Some Republicans want arts amendment money for Vikings stadium

Editor's note: This report comes to you from MPR's Tom Scheck and Tim Nelson. In full disclosure, my position is funded by Legacy Amendment money, so for ethical reasons I do not do any direct reporting on the topic.

St. Paul, Minn. -- A Republican leader says some of his colleagues in the Minnesota Legislature are considering a plan that would rely on a portion of the state's Legacy funds to pay for a new Vikings Stadium.

It's an option they say must be considered as Gov. Mark Dayton and lawmakers continue to discuss how to pay for a stadium. Other options include ticket taxes, a sports memorabilia tax, slot machines at the state's horse tracks or a new casino in downtown Minneapolis.

But critics say voters didn't intend to use that money for professional sports stadiums when they approved a higher sales tax in 2008.

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"I certainly think that taking a look at the Legacy money to fund a stadium is something that should be on the table," said Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, an assistant Majority Leader in the Minnesota House.

There isn't an organized effort by legislative leaders to tap the Legacy funds yet, Daudt said. But there is increasing talk among members and GOP staff that this may be the only way that the Republican-controlled House and Senate pass a Vikings stadium bill.

Daudt said the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund could generate about $50 million annually to finance the stadium. He said that would be enough to pay both the state's and Ramsey County's share but is unsure if that would be the plan.

"You certainly can't argue that the Minnesota Vikings and these sports teams in the state of Minnesota aren't a part of the state's heritage and certainly part of the state's legacy," Daudt said.

The Legacy funding could also make it easier for Republicans to vote for a plan. There is bipartisan opposition to expanding gambling in Minnesota. Republicans fiercely oppose any tax increases. Many argue that a Ramsey County sales tax increase should be subject to a referendum -- a move that Vikings officials said would kill the deal.

Tapping the legacy funds could also face significant opposition. Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said he would go to court to stop any legislation that would spend Legacy Amendment funds for a Vikings stadium. Using the money for such a purpose would violate voter intent, he said.

"There was no discussion in any of the legislative committee hearings or on the floor of the House and Senate about professional sports and it clearly is contrary to what was discussed during a very extensive campaign in 2008," Cohen said.

Voters in 2008 amended the constitution to require the state to collect a three-eighths of a cent sales tax for the outdoors, clean water, parks and the arts. Supporters of the idea argued that the money would be used to improve the state's quality of life. Minnesota Public Radio is among hundreds of organizations that receive money from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Officials with outdoors groups also say it's a bad idea. Don McMillan with the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance said even though the plan would not touch funding for the outdoors, parks and clean water, he worries it could be a slippery slope.

"Opening it up to other uses is a dangerous precedent," McMillan said. "Once it starts there, I just fear that they're going to come after the outdoor funds and the clean water funds and try to subvert them."

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said he hasn't heard of the proposal. He said the team is still committed to an Arden Hills site that relies on a half-cent sales tax in Ramsey County. The team is neutral on where the state's portion of the funds come from, Bagley said.

"Bottom line on the funding source, it's up to the state to determine what makes the most sense," he said.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, who chairs the Legacy Committee in the Minnesota House, is also uncertain about the idea. He said he's heard rumblings about using Legacy funds for a stadium but said there have been no formal discussions. Urdahl said the plan would not be his top choice but every possibility should be considered. He also cautioned that other funding mechanisms need to be in place as well.

"I would not be in favor of Legacy money being used to finance the entire portion of that," Urdahl said. "If it came down to using Legacy money, it would have to be cobbled together with something else."

A spokeswoman for the governor said he has not seen the plan and has no comment yet, but he appreciates anyone willing to make a constructive suggestion to settle the stadium issue.