Vikings Blast Referendum for Stadium Sales Tax

The Vikings said Tuesday that holding a countywide referendum on a proposed half-cent sales tax hike to help build a new football stadium would delay the project by two years and add at least $110 million to the $1 billion proposal.

The team blasted the referendum proposal in a letter to Richard Sonterre, chairman of the Ramsey County Charter Commission. That little-known panel was set to vote Tuesday night on whether to hold a referendum next year, giving Ramsey County residents the ultimate say in whether their sales taxes should go up to help pay for the proposed NFL stadium in suburban Arden Hills.

“We cannot tell you whether a referendum can pass,” wrote Lester Bagley, the team’s vice president of public affairs and stadium development. He said a countywide vote in November 2012 would push stadium construction into 2013 and inflate the current costs by at least $110 million.

“Neither the taxpayers nor the team can afford such a major delay caused by adding this referendum provision,” Bagley wrote.

The Charter Commission is a 17-member panel appointed by members of the county judiciary to oversee and make changes to the Ramsey County Charter, a sort of county constitution. Before Tuesday night’s decision, the commission held a public hearing in which Ramsey County residents by about 2-to-1 favored a public vote on the proposed sales tax increase.

“People don’t understand this,” said St. Paul resident Kathleen Stack. “Why would we do this when there are so many public needs in the county to address?”

A number of union tradesmen from Ramsey County testified in favor of the project, saying it would mean construction jobs. “It would be a great opportunity for a lot of people,” said Stan Tice of Roseville, a plumber and president of St. Paul Building Trades.

The proposed 0.5 percent sales tax hike in Ramsey County would raise the county’s proposed $350 million share of construction on the $1.1 billion stadium proposal. The state would contribute $300 million through a package of sales taxes on sports memorabilia and other, mostly game-related spending. The team would contribute the rest, an unspecified amount likely to exceed $400 million.

No matter the outcome of the charter commission vote, supporters of the stadium project have been expected to ask the Legislature to override the public vote provision, as they did with Hennepin County and the Minnesota Twins baseball team.

But that could get politically tricky, as any charter exemption granted by state lawmakers is likely to face a court challenge. Influential state lawmakers including House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch recently came out in favor of a Ramsey County vote on any tax hike.

The Vikings have sought a replacement for the Metrodome for a number of years, calling the 30-year-old venue no longer sufficiently profitable to the team. The team’s lease in that Minneapolis stadium ends after the current season, raising fears for the team’s future in Minnesota as Los Angeles business leaders aggressively pursue a new NFL franchise.

On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Council is set to release a report, requested by Gov. Mark Dayton, on the feasibility of building a stadium on the Arden Hills site, a former Army munitions plant that’s heavily contaminated. While team officials have professed utmost commitment to the Ramsey County proposal, developers and politicians have floated several downtown Minneapolis-area spots that would keep the team at or near the current Metrodome site.

Dayton, a stadium supporter, has suggested he could still call a special session on the stadium this year if a deal comes together. But without broad consensus from all partners, the issue could end up waiting until the next regular session, which convenes at the end of January.

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