Story for The UpTake by Kathryn G. Nelson/UpTake video by Bill Sorem
Fighting the loud din of passing cars and windy gusts as she stood on the Lowry Avenue Bridge above the Mississippi River, Minneapolis Mayoral candidate Stephanie Woodruff denounced recent developments in the Vikings Stadium saga, which has been drawing widespread criticism for lack of transparency and public input during the last few weeks.
Speaking from an observation area of the bridge, Woodruff — the Independence Party’s endorsed candidate — called for an end to the “financial gimmicks” plaguing the planning and funding stages of the troubled $1 billion stadium.
“The people of Minneapolis were led to believe that the Vikings Stadium deal would lower their taxes,” Woodruff said. “They were led to believe that the city’s half-percent sales tax was set to expire. Most importantly, the citizens of Minneapolis were led to believe that the very same sales taxes would not have been available for investments in the neighborhoods of our city.” That last part — that the sales tax proceeds could not be applied to neighborhood improvements, was false, Woodruff said.
Citing a 2009 general sales tax law, Woodruff said that any sales tax gathered over the amount needed for the city’s Convention Center funding could have been used for local capital projects that promote “residential, commercial, cultural and economic development” initiatives. That diversion of funds was set to begin in 2011.
Woodruff said that the sales tax law was not clear to Minneapolis residents who are now “victims of the shameful Vikings stadium funding plan.”
“Just think of what $200 million dollars over a 30-year period could have funded,” she said. Woodruff ticked off a list of ideas for that squandered tax money which included early childhood centers, infrastructure improvements and capital investments in neighborhoods. She also highlighted her desire to build “learning labs” as well as provide electronics for public school students so that — in her words — no child will be left “un-tableted.”
Woodruff said she plans on creating “checkbook-level financial reporting” if she is elected Nov. 5, a system that would include an online, searchable database for citizens to find information about city spending. When asked how much this would cost she said, “In my mind, it’s not even about cost.”
Woodruff’s comments came a week after a tense Metropolitan Sports Facilities Authority meeting last week in which upset onlookers watched as members of the Authority approved stadium agreements that weren’t available for public inspection before the event. In addition, public comments were not permitted before the vote to approve the agreements, the UpTake reported.
After finishing her formal statement, Woodruff was asked how she would move forward with the current state of the Vikings Stadium. Woodruff said she hadn’t thought about how she would recapture the lost money yet. She also said she’s been busy researching this issue rather than planning for stadium next steps.
Last January, Minneapolis was given a D-minus and a rating of 54 points out of 100 for public transparency by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. The study based its ratings on the amount of spending information that’s available online.