Heads up, everybody, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has a new plan to pay for a Vikings stadium, and it doesn’t involve gambling of any kind at all. Well, not the fun kind of gambling where you can win cash prizes, anyway, but just gambling with your health: The state would take the first year’s $24.5 million windfall from a new cigarette tax and pour it into the stadium fund. And if gambling revenues continued to fall short, the state could tap $20 million a year from a new provision to get Minnesota-based corporations to pay their full taxes on in-state sales.
All of which is well and good, except that both of these taxes were already in the state budget plan, and expected to put money into Minnesota’s general fund. Dayton is only proposing to use them for the Vikings stadium — instead of the far simpler method of just appropriating money straight from the general fund — because he promised that no general fund money would go to the stadium, and since these are new taxes that haven’t hit the general fund yet … well, let’s let Minnesota Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans explain it:
“These are new revenues coming in to the state for the first time. And the same thing is true of the new electronic gaming situations for gambling, that was a new revenue source and it all goes into the general fund. It’s just that the Legislature designates some of those funds to be used for certain purposes.”
Yes, right, money is fungible, so it doesn’t really matter which pocket you take it from, we get that. None of this changes the fact that the gambling plans were put into place specifically to fund the stadium, while the cigarette and sales-tax provisions would be there to fund schools and such if the state doesn’t give the proceeds to the Vikings.
Though really, maybe the best way to look at this is that Frans has a point: All tax revenues could go to the general fund if you wanted them to, so no matter how you raise the money, a stadium subsidy is a public cost. In fact, the same thing goes for those e-pulltabs and e-bingo and all the other e-things that Minnesota is trying to use for stadium funding: The state could be using those revenues for other services if it wanted, too, so it’s not really found money, either. So really the way to look at this is that no matter how they end up paying for it — gambling, smoking, bake sales — Minnesota taxpayers are out $1.1 billion on the Vikings deal, and it doesn’t really matter how they pay for it, one way or another they’ll pay. Um, that was your point, right, Myron?