Sales tax option rejected, stadium supporters regroup
ST. PAUL - Minnesota leaders are two and a half weeks away from a planned legislative session to finance a Vikings football stadium, but are far from an agreement on how to collect $650 million that is supposed to come from public funds.
On Tuesday, the main proposal for $350 million in local funds collapsed.
"My timetable may or may not be feasible," Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday about his intention to release a stadium plan next Monday and call the Legislature into session to consider stadium construction two weeks later.
The new roadblock arose when Dayton and Republican legislative leaders decided that they lack lawmakers' votes to approve a sales tax increase without allowing the public to vote. For months, stadium backers have said a public referendum, which could not come until November of 2012, would end the stadium's chances because it is unlikely that the public would vote to raise their own taxes. And, they say, it would come too late for the Vikings.
Dayton and the Vikings put their best spin on the decision, saying it is "progress" to know what will not work.
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said the team and Ramsey County must "put our heads together" on a new funding package. "We will have to sit down and regroup."
Ramsey County officials had proposed raising a local sales tax to finance the county's portion of a $1.1 billion stadium in Arden Hills. Bagley said the team still considers Arden Hills the ideal site.
Minneapolis also wants to be considered for a new stadium, but it, too, relies in part on a sales tax increase. Its plan also calls for getting some funds from a new downtown Minneapolis casino.
While the local funding plan dried up Tuesday, nothing has yet materialized for how the state would pay the $300 million it would contribute. The Vikings would pay what local and state governments do not, but Bagley gave no indication on Tuesday that the team would increase its contribution after the sales tax decision.
The Vikings have said they need to know about a new stadium soon; their Metrodome lease expires at the end of this season and they want a new stadium deal by then.
"We will have to go to Plan B," Dayton told reporters, but he could offer no new revenue source.
For the state portion, Dayton said that electronic pull tabs appear to be the only funding source that could be acceptable to lawmakers. That is a plan discussed for years to modernize pull tab gambling, with profits going to charities. The new pull tabs would use electronic devices instead of paper.
Still, Dayton said, electronic pull tabs have not been vetted fully. Attorney General Lori Swanson is looking into the matter, Dayton said.
Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, promotes the pull tab solution as one that Indian tribes, which oppose other gambling expansion, and rural legislators could support.
Stadium bill sponsor Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said that she thinks the pull tab option has potential, but questions remain to be answered.
A joint news release from legislative leaders and Dayton said those in a Friday meeting did not think there were enough legislative votes to approve a stadium construction plan that did not include a public referendum. After considering it further, top policy makers Tuesday said they cannot approve any stadium plan without a referendum.
"Last Friday's meeting was very significant in eliminating one proposed source of financing for a people's stadium in either Ramsey County or Minneapolis, unless the Vikings are willing to endure the time delay and continuing uncertainty in obtaining voters' approval," Dayton said. "Given this reality, we are now actively assessing and discussing with the team other financing options."
Don Davis covers the Minnesota Capitol for Forum Communications Co.