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Put Vikings stadium tax hike to vote, panel says

St. Paul, Minn. (AP) — Ramsey County Charter commissioners say voters, not state lawmakers, should decide whether a countywide sales tax should be levied to help pay for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium in Arden Hills.

The commission went on record Wednesday night in opposition to any attempts by the state Legislature to bypass a local referendum and impose a 0.5 percent sales tax in Ramsey County for the stadium. Commissioners passed a resolution, 10-3, authored by Rod Halvorson which says they “oppose any effort to circumvent the referendum process.”

Halvorson told commissioners he was concerned the Legislature would approve a plan similar to one which allowed Hennepin County commissioners to vote on a tax for the Minnesota Twins new stadium without putting the issue to a voter referendum.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported commissioners also passed a resolution that acknowledged they had no power to direct state legislation. Ramsey County is the only county in the state with its own home rule charter, similar to a constitution, which organizes the county’s powers and responsibilities.

The Vikings and Ramsey County have proposed the $1.1 billion, 65,100-seat NFL stadium be built at a former Army ammunition site north of Minneapolis and St. Paul in Arden Hills, with costs split between the team, the county and the state of Minnesota. But the proposal has a $131 million funding hole.

That’s the cost estimated by the state Department of Transportation to make needed transportation improvements around the stadium site. That’s $44 million less than the agency initially estimated. But it still would make up almost half of the $300 million that Gov. Mark Dayton and key legislators insist is the cap on the state’s contribution to stadium construction costs.  That extra cost was identified after the $1 billion plan was released, but Gov. Mark Dayton and key lawmakers have said the state won’t spend more than the $300 million in the initial proposal.

“We agreed that $300 million is the state share and it’s going to be limited to that,” Dayton has said.

Team officials have said they were working on a way to cover the additional $131 million. The stadium issue wasn’t settled when the Legislature adjourned two weeks ago, but supporters still are optimistic that it could come up in a special session necessary to pass a state budget.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has said he was not willing to support a new Minnesota Vikings stadium north of his city, questioning whether his constituents would benefit in equal measure to the increased taxes they would pay.

“Whether it’s got a great direct benefit to the city of St. Paul is one of the things I’m going to be asking,” Coleman has said. “Quite frankly, a huge chunk of that half-cent sales tax would be generated in the city of St. Paul.”

Coleman has said he considered the Vikings an important state asset, and didn’t rule out supporting the Ramsey County deal.

A cheaper option for taxpayers exists in a stadium offer floated by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak to put a new stadium at the current site of the Vikings’ home at the Metrodome. The Minneapolis option would have the Vikings pay a larger share, but team officials since have made clear the Vikings’ energy is directed toward the Ramsey County option.

Read more on the proposed Vikings stadium

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