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NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. (AP) — Karen Berg, who lives next door to the site of a billion-dollar NFL stadium proposed by the Minnesota Vikings, isn’t sure she wants it in her backyard. But Berg knows for sure she wants to be able to vote on whether her own taxes should go up to help pay for it.
Dozens or people lined up Wednesday to testify at a public hearing of the Ramsey County Charter Commission, an obscure panel with the unlikely power to throw a major obstacle in the Vikings’ stadium dreams. The commission could call a countywide vote on a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for a portion of the $1 billion stadium.
The charter commission won’t decide until November whether to call the vote. But passions already were running high at the first of two public hearings, with residents wearing stickers labeled “Let the people vote” sharing the hearing room with many team supporter decked out in their Vikings purple.
Berg wasn’t sure if she’d address the crowd, but said she has many questions about the plan. “It just seems like it’d make more sense to put it in Minneapolis when they have the restaurants, the hotels, the roads, everything,” she said.
The proposed 0.5 percent sales tax hike in Ramsey County would raise the county’s proposed $350 million share of construction on the $1.1 billion stadium proposal, with the state contributing $300 million through a package of sales taxes on sports memorabilia and other, mostly game-related spending; and the team contributing the rest, an unspecified amount likely to exceed $400 million.
The proposed amendment to Ramsey County’s charter would bar a countywide sales tax for the purpose of contributing to the cost of building the stadium. Supporters of the project expect the Legislature would override that provision, as they did when Hennepin County bypassed a referendum on its own sales tax increase to help build Target Field for the Minnesota Twins.
But any referendum exemption granted by the Legislature is likely to be challenged in court. In addition, influential state lawmakers including House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch recently came out in favor of a Ramsey County vote on any tax hike.
If a majority of the Charter Commission supports the charter vote, it likely wouldn’t be on the ballot until Nov. 2012. Stadium supporters say that delay — and the likelihood that tax-averse voters would defeat the tax — would together deal the proposal a fatal blow.
The current season is the last on the Vikings’ lease at the Metrodome, and by calling that venue no longer profitable team officials have raised worry among fans that they could be wooed to relocate to a city like Los Angeles, currently in aggressive pursuit of a new NFL franchise.
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