The issue is whether to allow a 2012 ballot question that would amend the county's home-rule charter. The question: "Shall Ramsey County be prohibited from using any revenues, including those raised by taxes or bonding, to fund or assist in funding a Major League Baseball or National Football League sports team or stadium?"It's tough, at least intellectually, to disagree with letting the people decide on such things, although we certainly don't put all tax increases up to a referendum. A few thoughts:
- I tend to think this vote is theoretical at best, because I fully expect the Vikings to force the matter well before November, 2012. They don't want to be in the Metrodome and I take them at their word.
- Public funding of private enterprises is always a problem. As Ed Morrissey pointed out the other day in a discussion of the Solyndra matter, the problem isn't that governments want to pick winners and losers as much as that, by definition, governments always pick losers. If the deal to build a stadium in Arden Hills made economic sense on its own terms, Zygi Wilf and the Vikings would be able to secure funding in the private sector and would only ask the government to provide road improvements and other amenities. That's not how the deal is structured. And there's a reason for that, of course: Wilf has seen that every other stadium deal that happened in recent years has involved substantial public money.
- The rejoinder to that argument is pretty basic and a citizen at the meeting put it quite nicely: Curt Lyons of Mounds View countered: "Really? They made a bad choice so we should make a bad choice? That didn't work when I was 4." Lyons was talking about Hennepin County's use of sales taxes to pay for Target Field, but the same argument applies to stadium funding generally. And Lyons is right, of course. But in the funhouse world of stadium funding, the choice is pay or lose your team. It now appears that the long-awaited stadium in Los Angeles will get built and there's no question that an NFL team will fill the stadium. It would make more sense for the NFL if that team were either the San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders or Jacksonville Jaguars. But we kid ourselves if we assume the team can't be the Minnesota Vikings. It wouldn't take much for the NFL to deal with the change, either. If the Vikings moved, the NFL would simply move the team to the NFC West and replace them in the NFC North with the St. Louis Rams. As an administrative matter, it would be pretty tidy.
- As I said at the outset, the world is run by the people who show up and in the case of yesterday's meeting, the stadium foes far outnumbered the supporters. That might be an accurate reflection of public opinion on the matter. Personally, I'd rather not pay extra for a Vikings stadium, either. And I'm personally willing to let them leave town, too. The question remains -- are you willing to see them go, too?