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April 26, 2006
When The Law Is Too Much Of A Bother

The Minnesota House passed a stadium-funding bill that requires Hennepin County to cough up 75% of a $522 million bill to construct a new home for the Twins. Billionaire owner Carl Pohlad would only have to throw in $130 million to get the luxury appointments that will bring cash into his coffers. State representatives passed the legislation despite a legal requirement to put the increased sales taxes to Hennepin County voters, dismissing such rules as too bothersome to heed:

The Minnesota House gave the Twins stadium hopes a big lift Wednesday, voting 76-55 in favor of an open-air ballpark that would be paid for mostly by Hennepin County taxpayers. ...

The downtown Minneapolis stadium project would cost $522 million — three-fourths from a higher Hennepin County sales tax — and would allow the Twins to flee the Metrodome, their home since 1982 and the place where they clinched two World Series crowns. ...

A state law requires local governments to put sales tax increases to a referendum. But the county and the Twins say it would cause too much uncertainty and increase the project's cost.

Minnesota passed this law specifically to keep this kind of back-room maneuver from occurring. Stadium financing plans in this state have always involved some sort of local taxation as a means to avoid a state-wide expenditure. Outstate politicians and voters have rightly balked at coughing up money to fund a private enterprise accessible primarily to metro-area citizens. When the Twins and Vikings first started pressuring the state for public financing for new venues, legislators passed the law in order to ensure that counties would only saddle themselves with the higher taxes if a majority of voters approved.

Now, however, legislators from both parties have bailed out of this democratic approach, blithely passing the bill without even addressing the law's application. The representatives from Hennepin County opposed the bill, but that didn't stop the rest of the House from sticking them with the $390 million tab. Take a look at the Democrats from Hennepin who opposed this bill (Democrats almost exclusively represent Hennepin), and take a look at how many opposed it.

The imposition of this kind of tax burden to fund a private enterprise should ask the consent of the taxed before having it dumped on them by the state. Since Hennepin County residents will have to pay the increased taxes, and since county businesses will lose revenue from people who want to avoid the levy by shopping in one of the other nearby counties, they should have had the opportunity to endorse or reject this proposal. That's more than just fairness -- it's the actual law. Politicians who spend their time trying to stuff money into the pockets of billionaires in order to build playing fields for millionaires apparently have little time or patience for the voters who trusted them to protect their interests and uphold the law.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 26, 2006 8:10 PM

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