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Judge: Vikings deal would have triggered charter

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: November 13, 2013 - 1:49 PM

A district court judge said Tuesday that the Vikings stadium deal would have triggered a city charter requirement to hold a public vote were it not for a state-sanctioned override of that provision.

The ruling by Judge Philip Bush has little practical effect, but revisits an argument that knitted stadium opponents in 2012: That the deal violated a charter mandate that the city hold a referendum if it spends more than $10 million on a sports facility. The city attorney's office issued a written opinion at the time saying that -- even without a legislative override -- the referendum wasn't necessary because the sales taxes used for the stadium weren't "city resources."

Bush wrote in a memo (below) Tuesday that the funds were "city resources" and the charter provision would have applied. The judge tossed a petition seeking a referendum on the deal, however, because the stadium legislation passed by the Legislature explicitly preempted the city charter (see language below).

The charter requirement to hold referendums on city sports facility spending was approved by voters in 1997. It was co-authored by council member Gary Schiff, the most vocal opponent of the Vikings deal on the City Council.

Under the final Vikings agreement, the city pledged to pay $150 million for construction of the $975 million stadium and $189 million for operations. The money would come from a suite of sales taxes already imposed in the city, including a citywide sales tax, a hotel tax and downtown restaurant and liquor taxes.

City attorney Susan Segal wrote in an opinion during the Vikings debate that the funds weren't city resources because they were state-controlled and never entered the city treasury. Bush said the city's arguments do not hold up.

Bush pointed to the wording of the charter language itself, which includes "sales tax" in the definition of "city resources." "The voters who adopted [that provision] in 1997 must have intended the definition of 'city resources' to include revenue generated by a sales tax that applies solely within the city. The voters' intent is not undone simply because the statutory mechanism for collecting and directing the sales tax revenue funding the stadium precludes the city from using that revenue for any other purpose."

The stadium passed the council by a slim margin, after an acrimonious debate. All seven 'yes' votes wrote in letters that their votes hinged on not violating the city's charter. See the letters here.

“I will not take a vote on a Vikings stadium that violates the city’s charter. I am bound by the city charter and any city funding must meet the requirements set forth in our governing documents,” wrote Reich, who represents the city’s First Ward. Colvin Roy, who was a swing vote, said Segal's opinion was what got her to re-examine the deal.

Following one of the initial hearings on the Vikings issue in January 2012, Rybak said "we're not going to do a referendum in the city. We are going to have a referendum in a couple years when I stand for re-election."

About 11 months later, Rybak announced that he would not seek another term.

Tuesday's memo came attached to an order dismissing a petition from then-mayoral candidate Doug Mann, who argued this summer that the public should still have a vote on the stadium deal.

Bush Order Mann Petition by eric_roper

Here is the language in the state's stadium legislation, that preempted the city charter:

    Sec. 4. CHARTER LIMITATIONS, REQUIREMENTS NOT TO APPLY.
Any amounts expended, indebtedness, or obligation incurred including, but not limited to, the issuance of bonds, or actions taken by the city under this act, are deemed not an expenditure or other use of city resources within the meaning of any law or charter provision. The city may exercise any of its powers under this act to spend, borrow, tax, or incur any form of indebtedness or other obligation for the improvement, including, but not limited to, acquisition, development, construction, or betterment of any public building, stadium, or other capital improvement project, without regard to any charter limitation, requirement, or provision, including any referendum requirement. Any tax exemption established under this act shall be deemed not an expenditure or other use of city resources within the meaning of any charter provision.

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