Sack the NFL's bullying of lawmakers and taxpayers

Football sailing over goalpost

Somebody needs to tell the NFL and its billionaire owners to shove it.

Local newspapers are reporting that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton yesterday to warn that there would be "serious consequences" if the state legislature didn’t pass the most ludicrous stadium funding bill I’ve ever seen.

And pass it now.

The threat is clear: Either the citizens of Minnesota foot most of the bill for a new billion-dollar football stadium in downtown Minneapolis or risk watching their beloved Vikings decamp to Los Angeles.

Of course, all of the sports-besotted columnists and bloggers have taken the league’s side and are ridiculing any lawmaker who refuses to go along.

But elected officials and taxpayers everywhere need to stand up to this kind of sports industry blackmail and say enough is enough. We aren’t going to build any more new stadiums or arenas, anywhere, for anyone.

Let’s embrace capitalism, shall we.

If the owners of these profit-making businesses want a new place to do business, they can pay for it themselves.

Like the guy who owns the McDonald's franchise or auto-parts factory down the street.

As currently conceived, the Vikings want to build a $975 million domed stadium that requires $398 million from the state, $150 million from the city and $427 million from the Vikings.

The state would sell bonds to pay for its part of the deal and repay the loan by taxing new electronic versions of pull-tab and bingo games that are currently played on paper as fund-raisers for charitable groups.

How much this gambling scheme might actually rake in is anyone’s guess. The governor has claimed more than $60 million a year. More reasonable estimates are somewhere between $30 million and $40 million.

Whatever it turns out to be, there’s already a strong suspicion that it won’t be nearly enough to cover the annual interest and principal payments on the bonds.

That’s why Minnesota legislators have come up with a list of other revenue sources that they’ll tap to make up the difference, including a sports-themed lottery (yeah, more gambling) and higher ticket taxes.

Astoundingly enough, the governor, the mayor of Minneapolis and legislative leaders agreed to this ridiculous plan.

But a House committee showed more sense and voted it down on Monday, which is what prompted Goodell’s veiled threats two days later.

Oh, did I mention that part of the grand plan to approve the stadium also requires the legislature to void a part of the Minneapolis city charter that requires residents to vote on any plan to spend more than $10 million on a sports facility?

Well, it does.

That’s because everyone suspects that the voters would send this plan right to the scrap heap.

As NBC Sports says: “All members of the Minnesota Legislature will face voters in 2012. And if the voters who are viewed as opposing the stadium won’t get a chance to make their feelings known directly, they’d do it indirectly by booting out of office anyone who supported the stadium.”

Gosh. Good for them. Democracy at work?

According to the Star Tribune, Rep. Dean Urdahl, a Republican lawmaker opened the committee hearing by asking: "Why should the state of Minnesota contribute to a stadium for a billionaire owner?"

Good question, Dean.

Vikings’ owner Zigy Wilf has a personal fortune of $1.3 billion, according to Wikipedia (although he did not make Forbes’ list of the 400 richest Americans).

He’s a hugely successful real estate developer who manages 25 million square feet of retail and business property, according to Wikipedia.

So it would seem that he’s the perfect guy to build and manage a football stadium.

All on his own.