W(i)lfare for Billionaires
“State [of Minnesota] not rushing to act on Vikings stadium,” fretted the January 13 headline of a column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. New Jersey billionaire Zygi Wilf, owner of the Minnesota Vikings, is seeking about $700 million in taxpayers’ money to build his team a new stadium in the state.
The $700 million would be roughly split between state and local taxpayers. Members of one proposed site for the stadium have been especially disgruntled by Wilf’s request to take their money for his business. A group in Ramsey County, which includes the state capital of St. Paul, has collected 2,000 signatures since January 6 in an effort to block any special taxes on their county to pay for the stadium.
The group, called The No Stadium Tax Coalition, needs to collect 15,000 signatures by July in order to amend the county’s charter. It would prevent, among other taxes, a 3 percent food and beverage tax on the county.
The prospect of $1.1 billion taxpayer dollars floating around has created a haze through which it is comedic to watch different parties blatantly promoting their own interests.
For example, Zygi Wilf would like his new stadium built in a northern suburb of Ramsey County. It would allow his team to continue playing in the Minneapolis Metrodome in the meantime, where it has been since 1979. If the Metrodome were to be replaced, the team would need to play in a less lucrative locale until construction was completed.
Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Star Tribune stands to make $45 million off the sale of its land if the Metrodome is replaced. It is hard to find news on the issue in the newspaper; most of the paper’s ink is devoted to questioning why lawmakers are not taking faster action to bring the stadium to their doorstep. Substantive news on The No Stadium Tax Coalition and other opposition comes from local publications, not from the state’s flagship newspaper.
Using budget shifts and accounting maneuvers, Minnesota lawmakers discovered they have a surplus of $876 million this year. No doubt that has some legislators reveling in the excitement of how many earmarks that will help them bring to their districts. The last time the state had a surplus was in 2007, when there was $1 billion on hand. That resulted in spending, deficit spending and more spending until the state peaked in 2011 with a deficit of $5 billion.
Due to measures taken to escape the deficit, the state needs to pay $1 billion in debt service over the course of 20 years to cover the interest on borrowed funds. It also delayed approximately $700 million in payments to schools that now need to be covered in 2012, which equates to 40 percent of the state’s aid.
Without the budgetary illusions, it is hardly the surplus that has state legislators rubbing their hands together.
However, Zygi Wilf apparently thought it would be more than enough for a generous helping of “w(i)lfare.” Wilf bought a $19 million apartment in New York last November as he was pleading with taxpayers to help him out.
There has been some encouraging news on the legislative front. Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove), a Taxpayer Protection Pledge signer, said it was “not my job” to line up votes for the stadium.
On the other hand, some legislators never like to let an opportunity to spend taxpayer dollars go to waste. Greg Davids (R-Preston), who is the chair of the House Tax Committee and who has not signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, had this assurance: “I think the only people who don’t realize the stadium is going to be in downtown Minneapolis are the Minnesota Vikings.”
Millionaire Governor Mark Dayton, a Democrat, is supportive of all proposals for the state government to spend more.
Maryland: Gas Tax, Flush Tax, Now a Higher Sales Tax?
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has proposed a one-cent increase in the state’s sales tax in order to close the $1.1 billion deficit facing the state along with a bevy of other tax increases. He signed legislation in 2008 increasing the state’s sales tax to six percent; his latest proposal would increase the tax to seven percent.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) has said he is not in favor of increasing the sales tax. Instead, he said he favors increasing the state’s gas tax by 5 to 15 cents per gallon. (At 25 years as president of the Maryland Senate, President Miller may have led the charge on more tax increases than any other legislator in Maryland history.)
Not to be outdone by Senator Miller nixing a 1-percent sales tax increase in favor of a 5-cent gas tax increase, Governor O’Malley demanded that the state double its $30 “flush tax” on septic systems. "If we continue to pave over the land, by slapping up giant septic housing developments, we're going to undermine progress” Maryland has made in fighting other sources of pollution, O’Malley said, such as cow manure runoff.
Adding to the debate’s chorus of sober voices, Sue Esty of ASCME chimed in with her opinion on closing the budget shortfall: "Tax the millionaires and tax the corporations that aren't paying one penny in taxes.”
The creativity displayed by Maryland Democrats in coming up with new ways to hike taxes is almost as impressive as their creativity in coming up with new ways to spend money they don’t have.