Let's spend Prince's money

Jim Mone, AP

Jim Mone, AP

As you may have heard, Prince died last year.

He left behind a rich musical legacy, a fleet of cars and motorcycles, acres of real estate, even a stack of gold bars — but no will. And so a probate court in Chaska has spent nearly a year sifting through spurious claims from long-lost “relatives” to determine who should inherit an estate that court filings suggest is worth about $200 million.

Prince’s lack of estate planning also brought about a hefty tax bill, which may gobble up nearly half the value of his assets. The IRS gets most of that, but the state of Minnesota will chomp off a healthy mouthful for itself. We already received a $4 million down payment in January, with the remainder due this summer. Depending on how much of Prince’s wealth is subject to our 16 percent estate tax, more than $30 million could theoretically flow into Minnesota’s coffers this year.

Let’s spend it all.

Yes, it would be highly prudent and Minnesotan of us to squirrel that windfall away for the future, but it would be grossly untrue to the spirit of a man who said “parties weren’t meant to last.” Let’s splurge, bestowing our unexpected riches on some suitably Prince-worthy endeavor named after the artist himself. This would be a one-shot deal – there wouldn’t be any additional funding for the next year — but that would be in keeping with Prince’s charitable M.O. His generosity was abundant yet spontaneous, typically manifesting itself in a huge one-time gift rather than being methodically doled out over time through a nonprofit foundation.

This spending proposal would be as unique as Prince himself. No one I spoke to could recall the legislature ever earmarking an individual’s estate tax payment for a specific budgetary purpose. And it would certainly be a more suitable honor than the last time state lawmakers attempted to enact special legislation related to our hometown superstar. Proposed last year, supposedly to protect Prince’s legacy, the so-called “PRINCE Act” would have increased some artists’ intellectual property rights at the expense of other artists’ ability to create. It went down in flames. Let’s shoot for a nobler tribute this time.

Think of this as our gift to Prince, who was kind, forgetful, or indecisive enough not to shelter his wealth from the taxman. The obvious question to ask then is, “What would Prince want?” To which the immediate answer would be “Who the hell knows?” Even Prince’s most trusted associates found his ways inscrutable.

But we can look to the individuals and organizations Prince supported during his lifetime for clues. These causes tended to relate to music, education, and racial equity – sometimes all three at once. With that in mind, consider these preliminary suggestions an invitation to provide your own. Every idea should be on the table, just so long as (to again quote Prince) it’s for a worthy cause.


Some of Prince’s biggest charitable donations went to education. His $200,000 gift to Minnesota’s Harvest Network was a key factor in that north Minneapolis charter school system’s survival. A state outlay to expand music education, which is always muscling for equal time and money in our public schools, would be an obvious way to pay tribute to the virtuoso instrumentalist.

But Prince’s interest in education extended beyond the arts to science and technology. After the death of Trayvon Martin, for instance, he not only quietly passed financial support on to the murdered young man’s family, but he began funding #YesWeCode, a program that brought tech literacy into the inner cities. According to Van Jones, the activist and nonprofit organizer who served as Prince’s philanthropic adviser in his final years, Prince was concerned that there weren’t “enough black Mark Zuckerbergs” in the world. A state grant to ensure that children of color are receiving STEM education comparable to their white peers would help remedy that.

Community youth programs

Education doesn’t only take place in school. Prince’s early development — as a musician and as a human being —was fostered through his participation in programs at The Way, the storied north Minneapolis community center organized by longtime community activist Spike Moss. The Way was a hangout for just about every young black musician who’d eventually help create the Minneapolis Sound. One way to honor Prince’s legacy, and perhaps to extend it through the budding musicians of the future, would be to increase investment in youth programs, providing a social environment that could foster interaction and collaboration.

Racial equity

Prince was always concerned with the economic side of racial justice, from the time when he struggled for financial control of his art to his final concert in Atlanta, which he opened with the Staple Singers’ fervent cry for reparations, “When Will We Be Paid?” Last year’s state budget included $35 million for programs that reduce economic and educational disparities between whites and people of color, an amount that drops by half this year. Prince’s estate tax funds could supplement these programs.

Arts funding

Minnesota is a relatively generous state when it comes to arts funding. But as you may have read here recently, the Trump administration’s possible cuts to the federal arts budget, including the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, would be a blow to our arts community. Minnesota could make a strong statement about the importance of arts funding with a one-time boost in its own investment. And since the process of bestowing arts grants is as susceptible to racial inequities as any other aspect of American life, the money could either be directed toward people of color or used to expand outreach into underrepresented communities. 

A new sports stadium

I probably shouldn’t even joke about this, huh? It’ll just give them ideas.