No sales tax for Vikings stadium

Gov. Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton at a news conference on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011 said a local tax increase is effectively off the table in the stadium finance debate.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders announced Tuesday that there isn't enough support in the Legislature to pass a local sales tax hike to help pay for Minnesota Vikings stadium unless it has voter approval.

The statement, signed by the governor and all four leaders of the legislative caucuses, added a new wrinkle to the stadium debate. It essentially said what has been widely known within the halls of the State Capitol: there is little or no support to raise a local tax unless it has voter approval.

The Vikings, who are working with Ramsey County to build the stadium in Arden Hills, said putting the tax hike on the ballot was a deal killer.

Dayton said it was time to look at options that don't include a local tax.

"I think it's a step forward in that we've now clarified that it's not an option," the governor said. "We're getting to the point of taking all of these myriad of possibilities and we're narrowing them down by a process of elimination by what is possible and what can be supported."

The decision leaves the Vikings stadium proposal with a $350 million hole. The Vikings were banking on that amount coming from Ramsey County to pay for a portion of the $1.1 billion stadium.

Dayton has repeatedly said that the state would not kick in more than $300 million for the stadium. But he suggested on Tuesday that the state would have to kick in more money. He said other financing options, among them a ticket tax, a sports memorabilia fee, an expansion of gambling and tapping the Legacy Fund are all being considered.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, declined to say which options her caucus is considering.

"This week is about digging down into the options and seeing what's viable and what's not and getting that information out to people," Koch said.

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Dayton plans to release his recommendations next week and is hopeful that a special session can be called for the week of Nov. 21. He would not say if he believes today's news makes it more difficult to build the stadium in Ramsey County.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is also open to financing the stadium through a local sales tax increase or a casino. Vikings lobbyist Lester Bagley said the team is committed to building in Arden Hills and isn't willing to consider building in Minneapolis.

"As we have always said, Arden Hills is the ideal site," Bagley said. "The governor confirmed the site is still a viable option. We're going to put our heads together with Ramsey County and continue to try to find a way to move that package forward."

Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett also argued that his county's plan is the better option.

"For those who haven't been on it and seen it, it's 260 acres," Bennett said. "We can put seven of the Minneapolis sites on that site. We're going to truly give the people of Minnesota the chance to enjoy football like most of the other new stadiums around the country."

As Bagley and Bennett continue to push for the Ramsey County plan, policy leaders are looking at ways to come up with the financing to make the proposal work.

The plan with the most support is allowing charities to move from paper pull-tab gaming to electronic pull-tabs is an option, Dayton said. He also does not favor using Legacy Funds for the stadium but said he won't take it off the table.

Several Republicans proposed using a portion of sales tax dedicated to the outdoors, arts and culture, parks and trails and clean water to pay for the stadium. But state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said he doesn't support it. Ingebrigtsen, who chairs the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said voters didn't want the sales tax money to go to stadiums when they approved it in 2008.

"I know there are an awful lot of folks who still don't think that constitutional amendment should have passed but whether we think that or not, it is now part of the constitution," he said. "If we're going to tear up one part of the constitution, what's going to be next there?"

Minnesota Public Radio is one of the hundreds of groups that receive arts and culture money from the Legacy Fund.

Ingebrigtsen said he prefers to fund the stadium by allowing the state's horse tracks to own and operate slot machines. He said those funds could pay for the stadium and help send school districts payments that state officials delayed to balance the state's budget.

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