Published in “PIM” (Politics in Minnesota) here….
There are few arguments for taxpayers kicking in millions of dollars to build a football stadium which will be owned by a billionaire, and in which millionaires play 15 or fewer games a year.
But there are a few which, ironically enough, appeal to taxpayers who in most circumstances oppose the expansion of government and the increasing of taxes. Since my days at the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, I have been regularly confronted by fiscal conservatives who would pay dearly to keep the Vikings in Minnesota.
This has always struck me as odd, not only because it runs counter to their ideological leanings, but also because watching NFL games in a stadium is vastly inferior to watching it on HDTV. Not only is the game more interesting and intelligible on TV, but the likelihood that some obnoxious drunk spills beer down your shirt drops by at least 75%.
But two arguments have stood out from all the rest, and are hard to refute: 1) we pay all the time for everybody else’s favorite projects, which please nobody but the economic and cultural elite; and 2) the Vikings are part of Minnesota’s cultural identity, at least as well known and associated with Minnesota as the Little House on the Prairie.
Which brings me to the fight over using Legacy funding to help fund the construction of a new stadium for the Vikings.
Opposition is building to using Legacy funds in this manner, but in my opinion that opposition is little more than the cultural and political elite fighting to keep their control over the vast sums of “culture pork” they now distribute.
Right now $52 million a year flows from the Legacy Amendment fund to various arts, history, and cultural heritage projects. That is in addition to over $7.5 million a year flowing from the general fund to the Arts Board, adding up to $60 million a year for arts and cultural spending. That’s a good chunk of change.
And almost all those dollars flow to projects that for the most part are ignored and irrelevant to the lives of ordinary Minnesotans. We hear all the time about the value of the Guthrie Theatre, various dance troops, puppet shows, and historical sites have to Minnesotans, but frankly few of us would notice if they disappeared. Minnesota Public Radio may touch many of our lives, but it would survive just fine without a dime of state funding.
In other words, the current arts and cultural funding may have real value, but that value is enjoyed primarily by the cultural elite.
Not so the Vikings. It is hard to travel Minnesota on any day, and especially during the football season, without seeing a purple jersey. Minnesotans become engaged with talking about the players, coaching strategy, the rivalry with the Packers, and just about anything Vikings related. Boat cruises, speeding tickets, and player injuries all spark hours of conversation. Not even NPR could sustain daily coverage of the latest Guthrie play, but sports radio devours hours out of people’s lives.
And yet politicians are busily engaged in explaining why the Vikings don’t constitute part of Minnesota’s culture or heritage, and don’t have a legitimate claim to a chunk of the $70 million a year we mostly waste on elite entertainment.
That’s BS. Now personally I couldn’t give a rip whether the Vikings stay or leave, but millions of Minnesotans do. And they do because the Vikings are a big part of Minnesota’s cultural landscape—a bigger part than any other single thing funded with the Legacy money. If a Vikings stadium doesn’t count as supporting Minnesota culture, what does?
The fight over government subsidies of arts and cultural heritage shows precisely what is so odd about government spending. It seems as if the basic criteria for subsidy is that too few people care, save the cultural elite. Anything Minnesotans are engaged enough in to kick in real money—Vikings fans spend gazillions of dollars on all things Vikings—ipso facto don’t deserve support when it is needed. That’s insane.
Frankly, I oppose the Legacy spending, the Legacy tax, and taxpayer subsidies for the Vikings. But as we have the Legacy tax, Legacy spending on arts and cultural heritage, and the Vikings and NFL demanding stadium subsidies, it seems like a marriage made in heaven. It makes sense, fits the letter and spirit of the Legacy Amendment, and would avoid raising any new taxes to make it happen.
Watch for the cultural and political elite to scream bloody murder at this solution, but ignore them. Their opposition has nothing to do with preserving the intent of the constitutional amendment, and everything to do with preserving their monopoly on wasting our money.
David Strom, Policy Fellow