Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


MN Senate’s discussion of violating the Minneapolis City Charter for a Vikings stadium

Amendments during the Senate Vikings stadium debate led to an interesting discussion over whether the state should force Minneapolis to spend sales taxes raised in Minneapolis on a Vikings stadium.

Back on May 8th, the Minnesota Senate passed the Vikings stadium bill during a marathon session where dozens of amendments were proposed in order to fix the poorly negotiated bill. One of the changes to the bill that received a lot of debate was an amendment Sen. John Marty (DFL) added to the bill which stated that MN would not violate any local charters as part of the bill. This was a good deal for Minneapolis taxpayers since it protects taxpayers from spending more than $10 million without a vote as the city charter requires.

But, Sen. Carla Nelson from Rochester (R) later proposed an amendment to Marty’s amendment to basically undo the language Marty proposed (and was voted into the bill).

That led to an interesting debate over whether the state should force Minneapolis to spend sales taxes raised in Minneapolis on a Vikings stadium.

Sen. Nienow argued against bypassing the city charter:

“You’re telling the people of Minneapolis that your voice doesn’t matter. We don’t care what you said with your referendum. That silly little voter that you took doesn’t mean anything. And, we’re going to vacate it. That’s what this amendment does, members. This is a horrible amendment. Please vote it down.”

Sen. Marty, in addition to pointing out that Sen. Nelson’s amendment strips out the language Marty had previously managed to get into the bill to protect Minneapolis taxpayers, explained the ridiculousness of Minneapolis City Council members asking the state to impose Vikings stadium financing upon the city so the city can spend money while being able to pass blame to the state:

The City Council says it’s not them that are imposing it. They’re coming to the Capital and asking us to impose it. And then they’re saying “we didn’t impose it so it’s not our spending.”

Senator Limmer points out that the state may impose local sales taxes, but it cannot do so without local approval.

We do not have the ability to impose a local options sales tax, for instance, without the public of that local subdivision approving it.

Senator Julie Rosen, the Vikings stadium bill author, took to the mic to mislead her colleagues about the terms of the Minneapolis charter:

We have to remember: a reason for a referendum is when there is an increase in taxes. There is no increase in taxes, members.

Rosen also calls the Minneapolis charter provision protecting taxpayers from spending more than $10 million on a pro sports stadium without a vote “antiquated”. That became law in 1997.

Rosen goes on to say that it’s smart that the state is forcing Minneapolis to spend the city’s money on a Vikings stadium rather than letting them spend it on “whatever they’d like to use it for”.

Senator Marty corrects Senator Rosen:

The Minneapolis charter provision that we’re talking about does not mention tax increases. It prohibits spending $10 million or more on pro sports facilities.

Marty goes on to clarify that Senator Nelson’s amendment to Marty’s amendment would strip out the language that respects the Minneapolis City Charter.

Senator Nienow steps back to the mic to clarify that Senator Nelson’s amendment would override the city charter:

This tells voters “you don’t matter. Your voice doesn’t matter.” This antiquated provision is younger than the Metrodome. “You didn’t have enough smarts to index it for inflation. You know what? That may have been their intent.

Make no mistake. If you vote for this amendment, you’re telling the residents of Minneapolis that their voice is irrelevant. That’s terrible.

After a few more rounds, Senator Nienow came back to the mic to once again tell members that the charter will be overridden if Senator Nelson’s amendment passes.

Let me read to you what will be removed if we adopt this amendment. “Any relevant provision or provisions must be followed and must not be preempted, overridden or waved.” That language will be removed.

If you vote for this amendment. You are voting to vacate the Minneapolis charter. You are voting to ignore the voice of the people. You’re saying “we know better than you. You weren’t smart enough to write your charter the right way. We need to vacate it for you. We need to take away those rules that you asked for. It’s inconvenient that it exists for us (never mind that you wanted it).” And that is just wrong.

Things get interesting at 1:50 into that clip when Senator Carla Nelson objects to how Sen. Nienow describes her attempt to wipe out Senator Marty’s “honor the charter” amendment.

In the end, Senator Nelson’s amendment to Senator Marty’s amendment passed, thus modifying the bill to override rather than respect the city charter. Why a Republican from Rochester would do that is beyond me, but that’s what Sen. Nelson accomplished.

Clearly, a vote by Minneapolis City Council members to approve the Vikings stadium bill is a vote to override the city’s charter. City Council members, who’ve been elected by voters, should respect the actions voters took when they voted overwhelmingly in favor of amending the city charter to require a referendum on pro sports stadium spending of $10 million or more.

This post was written by Ed Kohler and originally published on The Deets. Follow Ed on Twitter: @edkohler.

If you blog and would like your work considered for Minnesota Blog Cabin, please submit our registration form.