Vote or Not to Vote – That is the Question
A Taxpayers League survey of over 4,000 at the State Fair revealed a surprising result – people want to vote on any local sales tax that would help finance a new stadium. The survey was unscientific and open to anyone who wanted to take the time to answer four simple questions, but the result was overwhelming; people want to vote!
Over 80% of the people taking the survey; responded “yes” to the question “should taxpayers be allowed to vote on any new taxes for stadium financing?” Both pro-stadium and anti-stadium Minnesotans thought people should be allowed to vote on any proposal to finance a new football stadium, with a local sales tax.
For months two Ramsey County Commissioners, Rafael Ortega and Tony Bennett have been pushing the concept of a new Viking stadium in the Northern Ramsey County suburb of Arden Hills. The proposed stadium would cost approximately $1 billion to finance with $300 million from the state, $350 in local taxes from Ramsey County and the NFL and Vikings contributing the remaining $400 million.
Current state law requires a vote of citizens, in the taxing jurisdiction, before a local option sales tax can be imposed. But supporters of the Ramsey County stadium don’t want a referendum on a half a percent sales tax. Their rationale is that a vote on the sales tax proposal would fail; there by scuttling the project. Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega; an advocate of the stadium proposal, said he's so certain voters wouldn’t pass a proposed sales tax that he would consider eliminating the county's participation altogether if there was a referendum. "It doesn't make sense to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a referendum that we know is going to fail," Ortega stated.
In 2006 supporters of a new Twins stadium had a similar proposal; $300 million of the $525 million total cost would be paid for with a local sales tax in Hennepin County. State legislators voted to exempt Hennepin County from the required vote. Therefore no local referendum was held. With a vote of the Hennepin County Commissioners the new 3/8th cent sales tax was imposed. Supporters of the Ramsey County stadium point to the lack of referendum in Hennepin County as their reason for not having a vote in Ramsey County. Just because the state legislature usurped the voters of Hennepin County is no reason to remove the rights of Ramsey County voters.
If citizens in dozens of other communities across the state are given the opportunity to vote on local sales taxes; why should Ramsey County citizens be denied the right to vote? The tax would be levied over the next 30 years in order to fund a facility that thousands of people from all over the state and upper Midwest would use. The people who will be taxed should have a voice.
In 2006 legislators from every corner of the state stuck the citizens of Hennepin County with paying for the new Twins ballpark. These “gutless cowards” as Gov. Jesse Ventura called them, were willing to raise taxes on Hennepin County residents without their approval, but most were unwilling to raise taxes on their own constituents to build a new ballpark. If legislators are going to give billionaire Zygi Wilf $650 million for his new stadium, the least they should do is let the people that will be paying the higher taxes vote!
State lawmakers will soon have the opportunity to right the wrong of the Twins stadium financing deal. They shouldn’t capitulate to the special interest lobbyists; they should respect current law and give the taxpayers of Ramsey County the right to vote!
Stay tuned to the stadium debate. Even if the Vikings can’t win on the gridiron, they may be able to score a victory at the State Capitol by running over the taxpayer.