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Area lawmakers contemplate plan for new football stadium

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news Bemidji, 56619

Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The $975 million agreement announced a week ago by Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders to build a new Minnesota Vikings stadium still remains foggy as legislators wait to see the bill, which was finally released Friday.

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The basic deal calls for construction of a new stadium primarily used by the Vikings but geared for multi-use, such as separately, and to be built next to the current facility in order to allow the Vikings to continue using the Metrodome for all but one season of construction, with that played in TCF Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

Key to the agreement is a $398 million contribution from the state of Minnesota, up from $300 million Dayton put on the table a year ago. The funding would not come from general taxes, however, but from an updated electronic pulltab system, modernizing the charitable gaming paper system. The Minnesota Vikings will be required to contribute over 50 percent of the construction costs and sign a lease requiring the team to play in the stadium for the next 30 years.

But while the 13-page agreement issued by Dayton and legislative leaders on March 2 appeared to be final, most lawmakers wanted to wait until they saw a bill before offering their opinions on it. Legislative leaders were to have spent last weekend hacking out the fine details before submitting a bill Monday. Monday came and went, however without a bill.

"I think it will be interesting, I look forward to seeing the bill and to see if that modernization of pulltabs will actually raise enough money," said Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji. The proposal calls for no new state tax revenue, but would use the electronic pulltab revenue which would be expanded to include bingo. "There's still some question about that."

Before seeing the bill, legislators had more questions this week about the details that they will need answered before voting.

"It still might be a little bit premature," said Carlson. "It leaves a lot of unanswered questions until we see the bill."

So many questions remain. Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, thinks that there is a 60/40 chance of the final bill failing. Howes figures he will have four shots at the bill by serving on panels that potentially could debate a stadium bill, including in the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee, which is the last panel to hear the bill before going to the House floor.

He plans to call a hearing on the matter before the House Capital Investment Committee, which he chairs, even if no stadium bonding is requested. Even if no direct state funding is involved, construction funding will be backed by "the full faith and credit" of the state of Minnesota, meaning taxpayer dollars, Howes says.

"The bonds the state will let to pay the state's share are going to be revenue bonds using gambling money," said Howes. "But those bonds still have the full faith and credit of the state of Minnesota. So my question is if gambling does not pan out the way they think and it falls short, where does the money come from other than the general fund."

Howes also wonders if the stadium bill would need to pass by a majority 68 votes in the House or, if considered a bonding matter, it would need the super majority 81 votes to pass. "No one has given me an answer on that yet, because everyone wants to see the bill first." He remains pessimistic about passing this bill because of the large array of details yet unknown. "How many people are opposed to the expansion of gambling, even though the reservations say they will be neutral on this? That adds to the opposition because people don't want to expand gambling."

And, he said, is the effort diverting any funding away from charitable activities such as youth hockey or soccer, upon which no legislators will vote for.

State Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, also remains cautious, wanting to know more about the proposal to use electronic charitable gambling proceeds toward stadium construction. The user fee, not state taxes, should be used but is this the right user fee, he asks

"Most Minnesotans, including me, want the Vikings to stay here," Persell said in a written statement to the Pioneer. "However, it is my opinion that a majority of the public financing portion of the stadium come from user pay through, for example, fees and taxes on alcohol and ticket sales. This is especially important now as we need all of our general fund dollars for education and taking care of our elders.

"It is prudent that whichever stadium plan is put forth be a multipurpose facility. I do have concerns about the expansion of gambling in order to finance any stadium option. So while I am pleased that the latest proposal takes advantage of a multipurpose concept and does not use general fund dollars, I believe it is only reasonable to carefully examine the use of electronic or any other expansion of gambling before making a decision," Persell said.

Carlson said he would not vote for a bill that would diminish funding to charitable organizations. "I certainly wouldn't be in favor of doing anything that would take money away from the charities that they already experience with the regular pulltabs.

"It's too early for me to make any commitments until I actually see the bill," said Carlson.

Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, and Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji, did not return email requests for interviews/email statements.

BRAD SWENSON is the retired political editor of the Pioneer. He can be reached at bswenson@paulbunyan.net

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