Ramsey County considers sales tax to pay for new Vikings stadium

Two state legislators said Friday that Ramsey County officials have privately asked their opinion of a half-cent countywide sales-tax increase that would generate $300 million for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

Two state legislators said Friday that Ramsey County officials have privately asked their opinion of a half-cent countywide sales-tax increase that would generate $300 million for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

While county officials said emphatically that no formal proposal is being discussed, the conversations as reported by the legislators suggest that Ramsey County is aggressively exploring possible public-subsidy plans for a new stadium in Arden Hills.

The latest maneuvering came as legislators said that although a stadium is not yet formally on the Legislature's agenda, behind-the-scenes jockeying at the State Capitol and elsewhere is intensifying.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, and Rep. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada, said a County Board lobbyist and County Commissioner Jan Parker met with them over the past two days and used the figures to illustrate a funding scenario. Other legislators representing Ramsey County said that they, too, had such visits in the past three days, but that county officials did not use specific sales tax numbers.

"[They said], 'Just keep an open mind, Alice,'" Hausman said. "We argued lots of details." Last Tuesday, Hausman drafted a letter that she and other Ramsey County legislators signed expressing opposition to having the county provide public subsidies for a Vikings stadium.


Parker denied she floated a specific proposal, let alone suggest that a half-cent sales tax increase would provide $300 million. "I did not have any discussion like that, and there is not a proposal," she said. The county, Parker said, is only now beginning to explore funding options, and much more detail would need to be collected before decisions were made about how to proceed.

In a letter to Hausman on Tuesday, Parker told the legislator that "it is not my desire to give away the store just to have a team locate in Ramsey County." But she added that since the stadium may "be built somewhere, we need to find out if this site may have some benefits for Ramsey County residents."

County Commissioners Rafael Ortega and Tony Bennett, who were behind Tuesday's County Board vote to explore using a former Army ammunition plant site in Arden Hills for a stadium, said they are not seeking support for a county sales tax increase to raise $300 million.

Rep. Carol McFarlane, R-White Bear Lake, said county officials met with her more than a week ago. "[They said], 'How'd you feel about a sales tax [increase]?', and I said, 'Not real good,'" she said. However, McFarlane added, "I'm being open-minded."

The Vikings are reportedly revising cost estimates for a new stadium to replace the Metrodome, the team's home for 29 years, and previous price tags for a stadium have been nearly $900 million. Some stadium advocates have pushed a funding plan that would have the Vikings contribute roughly a third of the cost and a local government and possibly the state contribute the rest. The team's Metrodome lease expires after the 2011 season.

Scalze said she has been visited separately by Parker and Nick Riley, a County Board lobbyist, in recent days, and said the sales tax figures were discussed. "I asked them if it would eventually turn into a sales tax, and I think it was Nick Riley that answered -- yes, possibly," she said.

"They weren't sure what it might be, but around [a half-cent increase]. I mean, it wasn't like an eighth [of a cent], and it wasn't like seven-eighths. It was closer to the middle," said Scalze.

Rep. Nora Slawik, DFL-Maplewood, said she, too, had a recent visit from Riley, but added that no specific sales tax figures were discussed. "There are ways to structure it that I would be open to," said Slawik. "In this economy, it's really important to look at any project that would bring in a lot of jobs, and I think the Vikings stadium has the potential to do that."


Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, who said he likewise was briefly visited by a county official, said Hausman and Scalze might be reading too much into what the county officials said. "They didn't come in and say, you know, 'Let's do it with a sales tax,'" Mahoney said of his visit. "I'm not hot or cold on a stadium.

"So long as it's reasonable, I'm OK with it," he added.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

What To Read Next
Get Local