The Minnesota state senate voted 37-30 yesterday to approve a full property tax exemption for St. Paul’s proposed Minnesota United stadium, without once attempting to calculate how much this tax break will be worth to the team owners. Or at least that’s what all available evidence is showing — for starters, here’s the entire text of the stadium-related portion of the bill they voted on:
Section 14. Soccer stadium; property tax exemption; special assessment. Provides that any real or personal property acquired, owned, leased, controlled, used, or occupied by the city of St Paul for the primary purpose of providing a stadium for a Major League Soccer team is exempt from property tax. The properties are still subject to special assessments. Any real or property subject to a lease or use agreement between the city and another person for uses related to the purpose of the operation of the stadium and related parking facilities are also exempt regardless of the length of the lease or use agreement. This property tax exemption does not apply to any real property that is leased for residential, business, or commercial development or any other purpose not necessary to the operation of the stadium. Effective upon approval by the St. Paul City Council.
Also, the Minnesota senate has only posted partial video of the hearing, but there’s no discussion there of an actual price tag on the value of the tax breaks, or any talk about the stadium at all. (Yes, I actually listened through 38 minutes of an omnibus tax bill hearing to determine this, so you don’t have to. I’ll be hitting the Advil early today.) So our best guess is still the $57 million in present value that Minnesota Public Radio estimated back in March.
Two notes on this: First off, yes, a tax break is still a public cost even if it’s on land that’s not currently paying taxes. For United’s owners, paying $57 million less in future taxes is exactly the same as getting $57 million in cash from taxpayers to help pay for a stadium. (Well, slightly different in that they’d be getting payments over time instead of all at once, but they can always just borrow $57 million from a bank and pay it off with the future tax savings — that’s precisely what “present value” means.) United owner Bill McGuire has been saying that there’s no way he can afford to build a stadium without the tax exemption, and whether you believe him or not, clearly it’s worth a significant pile of cash if he’s threatening to walk away from the stadium plan without it.
Second, it’s worth noting that this same senate voted 61-4 to approve a ban on tax breaks for a Minneapolis soccer stadium last year. The difference? Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges was opposed to it, while St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman is in favor of it. You can pretty much ignore most of the arguments made for or against the tax exemption on the grounds of what’s good policy or how much it’d cost whom: This comes down to “the mayor wants it, so the senate isn’t going to argue with him.” It’s possible things will be different when the state house votes — both Coleman and the senate leadership are Democrats, and the house is controlled by Republicans — but given past history, I wouldn’t hold my breath.