A Minnesota House panel debated Thursday whether to end four local taxes that help fund the Minneapolis Convention Center, a debate that at times appeared to have as much to do with a new Minnesota Vikings stadium as anything else.
Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, the House Taxes Committee chair, insisted during the two-hour hearing that his plan had nothing to do with forcing the city to use the taxes to help pay for a Vikings stadium or lose them beginning in 2020. “This bill and the Vikings are totally separate,” said Davids at one point.
But Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who said the city’s convention center would be crippled without the local taxes, said afterward the debate was obviously linked to the stadium.
“Absolutely, this conversation connects to what’s going on with Vikings stadiums,” the mayor said.
The city has proposed using some of the taxes to help pay the city's share of a new Vikings stadium, but City Council members are balking at the plan. Some observers -- including Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington -- said Thursday's debate seemed aimed at putting pressure on those City Council members who opposed the stadium funding plan.
It seems, said Lenczewski, "there's some move here to, you know, sort of call out the City Council members in Minneapolis."
The hearing took place as stadium supporters, including Ted Mondale, Gov. Mark Dayton’s chief stadium negotiator, continued to drop hints that an agreement between the state, the Vikings and Minneapolis was close to build a new stadium adjacent to the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis.
Rybak however said that, despite the rush to get a workable stadium plan before the Legislature before it adjourns this spring, there were still roadblocks. “I think we’ve made a lot of progress, and I think the little detail that remains is we have to get a Legislature and a City Council to back it,” he said. “That’s not a small issue.”
That issue remained center stage Wednesday as Dayton delivered his annual State of the State address before the House and Senate. When the governor mentioned his desire to complete a Vikings stadium agreement, many legislators did not applaud – especially Republicans who hold a majority in both houses.
The mayor also disputed reports that a city agreement to help pay for a nearly $1 billion Vikings stadium was complete. Mondale, said the mayor, “doesn’t speak for the city of Minneapolis.”
David’s proposal, which was debated but not voted on Thursday, would eliminate the citywide half-cent sales tax in Minneapolis, a 2.625 percent lodging tax in the city, a 3 percent downtown liquor and beer tax and a 3 percent food and beverage tax in downtown Minneapolis.
“This would wreck everything,” Rybak said of the convention center’s reliance on the taxes.
But some legislators, especially Republicans, argued that Minneapolis was funding its convention center with a series of taxes that convention centers in outstate Minnesota did not impose. “I’m just curious why you should get that extra, special attention,” said Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth.
“You know who pays for this? The citizens in my district, my constituents that decide to go to Minneapolis – maybe go out to a restaurant for the night,” she said. “They don’t get to see the benefit on a day-to-day” basis.
Added Davids: “Why should Minneapolis be treated differently than other convention centers around the state?”
But Minneapolis officials said that the convention business that comes to Minneapolis produces millions in tax dollars for the state, and that eliminating the special taxes would force city residents to pay for the convention center through property taxes.
“There’s not a [major] convention center like this across the country that is self supporting, that I know of,” said Rybak.
“We will talk about this more,” Davids said as the meeting ended.