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Sports fans should not be surprised

Published 10:09am Friday, November 16, 2012

While the governor and the Minnesota Vikings wrangle over the team’s need for profitability and the means to achieve it, Minnesotans can at least be pleased that they’re not in the same situation as Florida Marlins baseball fans.

The Vikings’ discussions about adding seat license fees for season ticket holders, an idea that drew the governor’s wrath when it became public, shouldn’t really surprise anyone. Seat licenses are becoming common in the NFL, and the prospect — which wouldn’t affect the vast majority of Vikings fans who watch the games on television anyway — is a lot better than what Marlins fans confront.

As the New York Times reported earlier this week, Miami, Fla., and Miami-Dade County agreed to pay $645 million toward the cost of a new Marlins stadium, while allowing the team to take just about every form of revenue that the new facility will generate.

City and county leaders believed that the Marlins had tacitly agreed to put a competitive team on the field in perpetuity, the Times reported. And for awhile it looked like the team’s owners were going to do so … until this fall when, after the team under-performed during the season, the owners made a gigantic trade that sent its highest-priced (and presumably best) players off in exchange for a lower-paid contingent.

The Marlins are famous for executing a similar maneuver a few years ago. So the only surprise is that Miami-area leaders believed that history would not repeat itself.

Just as some Minnesotans are surprised that the Vikings want to increase profits, some Miami area residents and leaders are apparently outraged that the Marlins have rewarded their generosity by dismantling the team.

These sorts of things, in varying guises, have marked many a stadium agreement over the years. But fans and politicians seem to keep believing things will be different. Maybe it’s time to recognize the reality, that deals in which the government helps finance a stadium often work out better for the team than for others.

In Minnesota, at least, the public portion of stadium funding comes from optional gambling spending. Another reason to feel a tad superior to Miami.

Spending, policy are linked

A quote from one of the Twin Cities newspapers caught my eye last week. Talking about the upcoming legislative session in which the DFL will have almost complete control, incoming Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk was quoted as saying, “I think that anybody who has policy ideas needs to find a way to put them on the back shelf right now. This state has serious financial challenges.”

The implication is that there is some difference between the Legislature’s budget work and its policy work — “policy” being a word for almost everything the Legislature does except taxing and spending.

Trouble is, it is not possible to separate budget from policy. There is no budget decision or taxation decision the Legislature can make without affecting policy. After all, the entire point of the budget is to demonstrate the way in which money will be used to support the state’s many, many activities. Cut the budget by a dollar, and some state program will have $1 less to spend, surely a policy change. Increase taxes and spending, and policy must change.

It will be interesting to see how those completely linked items — policy and budget — play out come January.

Suspect timing for scandal

The most interesting thing about the current national scandal, which features top generals and alleged sexual affairs, is not the supposed affairs. The most interesting thing is the timing. Can it be any coincidence that this whole thing blew up just as interest in the election died down?

The massive coverage devoted to general-gate is almost certainly a result of the various cable and broadcast television networks’ desperate need for something juicy, regardless of whether it is truly important news.


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