More details are in on two Hennepin County commissioners’ plans to help Minnesota United build a new stadium in Minneapolis, and it looks like they’re offering more than just some future sales tax money, as was reported yesterday. Rather, Mike Opat and Peter McLaughlin are looking to siphon off sales tax money currently going to such things as libraries and youth sports, while doing an end run around Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges on exempting the stadium from property taxes.
The sales tax money first. As the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports:
Opat and McLaughlin’s plan would add United’s stadium to the 0.15 percent countywide sales tax that helped build Target Field. Under that legislation, sales tax proceeds were limited to five projects: retiring the bond debt, additional library hours, youth sports activities, operating the Ballpark Authority and capital expenditures around the park.
The soccer stadium would be added to this list, as well as youth sports spending in Hennepin County suburbs.
That’s nice that they want to increase youth sports spending for the suburbs, but it’s important to note that adding items to the list of things funded by the sales tax surcharge doesn’t actually create any more sales tax revenue. Yes, sales tax revenue is currently coming in faster than expected, but adding more items to be paid for out of that fund inevitably means either 1) the tax will have to be continued for longer than it would be otherwise, taking more money out of taxpayers’ pockets, or 2) spending on other items on the list will have to be reduced. The Target Field bond debt has to be paid off one way or another, so that leaves only library hours, youth sports, and Ballpark Authority operations on the chopping block — your guess which one will end up drawing the short straw.
As for the property-tax break, that’s even more devious:
The deal would solve one major problem for United, which wants to be free of property taxes. Under Opat’s plan, the team would buy the site — for $30 million, according to the team — and give it to the Ballpark Authority.
“They would operate it, we would own it,” Opat said.
Mayor Hodges has refused to have the city take ownership of the stadium land, since that would exempt it from the property tax rolls — but the county is likewise tax-exempt, so it could get United its tax break just by agreeing to take on the land itself, thus cutting Hodges out of the loop.
What all this would cost the public is up in the air, since Opat and McLaughlin haven’t said how much sales tax money would go to United. And it’s all still in the spitballing stages — the sales tax change would need approval of the state legislature, and this hasn’t even gotten a hearing from the full county commission yet. Still, it looks even more clear that United is trying to repeat the magic that its co-owners scored with Hennepin County nine years ago, when that body agreed to throw public cash at a new Twins stadium when neither the state nor city would. As I always like to point out, in the stadium-demand game, you only have to put up one win, and you’re good forever — or at least, for the couple of decades before it’s time to demand a new stadium.