Minneapolis council cool to sales tax for stadium

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 27, 2011 - 7:33 AM

Vocal opposition to the plan has emerged on Minneapolis council.

Despite an optimistic pitch by city leaders at the State Capitol this week, plans to fund a Vikings stadium in Minneapolis with a citywide sales tax have almost no vocal support from council members who would have to approve it.

Mayor R.T. Rybak said Monday he believes "there is enough support" on the council to pass a Minneapolis sales tax to pay for the stadium, but no council members except President Barb Johnson were willing to support the idea in interviews -- six were outright opposed. Several said they had not been consulted by the mayor or council president on the matter.

Johnson expects to have an easier time gathering votes for a downtown casino to fund the project, although that proposal faces significant legal and state political hurdles.

Further complicating matters is a provision in the city's charter requiring a public vote on sports facilities costing the city more than $10 million. Although Rybak wants to avoid a referendum, any state action to do so is likely to face significant resistance from GOP leaders at the Capitol.

Johnson said in an interview Tuesday that the sales tax might be harder to get through the council. The details of that plan will be unveiled in coming days, but some council members already have principled objections to using the revenue for a stadium.

"We're going to work on people," Johnson said. "Because that's going to be a harder leap."

Twelve of 13 council members commented for this story. Six said they opposed a city-only sales tax for a stadium, one was leaning against it and four deferred comment until they saw more details of the plan.

"I can think of 20 or 50 things I'd rather put sales tax revenue toward before we put it toward building a new football stadium," Council Member Cam Gordon said.

Council Member Betsy Hodges said she opposes public funding of sports facilities. "I think we already have an uneven, imbalanced sales tax relationship with the state of Minnesota," Hodges said.

Council Member John Quincy said no one has contacted him about the stadium funding issue, a statement echoed by several of his colleagues. He wants to see more details before offering an opinion on the new tax, but he's skeptical.

"I'm very concerned about a citywide-only sales tax," Quincy said. "I'm generally opposed to public financing of stadiums. But especially when it comes to the city-only aspect of it; I think it needs to be more regional and more statewide."

Council Member Robert Lilligren also said he had not seen the proposal, but he opposes the idea because the money could be better spent.

"I represent an area that has a lot of need," Lilligren said. "I think if we're going to be raising taxes ... we should be addressing some of the need within the communities before we're subsidizing a private business."

Rolling the dice

The other funding idea, which involves opening a casino at the Block E retail complex to pay for a sizable chunk of a new stadium, enjoyed more support.

The proposal failed to gain traction at the Capitol this year, when it was floated as a general revenue raiser for the state. Even if it is passed at the state level, it is expected to end up the subject of a lawsuit by tribal gambling interests.

Block E already has appropriate zoning for a casino. Depending on how legislation is written, the council's power over the project could be limited.

Council Member Lisa Goodman, chair of the city's development committee, said she supports the casino because she says it would create thousands of jobs and bring millions of visitors to downtown.

"Many downtown property owners, business leaders and stakeholders support this concept. I join them in this support," Goodman wrote in an e-mail. She opposes a city-only sales tax for a stadium.

Council Member Don Samuels said he was unsure about the casino proposal when it emerged in May, but grew to like it after it became linked to a Vikings stadium.

Unlike a citywide sales tax, which Samuels does not support, the casino "impacts people who are making choices on their entertainment." But he said he also will weigh opposition from the tribes carefully in his final decision.

Rybak spokesman John Stiles said the mayor will support a casino only if it includes a provision to benefit American Indians and other "disadvantaged" communities in Minneapolis. Council Member Gary Schiff also wants a provision to benefit low-income city residents, an effort that developer Bob Lux says they are working to accommodate.

A vote?

If the city spends more than $10 million on a stadium, the charter provision co-authored by Schiff in 1997 requires that the plan face a public vote. That can be overridden by state lawmakers.

But getting an override could be difficult, since Republican leaders such as Sen. Amy Koch already asked for a similar referendum in Ramsey County.

"There are lots of people at the Capitol who believe that there should be a referendum," said Sen. Linda Higgins, a Minneapolis DFLer who is undecided on whether there should be a vote. She could see how it would be used to kill the plan.

"If you're not supporting the process, well, then, 'By gosh, yeah, you should have a referendum' because you think the citizens could defeat it," Higgins said. "People play lots of games with those kinds of votes."

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper

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