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Continued: Voters shut out on Vikings stadium tax plan

The proposed Minnesota Vikings stadium tax won't face a public vote in Ramsey County, but a report to be released Wednesday by the Metropolitan Council raised new questions about the viability of the Arden Hills site.

The report says the price tag and time line for clean-up of the site -- a former munitions plant -- will be greater than expected and that a county sales tax plan to help finance it would "compromise the county's and the region's ability to finance other projects."

The nearly 200-page report also identified $39 million in unfunded costs for the proposed $1.1 billion publicly subsidized stadium.

Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said he was pleased that the Ramsey County Charter Commission decided against putting the sales tax to a public vote but said the Vikings were "surprised" that the report had been made public before Wednesday's formal release.

"We were supposed to be briefed," he said. But, he added: "We don't see anything [in the report] that prevents us from moving forward on this exciting project."

Not having to win public approval for the sales tax plan should make it easier for Ramsey County to come up with its $350 million share of the stadium financing plan, but several legislative leaders have indicated they would prefer such a vote be held. Hopes for a special legislative session this fall to vote on the Arden Hills site also could be complicated by the questions raised in the new report, which had been highly anticipated by the state's political leaders.

"It's not a black-and-white, do it [or] not do it," said Meredith Salsbery, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Council. She confirmed key elements of the report, which casts the Vikings' plan to open the stadium by 2015 as having "an aggressive schedule that is unrealistic."

The report was ordered by Gov. Mark Dayton after the Legislature, having spent five months this year wrestling with a large budget deficit, had little appetite for considering public subsidies for a new stadium. A brief state government shutdown in July further dampened enthusiasm for the project.

Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, a key ally of the Vikings' plan, said the commission did the right thing. He said he couldn't comment on the report, saying he hasn't seen it yet. But from what he had heard, he said, "there's nothing insurmountable" in it.

"I think it's been a good night," Bennett said. "I think it keeps us going."

Public hearing

On Tuesday night, more than 200 people jammed the Charter Commission hearing before it voted 10-6 against putting the issue on the 2012 ballot, deciding that doing so meant the appointed commission would be making policy and usurping the authority of elected county commissioners.

In formalizing the vote, commissioner Rod Halvorson proposed a charter amendment to go on the ballot that would have prohibited the county from using any revenues to help build a professional baseball or football stadium. "I think it's clear from the testimony that people would like to exercise their right to vote," he said during the debate.

He added that the charter amendment he was proposing would help prevent the Legislature from overriding the people's wishes, and arm the county for a possible constitutional challenge.

Chair Richard Sonterre said that for him, it wasn't a decision about taxes or a public-private partnership. It was a decision on the role of representative democracy. An appointed body like the charter commission, he said, shouldn't be challenging the authority of elected county leaders.

Unlike a similar hearing two weeks ago in New Brighton that was packed with stadium opponents, Tuesday's hearing at the courthouse in downtown St. Paul was more evenly balanced.

Many stadium supporters were construction and trades workers in yellow vests, who urged commissioners to forgo a referendum and save the jobs the project promises to create.

"I would like to be afforded the opportunity to work in Ramsey County again," said Allen Ostertag, a longtime St. Paul electrician, who said he commutes 150 miles daily to work.

But as in New Brighton, many who testified wanted the chance to vote on the project. Most, if not all, spoke against the stadium, either because of the proposed public subsidies or because of the Arden Hills site.

"By not allowing a vote, you are preferring to serve special interests and not the people you were appointed to serve," said John Waldorf of North St. Paul.

In a letter released by the Vikings before Tuesday's hearing, Bagley wrote that a referendum in 2012 would delay the project for two years and add $110 million to the cost. Such a delay also would postpone thousands of jobs for construction workers and others, Bagley wrote.

"Neither the taxpayers nor the team can afford such a major delay caused by adding this referendum provision," he said.

Under legislation introduced but not acted on during the last session, the Vikings would contribute $407 million and the state would pay $300 million using a series of user-based taxes and fees. On Tuesday, Bagley said the Vikings' contribution would be more than $420 million.

In Los Angeles

As the stadium debate moved center stage again, a real estate magnate trying to build a NFL stadium in Los Angeles is sweetening the pot to teams considering relocation.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Ed Roski has dropped his demand for a no-cash minority share of a franchise and instead is offering to hand over the 600 acres he controls to any team that relocates there. The Vikings are one of several teams mentioned as being in the mix.

kevin.duchschere@startribune.com • 612-673-4455 mike.kaszuba@startribune.com • 651-222-1673

  • THE BALLOT QUESTION

    Here's the language for a 2012 referendum on whether to amend the county charter to prohibit a sales tax for professional sports facilities: "Shall Ramsey County be prohibited from using any revenues, including those raised by taxes or bonding, to fund or assist in funding a Major League Baseball or National Football League sports team or stadium?"

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