Homeless Kids Deserve More Than Homeless Hockey Teams Do
by Senator John Marty
May 1, 1998
Last January, a Senate committee heard about a mother and her young children forced to spend a night on the streets of St. Paul because their housing was condemned and the homeless shelters were full. Half of all people turned away from shelters are children. We heard a teacher tell how difficult it is to educate children whose families don’t have a place to live.

Last month, I listened to seniors on fixed incomes who are facing $90/month increases in the rent for their “affordable” apartments. Those who can’t afford the rent are out of luck now that the federal government has backed away from its commitment to affordable housing.

Even so, when the legislature adjourned, funding to provide affordable housing for seniors and to prevent homelessness for kids, received a tiny fraction of the amount state taxpayers are paying to subsidize a new home for the Wild hockey team. Minnesota Government decided that homeless seniors and kids don’t deserve as much as a homeless hockey team.

Perhaps the hockey team had more urgent needs? Perhaps it was a good deal for the taxpayers? Decide for yourself:

  • The so-called “loan” from taxpayers equals a cash subsidy of approximately $49 million.

  • The sales tax may outlive the arena. The tax can last until 2030; the arena probably won’t.

  • St. Paul, the “owner” of the arena, pays rent to the hockey team to use its own facility more than ten days per year—that’s like paying rent to live in a house you already own.

  • Taxpayers build it. But the wealthy investors reap the profits -- from rent, ticket sales, concessions, luxury suites, and advertising.

  • Unlike Minneapolis, where voters rejected a much smaller subsidy, St. Paul voters had no say in this deal.

  • Other cities are building hockey arenas without public money, but in Minnesota the taxpayers pay.

Taxpayers will pay to build luxury suites that most Minnesotans could never hope to use, renting for $100,000 per year. Even regular seat tickets, averaging over $40 each, will be financially out of reach for many. Frankly, many Minnesotans either are not interested in attending or cannot afford to, yet we are all paying into this hockey subsidy.

How did we end up with such misguided priorities and such a bad deal, to boot? Panelists in a recent Minnesota Citizens Forum wondered how the hockey deal could have been proposed, much less passed, after the public outrage against sports subsidies last fall. The answer is easy: Follow the money trail.

Check Mayor Coleman’s campaign contributor list. Most of the hockey owners made large contributions to Coleman in recent years. Many of the same names appear on the big contributor lists of Governor Carlson and others.

The wealthy hockey owners are well-connected. They have made large contributions. They get a big taxpayer subsidy. Is there a connection? What do you think?

Seniors struggling to pay rent or property taxes can’t afford large campaign contributions. Homeless kids don’t have the right connections. Perhaps this explains the misplaced priorities?

When I hear Minnesotans tell of their hopes and dreams for the future, education is a priority. And it’s not just the education of their own children, but for others as well. They don’t want government to abandon homeless kids, leaving them to fend for themselves and more likely to get involved with crime. They want to help those families become self-sufficient.

Likewise, I hear Minnesotans say they want lower property taxes so seniors aren’t taxed out of their homes and apartments. As I travel around the state, I hear time and again that people want a frugal government. They say it clearly—meet the important needs, but do it efficiently, and don’t waste tax money.

It is particularly troubling to me that the hockey deal will be used as a precedent to justify taxpayer subsidies in the future. Next year, these sports subsidy fights will be back with a vengeance. The “shell games” and the pork-barrel politics will return.

Unless we stop the special interest money that drives these sweetheart deals, we will be stuck with large taxpayer subsidies. Stop the big money and things will change. That would give us a fighting chance to put seniors and homeless kids ahead of homeless hockey teams.

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