Monday, March 05, 2012

Rybak's stadium message: it's about property taxes

Last week, a Vikings stadium deal was announced, but the real work of convincing two bodies to approve it remains. The legislature will be a challenge, for sure, but getting a majority of the Minneapolis city council to vote in favor of the stadium might be a steeper climb. In this quest to flip at least one of the seven council members who have demanded a referendum for any stadium tax, Rybak will have to craft a convincing message.

On January 26th, R.T. Rybak visited the usually friendly ground of Drinking Liberally, at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis. As host Steve Timmer noted, R.T. Rybak has appeared at this gathering more times than any other politician. But that night, the topic on everybody’s mind was the proposed Vikings stadium, and the attendees were overwhelmingly opposed.


Rybak’s appearance seemed designed to test the message he’ll use to push a Vikings stadium through a reluctant City Council and sell a recalcitrant electorate that generally opposes the use of public money to support billionaire Zygi Wilf’s stadium dreams. Indeed, Rybak admitted at the outset that his support of a stadium is “a minority position.” The news from earlier that day showed that it was a minority position on the city council for now, with Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy becoming the seventh council member to require a referendum for their support. But even more essential will be building public support among skeptical Minneapolis voters, since a skittish council will need the succor of some real support among the citizenry.

While Mayor Rybak didn’t convert his most fervent opponents this evening, his message tested pretty successfully in front of a pretty hostile crowd. Expect to see a lot more of it in the coming weeks.

The outline of his argument is:
- A great city needs to invest in common amenities like parks, libraries and, yes, stadiums
- A Vikings stadium is inevitable, the only question is where it will be built
- The Target Center is costing Minneapolis property taxpayers $5 million a year in debt service
- Redirecting the expiring downtown sales tax for the Convention Center to a city share for the Vikings stadium and the Target Center debt service would save the average Minneapolis property taxpayer 2% a year, and $100 million over 30 years.
- The question is more complex than a bumper sticker or a slogan. The question is not “do you support a stadium?” it is “do you support a package that will reduce property taxes and build a stadium?” 
The linchpin of this deal is the Target Center. Rybak’s pitch barely mentions the Vikings stadium, and hardly makes an attempt to sell the Vikings stadium as a valuable addition to Minneapolis. Talk of the Vikings moving? Completely absent. As the Vikings stadium debate moves toward dual showdowns this spring, the strategies used in Minneapolis and St. Paul will diverge. Rybak’s biggest challenge may be to keep his argument distinct, because what might convince the Legislature will turn off Minneapolis voters.

This might be the biggest political challenge of Rybak’s tenure as Mayor, and if his appearance at Drinking Liberally was any indication, he’s going to meet it head on. He's built up a lot of political capital as Mayor, and he seems willing to spend it.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

(Thanks to Dave Garland for shooting the video and Steve Timmer for editing it.)

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