By: Patrick Howe, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Minnesota’s lawmakers have an answer to those in the news media who have been demanding a new baseball stadium: Let the media help pay for it.
A stadium plan that passed the Senate would charge news organizations rent for their reporters to cover games. So would the chief plan in the House, and it also extends the state sales tax to magazines and newspapers.
If fans are to pay more, so should the media, say backers, who describe their plan as the first attempt in the nation to use media taxes to build a stadium.
Media experts say the reason nobody has done it before is that it is tricky to craft a media tax that is legal. “It would be very difficult to come up with a scheme for doing it and still have the scheme be constitutional,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a former Saint Paul Pioneer Press reporter and editor.
She cites a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court case where the Star Tribune of Minneapolis won a challenge to a state tax on printer’s ink. The court ruled that a state cannot single out the press for special tax treatment.
Dalglish said the most disturbing aspect is that lawmakers have alluded to the tax as a response to criticism from the media about the Legislature’s failure over the past several years to build the Twins a new stadium.
In the meantime, Gov. Jesse Ventura, who has tangled with the news media over and over, proposed a third stadium financing plan last week that would not tax the media or its reporters.
The chief architect of the House plan, Republican Rep. Dan McElroy, said during a hearing that the tax is fair because “all the major newspapers have editorialized for a stadium.”
The chairman of the Taxes Committee, GOP Rep. Ron Abrams, kept a small bobblehead statue of Sid Hartman, a Star Tribune sports columnist and stadium advocate, on his desk throughout the committee’s stadium hearings. When talk of a media tax rose, Abrams would address the doll directly, asking: “Right, Sid?”
In a column before the hearing, Hartman named Abrams as one of three lawmakers who would shoulder much of the blame if the Twins are not around next season. The Twins are up for sale, and it is widely assumed they will be eliminated by major league baseball unless the state helps build a new stadium.
Jim du Bois, president of the Minnesota Broadcasters Association, suggested there is “a punitive element” in the proposed media tax. Dalglish said such a tax is certain to be challenged in court on those grounds.
Both plans envision raising enough money from the media and other taxes to build a new stadium for the Twins, and after that, a football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings and the University of Minnesota.
The Minnesota Newspaper Association is fighting the bill. Other opponents include conservatives who oppose any new tax and liberals who think any new money should go toward schools and social services.
The sales tax would add $14 to the price of a one-year subscription to the Pioneer Press.
“This is nothing less than a tax on good citizenship,” said David Strom of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.
Defenders say that 18 other states already tax the sale of newspapers or magazines, though not specifically for a sports stadium.
Sen. Dean Johnson, sponsor of the Senate plan, said: “We think anybody that reaps the benefits of the new stadium should help to pay for it.”