Ramsey officials will continue stadium discussion; Legislature could sidestep vote

Ramsey County Charter Commissioners
Ramsey County Charter Commissioners Rod Halvorson, left, and Mike Fratto, right, have been two of the leading advocates of a referendum to build a new football stadium in Arden Hills. They talked about their efforts at a charter commission meeting Aug. 31, 2011.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

The Ramsey County Charter Commission has punted the possibility of a Minnesota Vikings stadium vote into October.

The 17-member board met for two hours Wednesday evening in St. Paul and put off new restrictions on local funding through taxes or bonding.

Instead, the board decided it will hold two hearings for the public, especially Ramsey County residents, to weigh in on a proposed sales tax to build the football stadium.

County board members have a handshake deal with the Vikings on a $1.1 billion stadium on the site of former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in Arden Hills.

The county has offered a one-half percent sales tax, hoping to split the cost with the state and the team ahead of an expected move out of the Metrodome by 2015.

The board also proposed a charter amendment that would ban sales taxes and bonding for major league baseball and NFL teams and facilities.

Ramsey County Charter Commissioner Rod Halvorson brought the amendment forward. However, Halvorson said, lawmakers could sidestep voters by exempting the issue stadium from a referendum in Ramsey County. In that event, he told his fellow commissioners that Ramsey County officials should make clear that the Legislature was purposely trumping the electorate.

"(Legislators) have to assume the legal risk that the people might vote on Nov. 6th, 2012, against the sales tax being used," Halvorson said. "I believe that they will find another source for the revenue, rather than the very inappropriate Ramsey County sales tax."

His comments won loud applause from dozens of onlookers at the meeting in the Association of Minnesota Counties building in St. Paul. Many sported "Let the People Vote" stickers.

But opponents to the charter change thwarted a vote on the amendment itself, citing a technicality in the notice for tonight's meeting: the notice didn't include a mention of a vote.

Others said the matter is best taken up with lawmakers, rather than putting legal roadblocks in front of the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton should they decide to approve a plan for a new football stadium.

Ramsey County Charter Commissioner Fred Perez is worried that the commission might tempt lawmakers to revoke the county's charter rights. Ramsey County is the only county in Minnesota with a charter — akin to a county constitution.

"We're trying to pre-empt things that don't even exist yet," Perez said. "It's very dangerous. If this ends up in the Supreme Court, for any reason, we could lose our power completely. Then we've destroyed the charter itself. Let's make sure we protect it in the long run."

Dayton has asked for an expedited land review for the proposed stadium site in Arden Hills. The review could be completed by mid-October, paving the way for a potential special legislative session to consider a Vikings stadium.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.