FREE SPEECH ZONE | Can the Vikings Stadium be stopped?

Council Member Gary Schiff addressed a rally of anti-stadium activists before the vote on Friday. He said, “When we passed the amendment to the charter in 1997 calling for a referendum, we said, ‘We don’t trust politicians when it comes to corporate welfare. We don’t trust politicians when it comes to sports stadiums. This is not what democracy should look like, but this is the beginning of taking our city back.’ ”

According to the latest estimates, it looks like the Vikings Stadium is going to cost the Minneapolis taxpayers upwards of $890 million dollars over the next 30 years. And in exchange for that gift from the city, we get a traffic jam eight times a year and an empty drag on development the other 357 days.

Is there any way the stadium can be stopped?

According to the Minneapolis Charter, the City Council is required to allow the citizens to vote on whether they want to use city tax money to fund a sports stadium. In a legal opinion written for Council Member Cam Gordon, private attorney Karen Marty says: “Minneapolis Charter, Chapter 15, Sections 9 and 13, restrict the city’s authority to incur indebtedness. Under Section 9, if the city will be responsible for more than $15 million of the expense for a stadium project, the city’s Board of Estimate and Taxation may not incur any indebtedness until the project has been approved by ‘a majority of the electors voting on the question.’ Under Section 13, the city may not use city resources over $10 million for the financing of a professional sports facility without the approval of a majority of the voters at the next general election.”

It is true that the state Legislature trumps the city charter. The Legislature granted the City of Minneapolis its charter, and the Legislature can change it.

But the Minnesota Constitution says that any “special legislation” that applies only to one jurisdiction must be approved by that jurisdiction in conformity to that jurisdiction’s charter. So, when the City Council met on Friday, May 25, to approve the legislation from the state, they were required by the city charter to refer that approval to the citizens of Minneapolis at the next general election in November.

Mayor Rybak lobbied heavily to get the Legislature to preempt the city from its own charter provision [see accompanying article “How the deal went down”] and, according to Karen Marty, “The attempted preemption occurs in the stadium law in Article 3, Section 4, where it states: ‘any amounts expended . . . are deemed not an expenditure . . .’ This self-contradictory language defies both common understanding and reason.”

At the insistence of Mayor Rybak, the Minneapolis city attorney issued an opinion on May 21 that said the sales tax was not a Minneapolis tax but a tax imposed on the city by the state. But, as Karen Marty explains, “That conclusion ignores the specific language in the new stadium law, which indicates that the sales tax is a ‘City of Minneapolis Sales Tax’ (Article 3, Section 1 title), and the sales taxes in question are ‘the sales taxes imposed by the city [of Minneapolis] under the special [1986 sales tax] law.’ (Article 3, Section 1, subd. 2(d)). The sales tax revenues must be remitted to the city, except that a portion is deducted to directly pay the city’s share of the stadium costs.”

So, it seems clear that the City Council has violated its charter in agreeing to spend as much as $890 million on a new Vikings football stadium without submitting that question to the voters.

What can be done about it?

The most obvious course of action would be to hire a lawyer to file a Writ of Mandamus in District Court ordering the City Council to follow its charter and submit the question of city tax money going to pay for a sports stadium to the voters of Minneapolis in the next general election in November.

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