ST. PAUL, Minn. – Gov. Mark Dayton ruled out a tax increase as a way to help pay for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium on Tuesday, blowing a $350 million hole in the team's plan to build a $1.1 billion home in the suburbs north of the Twin Cities.
Stadium supporters on the Ramsey County Board had proposed raising the county sales tax by half a cent to come up with the $350 million local share of the overall cost. But Dayton, after conferring with leading lawmakers from both parties, said there is not enough support in the Legislature to exempt any proposed tax increase from a public vote — either in Ramsey County, or in Minneapolis if a stadium plan lands there instead.
Without that exemption, a vote couldn't be held until November 2012, long after the team wants construction to begin. And most observers believe voters would reject any tax increase to fund a replacement for the Metrodome, where the Vikings are in the final year of their lease.
The stumbling block is likely to put renewed attention on three potential locations for a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis: the current Metrodome site, and two sites near the Minnesota Twins' Target Field. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak quickly issued a press release after Dayton's announcement, calling his city "the best location for the Vikings, because it is the least expensive."
Dayton and others have said they take seriously the possibility that the Vikings will leave for another city without a new stadium. The governor said he doesn't have a preference between Arden Hills and Minneapolis. But the Minneapolis sites are likely to offer a lower overall price tag, since the Arden Hills land is a former Army ammunition plant, and expected to carry significant added costs tied to environmental cleanup and transportation improvements.
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," Bagley said, adding. "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."
Bagley said the Vikings haven't had any formal discussions with Minneapolis leaders since focusing on Arden Hills. Ramsey County commissioners Rafael Ortega and Tony Bennett, the team's two strongest allies on the county board, said in a statement they had always preferred a payment method that spread the obligation wider than Ramsey County taxpayers, and that they would continue to push that site despite the latest development.
Under the Arden Hills proposal, the county was to contribute $350 million with the state putting in $300 million and the Vikings covering $407 million, plus any cost overruns. Dayton, who previously pledged the state would not exceed $300 million, refused Tuesday to hold to that vow.
"That assumed a local contribution of $350 million, and that's not now available, so we have to go to Plan B at this point," Dayton said. He said discussions would continue on several, previously mentioned possibilities.
Those include tax revenue from expanded gambling in one of several permutations: a brand new casino in downtown Minneapolis; the addition of video slot machines at two horse-racing tracks near the Twin Cities; or allowing bars and restaurants to shift from offering paper pull-tabs to electronic ones. That latter option alone has been estimated by legislative researchers to raise up to $42 million a year, and Dayton said he sees the strongest support coalescing around that approach.
"I think the electronic pull-tabs probably has the most promise at this point in terms of drawing enough support in the Legislature," Dayton said. "My sense is that's probably the most immediately available and plausible source right now."
Another approach mentioned recently is to divert money from the state's so-called "Legacy" sales tax, approved by voters in 2008 to dedicate money to arts and cultural programs, outdoor preservation and clean water initiatives. Dayton said that would not be his preferred approach but that he is not ready to rule it out, either.
The Vikings have sought a replacement for the Metrodome for years, calling the Minneapolis venue no longer sufficiently profitable. In recent weeks, Dayton has thrown considerable weight behind the new stadium push; the Democratic governor hoped to call a special legislative session before the end of the year to dispatch with the issue.
Dayton said Tuesday he didn't see the latest development as a setback, that it narrows the range of options in front of stadium supporters and that he still hoped to call a special session either right before or just after Thanksgiving.
Associated Press reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this report.