Stadium bill survives tough committee fight
ST. PAUL - A Vikings stadium construction plan will receive a full Senate vote after what its Senate author described as a brutal Friday committee hearing lasting more than five hours.
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said she expects the plan to pass the Senate, which may take it up Sunday.
"We fought back a lot of lousy amendments," Rosen said.
One of those proposed amendments was by Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, who ended up as the swing vote that allowed the Senate Tax Committee to approve the stadium bill 7-6.
"It needs a lot of work," Howe said, an indication that the bill faces a long debate in the Senate.
Rosen said the big news of the night was that the committee removed an amendment that would have added casinos at the state's two horse-racing tracks to the stadium funding scheme. The so-called racino plan, she said, would have killed the stadium.
The Friday night vote means stadium-construction bills await full House and Senate votes after the National Football League team has tried for a decade to convince state leaders to approve a new stadium. Without a new stadium, Gov. Mark Dayton and other state leaders say, the team will leave Minnesota.
Much of the debate Friday night was like that heard for years: how to finance a stadium.
Several senators offered plans to pay for the stadium project with user fees, but all were rejected.
"This puts an entire business agreement in jeopardy," Rosen said of a user fee proposal, adding it would have drained Vikings profits.
Howe said that senators do not have to accept a preliminary agreement among some state officials, the Vikings and Minneapolis. "It doesn't necessarily have to be preordained. If we put something out there, everyone doesn't have to be happy about it."
The debate led the committee down a confusing path. On a voice vote, members agreed to recess until more information was available on the user fee plan. But Chairwoman Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, called the committee back just a few moments later, before any more information was available.
Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans said he could get the requested information "in a few days," knowing that legislative leaders want to adjourn for the year Monday.
Rosen's comments about the problems with user fees came after Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and others suggested funding plans for stadium construction such as taxing advertising, concessions, memorabilia, tickets and more.
"I think everybody that goes to a game is willing to help pay for a stadium," Bakk said.
Howe took the concept a step further.
"The users of this facility should pay for it," he said, proposing a plan that would be completely user-financed, eliminating the preferred funding method of charitable gambling taxes.
Opponents of the current plan, which would allow for electronic pulltabs and bingo to bring in more taxes, have cited concerns about expanded gambling. Others questioned whether gambling would bring in enough funds.
"Gambling is not a very consistent source of revenue. It never has been," Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, said.
Plans for stadium funding Rosen and Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, propose pay for the state's $398 million portion of the construction costs by allowing for the electronic gaming devices.
Rosen and other supporters said the estimated funds from electronic gaming are very conservative.
A similar bill awaits a House vote, which has not been scheduled. The Legislature might miss a deadline as bill discussions continue.
"It's beginning to look more and more likely that we can't be done Monday," Lanning said, referring to lawmakers' goal of wrapping up the session then.
Even if the House and Senate can pass their own versions of the bill soon, the two will have to be combined, and they have significant differences.
Lanning said he is "reasonably optimistic" he has enough votes for a stadium to pass the House.
The House is expected to meet Saturday afternoon. Whenever the House and Senate take up the stadium bill, debates could last 12 hours.
The $975 million stadium is the largest single-project bill in Minnesota history, Ortman said.
Besides the state's contribution, the Vikings and other private sources would pay $427 million and Minneapolis would add $150 million for the stadium, which would be built on the current Metrodome site in Minneapolis.
Supporters pointed out that the stadium would be owned by the state and used for more than Vikings games.
"The purpose of this building is multi-faceted," Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said.
"This bill doesn't seem like it's ready for primetime yet," Hoffman said, especially when it comes to discussions with St. Paul, which is asking for financial help for its sports facilities.
St. Paul lawmakers have argued their city should get help with its debt and sports facilities.
Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said the stadium deal is "a windfall for Minneapolis" and offered a failed amendment stripping Target Center aid.
Rosen's bill provides $1.3 million a year for 20 years for St. Paul, which she said is a "placeholder" while negotiations between St. Paul and Dayton continue.
"To put a placeholder in here without a deal in place seems a little irresponsible," Hoffman argued.
An amendment by Skoe that would extend a tax credits for construction projects in Bloomington was added to the bill by the committee.
The extension will allow for funding to lower a street near Mall of America and complete work at Bloomington light rail station. Skoe said it would provide for almost $2 billion in construction and will help projects planned for the area.
"I saw this as a vehicle to get this done," Skoe said of amending it on to the Vikings bill.
He said the plan has been discussed before and is not controversial.
Rosen, however, said the Skoe provision probably will have to come out of the bill before it can pass.