Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Wrong on principle

The latest twist in the Vikings stadium debate involves Republicans in the legislature talking about using funds from the 2009 Legacy Amendment for the state portion of the proposed costs.  On the face of it, this seems like a clever way to use an existing tax stream that conservatives generally opposed to solve the perennial problem of paying for a stadium.  But it is really just wrong on principle.

While almost everyone in the state supports the idea that we should
  protect our drinking water sources; to protect, enhance, and restore our wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; to preserve our arts and cultural heritage; to support our parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore our lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater
the debate was over mandating a new tax to pay for it.  Everything listed in the amendment falls just outside of the core services the state should provide; infrastructure, public safety and education, but they are all mostly in the second tier of services that most residents feel is reasonable and justified for the government to spend money on.  But instead of trusting to our elected legislators to provide funding for items covered in the legacy amendment, we the people went over the legislature's heads to require that money be spent.  Not that we required money to be spent wisely, mind you, but we required it to be taxed, collected, and spent.

With the GOP majority in the legislature last session, conservatives realized that they had the ability to ask the voters to repeal the legacy amendment directly, something that hadn't been fully considered when the DFL dominated both houses.  Repealing the legacy amendment would be perfectly in keeping with the principles of conservatism-lower taxes, smaller government, and more accountability of elected officials by the voters.

Now, someone in the last few weeks had what they thought was a clever idea-instead of reducing taxes by repealing the legacy amendment, let's just use that tax stream to fund the stadium, therefore being able to say with a straight face that we didn't raise taxes for a stadium.  The problem of course, is that two wrongs don't make a right.  But what is worse, is that we are confusing conservative principles with conservative populism.

First, there is no need to repeal the Legacy Amendment.  By passing the Legacy Amendment, Minnesotans emphatically stated that funding for the arts, outdoors and culture should be high priorities when the government decides how to spend our tax dollars.  And the amendment will sunset by law in 2034, so it will not be permanent.  So rather than fight the battle of repealing the amendment, which involves placing a repeal question on the ballot and convincing voters to vote down what they just voted for a few years ago, the legislature has a simple solution-lower the state sales tax rate by .375 percent.  What was a tax increase to fund the outdoors and arts simply becomes a dedicated funding source.  The sales tax rate in Minnesota has always gone up, never down, so this would be a simple and very visible tax to lower that the average voter would see and understand.

Second, conservatives need to see past their own rhetoric on stadium funding.  While no true conservative should ever agree to raise taxes for a stadium for a private business such as the Minnesota Vikings, the state can easily contribute 300 million dollars while spending little or nothing.  Consider it in terms of the mortgage most people have on their house-the state bonds $300 million for the stadium, and then charges the the team rent of 10 million per year, with a guaranteed lease of 30 years. The Vikings will have repaid every dollar of principle, and even with the state's downgraded credit rating the interest rate will be incredibly low.  This very scenario is part of the Vikings current stadium plan.

The Republican party fell out of favor with many conservatives in the last 20 years when it let principle fade to the background in favor of populism and getting reelected.  Redirecting legacy money to a Vikings stadium is exactly the type of cheap gimmick that got the party in trouble and out of power.  Conversely, refusing to let the state be involved at all, even when a fiscally conservative plan is proposed, is little more than cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Common sense adherence to conservative principles should be the mantra of every Republican.

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