The Minnesota Vikings are winless this season so far, but the team's biggest challenge may be about to crop up on the sidelines.
The Ramsey County Charter Commission is stepping in to potentially block the Vikings' decade-long stadium drive in the Twin Cities.
The first of two public hearings on a proposed Vikings stadium tax takes place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the New Brighton Community Center.
Ramsey County's 17-member charter commission is taking testimony ahead of next month's ballot question asking whether voters should have direct input on funding for professional sports. The commission is expected to vote on the charter change after the second hearing Oct. 11.
County officials in May proposed a half-cent sales tax to fund about a third of the cost to build the a new stadium in Arden Hills for the Vikings.
Opponents of the plan say Ramsey County put a charter in place as a measure against just such actions by county officials in 1992.
Rod Halvorson said he and his fellow charter commissioners want to hear from Ramsey County residents if it's time for the county to exercise that power.
"I'm guessing we're going to hear at least two very strong opinions. One, the primary one, will be to allow the Ramsey County voters to vote on something so important as a $675 million sales tax increase in Ramsey County," Halvorson said. "And the second, will be the other side that will say that this might jeopardize a Vikings stadium."
That dollar figure is Halvorson's calculation of the total principal and interest if Ramsey County chipped in. The county has pledged $350 million up front for the $1 billion project. The rest is expected to come from the team and the state.
And even that expectation is shaky now. After a handshake deal with the Vikings last spring, neither the county nor the team were able to introduce the issue at the Capitol during either the regular session or the special session that ended the state shutdown.
Former Arden Hills Mayor Bev Aplikowski sits on the charter commission. Although she's hesitant about introducing new taxes in her city, she isn't sure the charter commission has a place in the matter.
"I think putting it on the ballot in 2012 will not accomplish what a lot of people are being led to believe that they can accomplish," Aplikowski said.
She said a vote next year will only affect the county's charter, which works like a local constitution. It won't be a vote on the Vikings deal itself. Approving a new stadium may require a separate election at a later time, Aplikowski said.
That could take longer, possibly even after the Legislature and the seven-member elected county board strike a deal and begin to build a stadium. A vote on the stadium itself may come too late, Aplikowski said.
"We kind of missed the boat on that one," she said.
There's yet another complication: State law already requires a referendum on local sales tax increases.
The Legislature gave Hennepin County an exemption for the Twins and lawmakers suggested they might do the same for the Vikings.
Stadium tax opponents hope a charter change could throw a legal block in front of such an end run.
Some supporters of the referendum requirement think the gesture alone will affect the debate, and that it might not actually have to win with voters.
"I believe the legislature will be confronted, right in front of their face, with a charter amendment pending," Halvorson said. "I think that would be very difficult with what some of what the leaders have already said, to overturn that at the legislature."
Halvorson said the measure has decent odds of approval from the charter commission.
However, Mike Fratto, also on the commission, is not so sure. He said the commission has been reluctant to make big changes before.
"I guess I'll be disappointed if it doesn't go on the ballot, but I won't be surprised," Fratto said.