Dayton says he'd support a Vikings stadium referendum

Dayton, Sturdevant
Gov. Mark Dayton speaks at the Star Tribune's booth at the Minnesota State Fair in Falcon Heights, Minn. on Monday, Aug. 29, 2011. Behind Dayton is Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist Lori Sturdevant.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Efforts to build a new Vikings stadium in Arden Hills may have hit another snag Monday, when Gov. Mark Dayton said he would support a ballot referendum that lets Ramsey County voters weigh in on a proposed sales tax increase.

Stadium backers have been working on a plan that would not allow voters a say in the plan. At a question-and-answer session Dayton held with fairgoers at the Star Tribune's state fair booth, the Vikings stadium came up repeatedly. He said his trips to the State Fair this year have been dominated by questions about a Vikings stadium.

Dayton is a strong advocate for what he terms a new "people's stadium," but he's largely taken a wait-and-see approach to the Ramsey County proposal.

He has ordered the Metropolitan Council and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission to conduct a review of the site and the plan.

Dayton told fairgoers that he thinks there are a lot of unanswered questions about Arden Hills, and that even though Hennepin County built Target Field without a referendum, he said a countywide vote now might be appropriate.

"It's Ramsey County's issue, but I'd be supportive of it," he said. "In a case like this, people should have their own voice. We should do it somewhat expeditiously, like this November, so we can get it decided one way or another because the clock is ticking."

Dayton cited recent news reports about a Ramsey County Charter Commission meeting scheduled this week to discuss stadium issues. Opponents want the commission to require a referendum, which could end up blocking any county sales tax funding.

Following his session with fairgoers, Dayton responded to a question about whether a referendum might kill the Ramsey County deal.

"I haven't looked at it. I don't know. I mean, people have a right to decide whether it's in their own best interest or not," he said.

The governor is unsure about the impact of a referendum, but a key architect of the deal is not. Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett said he thinks a referendum is a potential deal killer. Bennett said the question wouldn't be on a ballot until 2012, and the Vikings may not be willing to put up with the delay and uncertainty. Bennett also thinks it could very well fail.

"I don't think you could get a library passed on a referendum. Never mind an ice arena or a playground, if it were the only issue on the ballot. No matter what we put on a ballot today that costs money, I don't think anybody would look at it," he said.

The Ramsey County Charter Commission is set to meet Wednesday to discuss a potential charter amendment that would ban sales taxes from going to professional sports venues. A similar effort fell short in a meeting in June.

Dayton has said he is open to calling a special session to take up a stadium bill, but he's now setting the odds of such a step as about 50-50.

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