Minneapolis mayor fires back on stadiums

A week after a chilly reception for his stadium proposal in front of the City Council, and a day after a shot-across-the-bow from St. Paul, Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak is rising to the defense of his plan.

Rybak sent out the following “Dear Friend” letter via email, explaining why the city needs to put $315 million into a Vikings stadium and another $100 million into Target Center, despite the 1997 charter amendment that caps the city’s spending on professional sports venues at $10 million.

Here’s what he had to say:

Dear Friend,

As you probably know, City Council President Barbara Johnson and I have proposed a plan to lower property taxes in Minneapolis, fund the Minneapolis Convention Center and the Target Center, and contribute to a new Vikings stadium at the Metrodome. And we do all this by using existing Minneapolis sales and user taxes for Minneapolis — without raising any new taxes.

Why have we proposed this plan? Why is it worth the fight?

We’ve proposed this plan because it’s a good deal for Minneapolis taxpayers. And we’ve proposed it because without it, Minneapolis taxpayers could well end up with a raw deal.

That’s the difference between being at the table fighting for something — or walking away, not fighting and getting nothing, or worse.

3-for-1 plan for property-tax relief

I’ve said it over and over: property taxes in Minneapolis are too high. That’s why the City Council and I passed zero increase in the City’s property taxes for 2012.

We’ve worked hard to hold the line on property taxes in Minneapolis, despite drastic State cuts to our budget over many years: we’ve cut our own spending (now 9% lower than 10 years ago) and we fixed the broken closed-pension system that was the major driver of property-tax increases in recent years. In the process, we’ve paid down $183 million in debt and restored the City’s AAA credit rating.

But an ongoing drain on Minneapolis property taxes has been Target Center. Despite the fact that Target Center is a facility of statewide importance, only Minneapolis property-tax payers have been on the hook to pay off Target Center’s debt, to the tune of $5 million a year.

That’s just wrong. But despite the fact that the City Council and I have lobbied for years to get this burden off Minneapolis taxpayers’ backs, the State has not acted — and without a change, Minneapolis taxpayers alone will keep paying Target Center’s debt until 2025.

Now, for the first time — and only because Council President Johnson and I have been at the table fighting for a solution to the Vikings stadium — we have a realistic plan to move the burden of Target Center debt off the backs of Minneapolis property taxpayers and share it with all of the 18,000,000 people who visit and spend money in Minneapolis every year. And we can do it without raising any new taxes on anyone.

By keeping in Minneapolis existing, State-authorized sales and user taxes that are already collected here and currently dedicated to the Minneapolis Convention Center, we will not only lower property taxes on Minneapolis homeowners and business owners: we will continue to keep the Convention Center competitive, renovate the Target Center, and help find a solution for a new home for the Vikings. That solution includes a $1-billion new investment in our city that will create thousands of good jobs in the construction, service and hospitality industries.

What happens if we’re not at the table fighting for Minneapolis?

Some say that Minneapolis should just walk away from the table and not be part of this discussion. But this point of view turns a blind eye to reality — that the Legislature controls Minneapolis’ taxes and Minneapolis’ fate.

The existing taxes that Council President Johnson and I want to use for property-tax relief, for Target Center and the Convention Center, as well as for a new stadium, are ones that the Legislature has the power simply to take from Minneapolis at will.

If we were not at the table fighting to solve these long-standing stadium issues, the Legislature could — and in all likelihood, would — simply apply our taxes entirely to a new Vikings stadium, leaving Minneapolis homeowners out in the cold and still paying for Target Center debt. This would also leave the Convention Center and Target Center financially unsustainable, damage our strong hospitality economy and create even more of a burden for Minneapolis taxpayers.

That’s why we’re at the table, fighting for Minneapolis: because there, we can strike the best deal for Minneapolis taxpayers. If we weren’t there, who would fight for Minneapolis?

Our only choice: being part of the solution

When we face a problem in Minneapolis, we don’t walk away from it — we roll up our sleeves, listen to each other and try to solve it together. That’s the Minneapolis way, and that’s the way we’re working toward a solution to the long-standing property tax/stadium/jobs issue. But being part of the solution is Minneapolis’ only choice.

As we stay at the table and keep fighting for our city, I encourage you keep listening, ask questions and look closely at our plan to lower property taxes, build a stronger economy and keep Minneapolis taxes benefitting Minneapolis.

Mayor R.T. Rybak

City of Minneapolis