Area lawmakers surprised sales tax off the table for Vikes stadium
Austin DFL Sen. Dan Sparks reacted with disappointment on Wednesday to news that a local sales tax to help pay for a Vikings stadium is off the table.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders announced Tuesday that there are not enough votes in the Legislature to exempt Ramsey County or Minneapolis from a referendum on a local sales tax. That tax would have generated $350 million of the $1.1 billion needed for the stadium. The Minnesota Vikings have said such a vote would kill the stadium deal and they cannot afford to wait until November 2012 for a vote.
Sparks said the Vikings had done what lawmakers had asked them to do — find a local partner willing to help fund the stadium. The football team settled on an agreement with Ramsey County to build a stadium in Arden Hills.
"Then all of a sudden now it seems that certain senators and certain representatives are not being supportive," Sparks said.
The Democrat said he remains optimistic that a deal can still come together. Sparks, who
is co-author of a bill to allow slot machines at horse-racing tracks, said he hopes racinos get more support. He made it clear there is one option being talked about he won’t consider — using arts and cultural heritage money from the Legacy sales tax passed by voters in 2008.
"I think it would be a stretch to use that funding," he said.
Dayton has said he wants to call a special session of the Legislature before Thanksgiving to vote on a stadium deal. One funding option that seems to be gaining ground would allow electronic pull-tab machines in bars and restaurants. That would raise an estimated $42 million a year.
"I think the electronic pull-tabs probably has the most promise at this point in terms of drawing support in the Legislature," Dayton said.
Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, is among the lawmakers staunchly opposed to any additional gambling options —including electronic pull-tabs and racino. His district includes Treasure Island Resort and Casino.
"I would have a hard time with anything that pushes up gambling just from the standpoint that could mean jobs from our area," Kelly said.
Unlike Sparks, Kelly is open to the idea of using some Legacy sales tax dollars for the stadium.
Several area lawmakers said they have concerns with the Arden Hill site because it is a former ammunition dump and will likely require costly environmental cleanup and transportation improvements. Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said it makes more sense to build the stadium in Minneapolis.
"The only ones that don’t realize that stadium is going to be built in Minneapolis are the Minnesota Vikings," he said.
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said the team’s focus remains on partnering with Ramsey County, despite the setback.
"We have to put our heads together with our partner and see how we can move this project forward," he said. "We think we have the ideal site. There are finance options on the table to make this happen. We’re encouraged that our leaders believe this is an urgent situation."