Associated Press, Published May 15 2012
Public unable to see Vikings finances as part of stadium dealST. PAUL – The Vikings stadium deal that Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law Monday involves plenty of public participation, but it also prevents the public from getting a look at the team’s finances during their partnership to build the $975 million stadium.
The law commits the state and city of Minneapolis to pay a combined $498 million, while the team will bring in $477 million from private sources.
One provision would shield “any financial information” from the team from public eyes. Critics say the blanket protection goes beyond current state law, leaving taxpayers in the dark on one of the state’s biggest public works projects. Minnesota law already allows businesses that get state money to avoid disclosing trade secrets, business plans, tax returns and other financial data.
“We now have the largest public commitment in the state’s history in an agreement with the Vikings, and we have an unprecedented lack of disclosure,” said Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, who voted against the stadium bill. “I just think that sunshine in government is good, and in exchange for nearly half a billion dollars in public commitment, there should be some sunshine on the other side of the ledger.”
The law creates a new Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority –with members to be appointed by Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak – to vet the team’s ability to fulfill its financial commitment to build, operate and repair the stadium over 30 years. The authority can demand audited financial statements and other financial information if the team breaches its agreement, but it must keep that information confidential.
That means the public won’t be entitled to find out how much the team makes on stadium naming rights or parking or how much team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf put in themselves. The list of companies that bid to build the stadium will be kept confidential until the winner is selected.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said the privacy shield for the Vikings is a “sweeping overgeneralized reference” that shouldn’t have passed.
“If you follow it by the letter of the law, they do not have to disclose a single iota of information in the relationship between the public money sources and the private sector,” said Limmer, who voted against the bill after arguing on the floor that privacy issues should have been examined in the judiciary committee he heads.
The Democratic governor and other stadium supporters said the authority’s oversight of the team’s finances provides protection for the public.
“The authority should have the right to make sure that they have the financial wherewithal, but where their financing comes from really is, you know, their business,” Dayton said after signing the bill.
“To just have their books all laid open to the public, I think that’s very dangerous,” said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the stadium bill’s Senate sponsor.
Team vice president Lester Bagley said financial information has also been kept confidential for the Twins and other NFL teams with stadium deals. He said the Vikings shared audited financial statements with Dayton’s office and the business community during the stadium debate, on the promise of confidentiality.
Asked whether the team would voluntarily disclose more than the new law requires, he said, “We’ll abide by and conform with the legislative requirements.”
Another provision gives Legislative Auditor James Nobles the power to examine private financial information during regular audits of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, but he is also barred from releasing information classified as nonpublic.