UPDATED: Senate leader says stadium bill can come back
ST. PAUL -- A Vikings stadium construction debate in a Senate committee ended abruptly this afternoon when questions began piling up about the bill, but the Senate majority leader said that time remains to fix the problems.
"By no means is Senate leadership stalling the bill," Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said minutes after Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said GOP leaders were using underhanded tactics to kill the stadium proposal.
House speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said that it still is too early to say if he would help move the stadium plan along.
The primary problem among senators is whether a plan will work to use pulltab and bingo tax revenue to finance repaying a stadium loan.
Senjem said he shares that concern, even though he co-sponsors the bill.
Gov. Mark Dayton and stadium bill authors Rep. Morrie Lanning and Sen. Julie Rosen said the bill will not be successful this year without help from legislative leadership.
"Whether you're for or against a stadium, we need a decision," Lanning, R-Moorhead, said.
"If somebody doesn't like our source of revenue, then what is their idea?" Dayton asked.
Zellers said it is still too early to tell whether the rules will need to be altered to pass the stadium bill this year.
To meet a legislative deadline, a bill should pass at least one committee this week. Today's decision not to vote on the measure in the Senate local government committees makes it harder to pass by the end of the day Friday.
One concern Zellers and senators discussed was what would happen if expanding pulltab and bingo games with electronic devices does not bring in enough revenue to pay for stadium. Zellers said if the backup plan involves general fund money, it will be hard to get through.
Many senators on the committee Wednesday were not satisfied with the stadium funding source, prompting Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, to move to lay the bill over. Chairman Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, said he will wait until Rosen can get the questions answered before calling a new meeting.
Rosen said she hopes to work with opponents quickly enough that a new meeting can be held in the next couple of days.
If there is no vote by Friday, the bill will have missed the legislative deadline and would need special permission to continue.
The biggest factor in suspending debate was over the accuracy of Revenue Department's estimate that the state would receive $62 million a year from allowing pulltab and bingo games used by charitable fundraisers to use electronic devices. The organization representing charities doubts the estimate.
"It wasn't quite ready yet," Vandeveer said of the bill.
Others said Vandeveer's committee was evenly divided.
Rosen said that part of the problem was that the 70-page bill only was made available in recent days, so many committee members had little time to look at it before today's meeting.
She promised "a lot of discussions" this week to fix the bill.
"It's imperative to this governor and this Legislature to get this done," she said.
Vice President Lester Bagley of the Vikings said he thought the stadium bill still could be wrapped up soon.
"We do feel like there is a opportunity to get this done this year," he said. "Clearly, there are some questions."
Negotiations will continue, he said, adding that "it is too early to say what's next" if the stadium fails this year.
Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park, was critical of using gambling to fund a stadium.
"This gambling revenue is a tax and one of the most regressive taxes we could offer," he said, adding that it also is undependable.
Rosen told Kruse that she and other stadium supporters are working on a backup plan in case pulltab and bingo revenues fall short. However, she said that she thinks the Revenue Department estimate is accurate.
One backup plan Rosen said is being considered would place fees on sports-related activities. That could kick in, she said, if the gambling revenue falters.