Shutting Schools to Build Stadiums

The Minnesota Vikings reached a deal yesterday to begin construction on a new football stadium in a town just outside Minneapolis. The $1.06 billion stadium will receive a mix of both public and private funding: The team will pay $407 million, and the rest will come from taxpayers. Ramsey County (which includes St. Paul) would institute a 0.5 percent sales tax increase to gain $350 in revenue, while the state government would raise $300 million for the project through targeted measures, such as a professional sports memorabilia tax.

At the same time, legislators are faced with a $5 billion budget shortfall. Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton was elected on a "soak the rich" platform in 2010, but voters also ushered in Republican majorities in both the state House and Senate. These legislative majorities proposed that the budget gap should be closed without instituting new taxes, which means essential social services such as education and health care are on the cutting block: $256 million of cuts would come from services for the elderly and disabled and reduces an expected increase for education.

Should the government really be contributing such a large amount for a sports arena? I grew up in Minnesota and love my Vikings. The Metrodome -- the stadium the Vikings currently call home -- is an eyesore and I anxiously await the day it no longer blights Minneapolis' skyline. The importance of sports can be easily dismissed, but teams can act as a strong building block for communities. It would personally pain me to see the team's owner follow through on his threat of moving the team to another city if a new stadium is not constructed. But NFL teams are still a private business. Zygi Wilf, the Viking's majority owner, has an estimated net worth of $310 million . The team itself generates $221 million in revenue each year, with $18 million of that as profit lining the owners' wallets.

Instead of funding the stadium, that 0.5 percent sales tax increase for Ramsey County would raise enough money to offset all of the cuts in services for the elderly and disabled that Republicans have proposed. If the Vikings need a new stadium so desperately, they can take the steps that any other private business has available: raising prices or lowering payroll. Taxpayers shouldn't have to accept cuts to their children's education just to keep the vastly wealthy owner of a business satisfied.

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