneapolis all became roadkill!
Under the watchful and supervisory eye of the Vikings’ top brass and interested lobbyists, legislators met in private (without the public or the press) to hammer out a deal. Although technically not in violation of the Minnesota Open Meeting law, because there was supposedly never a quorum of the conference committee present, according to Nick Coleman, “Here is a partial list of the VIPs who came and went: Minneapolis Mayor Raymond Rybak; Gov. Dayton’s stadium point man Ted Mondale; Dayton’s chief of staff, Tina Smith; at least two of his commissioners in charge of budgets and revenues; lobbyists for the Vikings, including Vikings VP and CFO Steve Poppen; House GOP Majority Leader Kurt (I’m against it!) Zellers; House DFL Minority Leader Paul (I’m a liberal!) Thissen; several other senators and representatives not on the committee; staffers, secretaries and hangers-on galore. But not one member of the unwashed public or the Capitol press corps.”
Coleman concludes: “The Open Meeting laws, passed in the 1970s and which once gave Minnesota the reputation of having clean government, are as obsolete as a hat rack. They are so routinely flouted that the (Center For Public Integrity gives the state a failing grade) for openness in government and criticizes Minnesota’s increasingly secretive practices. Long story short: Yes, as we all learned in school, the corrupt days of smoke-filled rooms are gone. But that’s only because smoking is no longer permitted.
Everything else is as corrupt as it used to be, and I don’t even rule out the bags of cash from the equation.”
There are two provisions in the Minneapolis City Charter that deal with the city’s participation in the construction of a sports stadium.
The Minneapolis City Charter was amended in 1973 and 1997 to include provisions that demanded that the people of Minneapolis get to vote on whether they want to spend city money on a sports stadium. State legislation can pre-empt the city charter, but that would ordinarily be a rare occurrence. Hovever, Vikings fan fever was quick to run over provisions in the charter.
The original legislation in the House did not exclude the right of the people of Minneapolis to vote on whether they wanted to spend their money on a sports stadium. When the legislation got to the Senate, John Marty amended it to make clear that the city could hold a referendum on the question. However, Senator Carla Nelson amended the bill to exclude the expenditures for the Target Center from the provisions in the charter calling for a referendum. Scott Dibble, from Minneapolis, spoke in favor of the amendment. According to Mike Katch, who watched the proceedings closely, once that exclusion was secure, it was easy for the Conference Committee to amend the bill to exclude funding for the Vikings stadium from the referendum requirement. Senator Rosen spoke in favor of the new language that excluded the possibility of a referendum. “The city needs this in order to maintain their position and their votes in the City Council,” he said.
Clearly, someone representing the city (probably the mayor) was lobbying the Legislature to subvert the city charter and deprive us of our right to a referendum.
It is legitimate to ask what the Minneapolis legislative delegation was doing while the state Legislature was spending our money and stealing our rights? They were sitting on their hands. They did nothing. Senators Marty and Neinow tried valiantly to preserve the rights of the citizens of Minneapolis. They talked about what a bad deal the stadium was for the state and especially for the city of Minneapolis, but the legislators from Minneapolis said nothing. They sat on their hands. It was the Twins’ stadium fraud all over again.
The only secret to politics is knowing how to count. When the Twins got their stadium through a billion dollar sales tax on the people in Hennepin County, Senate Majority Leader Pogemiller from North Minneapolis and Speaker of the House Margaret Kelliher from Kenwood put together enough votes from outstate so they didn’t have to rely on votes from Hennepin County. That allowed DFLers from Hennepin County to vote against raising the sales tax and still get a billion dollar stadium for the Twins. Senators Scott Dibble, Patricia Torres Ray and Jeff Hayden did nothing and said nothing to try to stop this theft from the city. Their silence makes them accomplices in this crime.
Mayor Rybak said originally this was going to cost the city $150 million. The chief financial officer later revised this figure to $675 million, and the final figures from the state now estimate the cost could rise to $890 million. That’s a lot of money that could have gone to street repair, police and fire, or to property tax relief.
One of the big engines driving this disaster was the lobbying effort by the Building Trades. They claim it will create thousands of construction jobs. More serious estimates suggest that there will never be more than 500 to 600 people working on the construction site. And Gerald Savage, a construction worker, a member of Local 49 of Operating Engineers (working on building bridges) says, “Most of those people in the Building Trades don’t live in the city, anyway. They live in Wisconsin and St. Cloud. I’d love to know just how many people employed on that site will actually come from Minneapolis.”
Senator Torres Ray and Representatives Wagenius and Davnie will be holding a town hall forum Tuesday, May 22, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Peace Coffee, 3462 Minnehaha Ave. Stop by and ask them how the deal went down.