Stadium tax: Let voters decide?

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 6, 2011 - 9:34 PM

Ramsey County Charter Commission calls special meeting on letting the electorate decide whether to raise sales tax by half a cent.

Ramsey County's Charter Commission wants voters to have a say in the taxation for a proposed $1 billion Vikings stadium in Arden Hills.

Notice went out Monday of a special meeting where the commission will vote on a resolution regarding the proposed half-cent countywide sales tax increase that would back $23 million in annual payments on a $350 million stadium investment.

The draft resolution says the commission "opposes any effort to circumvent the ... citizens of Ramsey County by denying Ramsey County citizens the right to vote on a countywide sales tax or preventing Ramsey County citizens from seeking a referendum to place this extremely important public policy on a ballot."

Although the resolution is expected to pass and would send a message, the commission cannot dictate policy to the county or the Legislature.

The Ramsey County charter has a provision that gives voters the ability to overturn ordinances. Once an ordinance is passed, opponents have 45 days to gather signatures to put the issue to a countywide vote. Opponents need to collect signatures of 10 percent of the countywide voters in the 2008 presidential election, or roughly 28,000.

Charter Commission Member Bryan Olson of Falcon Heights said some are concerned "this will be fixed so the County Board [members] won't have to dirty their hands with it and this tax will happen and that's it."

Victoria Reinhardt, chairwoman of the County Board, said the Legislature can exempt the board from voting on the tax, which would mean the tax would be exempt from a petition and countywide vote. As an opponent of the tax, Reinhardt said she welcomed the commission's action.

County Board Member Rafael Ortega, who proposed the Vikings deal, said of the charter resolution: "I don't know anything about that, so I've got to wait to see what's going on."

Said Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley: "The Ramsey County Board makes annual taxing and spending decisions that far exceed the $23 million a year this proposal would require. Those decisions are not put to referendum."

In addition to Ramsey County's investment, the Vikings would contribute $407 million and the state would add $300 million to the stadium project, under an agreement the team has made with the county.

Gov. Mark Dayton wants necessary road upgrades to be paid for by the team, leaving an estimated $131 million funding hole for the project at Interstate 35W and Hwy. 10 in Arden Hills.

Ted Mondale, chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, isn't concerned about the Charter Commission. "The big issue is the funding. Once that's done; the rest can get done," he said.

The Ramsey County Charter Commission generally hears requests for changes to the charter and decides whether to put issues before the voters. The board's members are appointed by the judiciary.

Sponsors of a stadium bill in the Legislature didn't return calls Monday regarding the commission's position.

The commission meeting is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Willow Room at Vadnais Heights Commons, 655 E. County Road F.

Staff Writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report. Rochelle Olson • 651-735-9749

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