THEIR OPINION: Let elected officials decide fate of Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Green Bay Packers had just played in back-to-back Super Bowls. Brett Favre was in his prime, and the franchise's future looked bright. Except financially.

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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Green Bay Packers had just played in back-to-back Super Bowls. Brett Favre was in his prime, and the franchise's future looked bright. Except financially.

The small-market Packers were falling behind the rest of the National Football League teams in generating revenue, and by 1999, management had decided the best and only option for growth was to renovate iconic Lambeau Field.

The team asked county voters to pass a sales-tax referendum.

On its face, the vote might have seemed a mere formality: Rabid fan base. Historic franchise. Community ownership. A rout for the home team, right?

Not exactly.


After a yearlong, million-dollar PR campaign, the referendum passed by only 53 to 47 percent, thus illustrating how hard it is to persuade voters to tax themselves, even if a majority wear cheeseheads on Sundays in the fall.

A decade later, the Minnesota Vikings also want taxpayer support for a new stadium, and it's wisely presumed that it would be next to impossible for the team to win a referendum battle over public financing.

Polls showed overwhelming opposition to the Hennepin County sales tax that partly financed Target Field, but the Twins won a legislative exception to the state law that requires a vote on local sales tax increases.

The Vikings want the same treatment. But both the Senate majority leader and House speaker voiced support for a countywide referendum.

And the Ramsey County Charter Commission could make the issue more complicated if it decides later this month to give voters the chance to vote in 2012 on a sales tax increase proposed as part of a financing plan for a new stadium in Arden Hills.

The Legislature still could grant an exception to the referendum requirement, but the issue no doubt would end up in the courts.

And the referendum movement could cross into Hennepin County if the team and local officials warm up to the idea of a stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

You could make a long list of important civic projects that never would have happened if they had been the subject of a referendum. And public funding for a new Vikings stadium likely would fail a popularity contest even if the moving vans were packed up and ready to roll at Winter Park. But that would be a mistake.


Demand for public resources always exceeds their supply. Deciding how best to allocate public funds requires the complex balancing of competing needs, causes and desires.

That judgment is best made by elected officials with the benefit of time to deliberate and the widest possible array of information and knowledgeable advice. They must ultimately answer to voters, of course.

But when voters decide such questions directly, it is too easy for short-term passions to take the place of calm consideration for the long-term interests of the entire community.

In 1980, Minnesotans showed their preference for representative government by rejecting a constitutional amendment that would have allowed lawmaking via initiative and referendum.

But in recent years, Minnesota elected officials have shown increasing interest in dodging political difficulty by booting controversial questions to the voters. Voters should kick them right back and insist that those officials do the jobs they were elected to do.

Although this newspaper favors a downtown site over Arden Hills, we have long argued that the Vikings are a valuable asset, and the economics of pro sports make it necessary for the state, business community and local government leaders to work with the team on a public-private solution to funding a stadium that would ensure the long-term success of the team while generating economic benefits for the region.

A referendum would jeopardize that effort and let elected officials dodge the kind of difficult problem they were elected to solve.

-- Star Tribune

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