A plan to build a new Vikings stadium in Arden Hills may face stiff opposition in the city of St. Paul. Six out of seven City Council members say they're against a half-cent sales tax the county plans to help pay for the stadium and the council might even put the tax up to a vote — a non-binding, but telling gauge of support for the plan.
St. Paul has an on-again, off-again love for professional sports. Back in 1993, the city tried to lure the North Stars to the Civic Center. Six years later, voters rejected a half-cent sales tax to build a Twins stadium.
Now, St. Paul could be about to suit up again — financially speaking — for pro sports. A plan to build a Vikings stadium includes a half-cent sales tax for all of Ramsey County.
City Council member Dave Thune, who represents downtown and West 7th Street, said there will not be a half-cent sales tax in St. Paul.
"It just puts us at too much of a disadvantage, and frankly, the return isn't there for the city of St. Paul," Thune said.
Of course, the decision isn't up to Thune. He's one of only seven members of the City Council, and the tax isn't a city tax — it's been proposed by the county board. The county's tax jurisdiction overlaps the city and doesn't require the city's consent.
But that isn't stopping city officials from challenging the idea. They say the traffic and commerce from a Vikings stadium in the county's furthest suburb won't find its way back to the city.
But 47 percent of the county's taxable sales come from St. Paul, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Of the county's 12,000 taxable businesses, 52 percent are in the city.
MPR News contacted all St. Paul City Council members. The six who responded say they oppose the half-cent sales tax.
City Council member Pat Harris, who represents Highland Park, is one of at least six council members who say that makes for a bad deal.
"In order to support a sales tax in someone's community, you have to demonstrate a net gain financially for that community, and that net gain isn't there on this proposal," Harris said.
Council president Kathy Lantry and several other council members say they'd consider a formal resolution opposing the Arden Hills deal. The council proposed a stadium spending cap and a referendum requirement that helped scuttle city bids for the Twins in 2002 and 2004.
Such local opposition could ultimately be a factor in a Vikings deal.
Back in 2005, the Legislature skirted a limit on stadium spending in Minneapolis by handing a Twins deal to Hennepin County instead. Lawmakers also skipped a referendum, normally required for sales tax hikes. But Republicans may now feel differently about imposing new levies against taxpayer opposition — even in DFL strongholds like St. Paul.
City Council member Dan Bostrom, who represents much of the East Side, said "no-new-taxes Republicans" are risking hypocrisy if they sign on to the deal for the Vikings in Arden Hills.
"I just wonder how enthusiastic they would be if their constituents had to share in the price of this thing," Bostrom said. "I mean, after all, its' a statewide resource, supposedly, right? So let's get some of your constituents from Koochiching County and a few of those other places and have them participate if it's such a good deal."
But county officials say it's not that simple.
Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough is one of what observers think will be a 5-2 majority on the board to support the plan. Most, like McDonough, represent neighborhoods in St. Paul.
McDonough said suburbs are already helping to pay for city projects like the Central Corridor Light Rail line. He said the state's smallest county can't pass up a chance to add a sizable tract of land to the property tax base.
"The economic benefits from the stadium, the investments from hotels or private money coming in to do whatever type of development in and around that stadium site, is adding to the tax base, which benefits all of us here in helping spread that tax burden amongst a larger pool of people who pay in." McDonough said.
The Arden Hills deal has languished for weeks in the Legislature, but may be revived in an expected special session.
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