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Dayton: No referendum exemption support for Vikings stadium

Posted by: Eric Roper under Funding, Minnesota governor, Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators, Democrats, Republicans, State budgets Updated: November 1, 2011 - 3:43 PM

Updated at 3:11 p.m.

By Mike Kaszuba

In a troubling move for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, Gov. Mark Dayton announced Tuesday that there was not enough legislative support to exempt either Ramsey County or Minneapolis from having a referendum to increase local sales taxes for the project.

Dayton said he and Republican legislative leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, came to the conclusion following a meeting last Friday. Without a legislative exemption, the governor said in a statement, the earliest a referendum could be held in either Ramsey County or Minneapolis would be November 2012.

The announcement could effectively derail a plan to have Ramsey County contribute $350 million to a new $1.1 billion stadium in Arden Hills through a countywide sales tax increase. Stadium proponents have argued that without a legislative exemption – like the Minnesota Twins had in Hennepin County in building Target Field in downtown Minneapolis – the Vikings stadium project would likely be scuttled by voters.

Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett said the announcement does "absolutely not" kill the Arden Hills plan.

The plan relies on a half-cent sales tax increase to support $350 million in bonds for the county's portion of the stadium.

"The Legislature is basically going to search for another funding source," Bennett said. "The Vikings still want the TCAAP site."

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s spokesman, John Stiles, said the announcement “would appear to take sales taxes off the table as a local funding option.”

He said the mayor’s second funding option for a Minneapolis stadium, garnering funds from a downtown casino, would hinge on some money going to the Target Center and securing the “financial future of the Convention Center.” Rybak also wants any gambling revenues to help benefit urban Native Americans.

Dayton wants to have a special legislative session before Thanksgiving to resolve the Vikings' stadium issue.

“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,” the governor said.

“Given this reality, we are now actively assessing and discussing with the team other financing options,” Dayton added.

Ramsey County commissioner Rafael Ortega said in a statement they remain committed to the Arden Hills site.

“We have heard loud and clear the concern about the half-cent sales tax, and have, from the beginning, preferred alternatives that would spread the cost of a new Vikings Stadium across broader funding sources," Ortega said. "Our primary focus remains the cleanup of the state’s largest Superfund site, the TCAAP property in Arden Hills, while putting people in Minnesota back to work during the construction and development."

St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman applauded Dayton's decision "to remove the consideration of a local option sales tax to fund a Vikings stadium."

"It has always been my position that the Vikings are an asset to all of Minnesota, and the financial burden of building them a new stadium should not fall disproportionately on one region of Minnesota over another," Coleman said. "I continue to believe a two-cent per drink statewide tax is the best funding mechanism for a new stadium, and I look forward to seeing future legislative proposals to move the project forward."

Eric Roper contributed to this report.

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