St. Paul balks at stadium tax

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 5, 2011 - 8:52 PM

The City Council is expected to pass a resolution against a county sales tax hike for a Vikings stadium.

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The proposed Vikings Stadium site at Arden Hills.

Photo: Minnesota Vikings

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The St. Paul City Council appears set to unanimously vote Wednesday against a Ramsey County sales tax increase for a proposed Minnesota Vikings stadium in Arden Hills.

Although numerous council members had expressed reservations about the tax, the vote will be their first public stance. The resolution is a formal statement of the council's position in the ongoing political battle but doesn't carry the weight of an ordinance.

Council President Kathy Lantry said it was time for the council to take a stand. "The rumor we've heard is a deal is imminent so we want to make sure our voice is heard," she said. "I love the Vikings, but ... if they're a statewide asset, then there ought to be a statewide solution."

County Commissioner Tony Bennett, a sponsor of the Vikings proposal to build in Arden Hills, said it's easy to vote against the sales tax. "I don't want to vote for the sales tax either, but what other choice do we have?" he said.

Six of the City Council members signed on as sponsors to the one-page resolution opposing the half-cent sales tax increase. Council Member Melvin Carter, who isn't a sponsor, said he "absolutely" supports the resolution.

Bennett and Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega have proposed using the tax increase to raise $350 million as the county contribution toward the Vikings stadium. The stadium is expected to cost $1 billion, with $407 million coming from the Vikings and $300 million from the state.

"Whether the stadium is the right thing to do or not, it's just too steep a price for St. Paul and Ramsey County taxpayers," said Russ Stark, a City Council member.

Carter said, "The proposal on the table is counting on a tax increase from the people we represent. We owe it to them to be very clearly on the record."

Lantry questioned why the county would raise a sales tax for the Vikings, but not for other services it provides, including the sheriff's protection, jails, solid waste removal and an array of human services. "That would help people 365 days a year," Lantry said.

Bennett countered that the council's impending negative vote is "parochial." He noted that sales taxes are levied for many things from light-rail transit to arts programs. He also raised the possibility of withholding support from city projects. "Maybe I need to look at their proposals a little more closely," Bennett said.

The council resolution follows comments weeks ago by Mayor Chris Coleman, who said he prefers a statewide fee of 2 cents per bottle on servings of booze instead of a tax that hits only Ramsey County.

The resolution notes that the city's portion of the $350 million would be $165 million. That's akin to raising the city's property tax levy 173 percent, it said, "an amount the city would never consider imposing to pay for our basic services."

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley declined to comment, as did Metropolitan Sports Facilities Chair Ted Mondale, Gov. Mark Dayton's lead stadium negotiator.

Nothing has been officially released about stadium negotiations since much of the state government shut down on Friday. Reports on the behind-closed-doors talks have indicated the cost of the stadium may have dropped as low as $800 million while the Vikings' contribution increased. The team has said only that the numbers are in flux.

The council's resolution would encourage the team and "other interested parties to consider options for constructing a stadium that minimize the risk to the taxpayers, limit the level of public subsidy (particularly for the host community), and promote a fair, multi-jurisdictional participation for a statewide amenity."

Rochelle Olson • 651-735-9749 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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