Stadium kickoff set for Monday
ST. PAUL - It will be a Monday night football game like none other.
The Minnesota Legislature plans to finally debate a Vikings stadium plan Monday, a debate many predict to last 12 hours in each chamber. The $975 million facility is the single largest construction project state lawmakers ever have considered.
"The Vikings and the governor believe the votes are there," House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said Thursday in announcing the plan for a Monday vote.
However, in the past couple of days even some stadium supporters have doubted there are enough votes to pass the plan. If it fails, legislative leaders hint they could just go home for the year without another attempt.
Gov. Mark Dayton urged Minnesotans to contact their legislators to urge them to approve the plan, a discussion topic for a decade.
The vote will come on bills that have experienced roller-coaster rides through the legislative process.
One House committee defeated a stadium bill by Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, although it later was amended onto another bill in another committee. A bill by Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, remained stalled for weeks in a Senate committee.
A renewal came after Commissioner Roger Goodell of the National Football League visited with Dayton and legislative leaders, leaving them with the impression that the Vikings could leave Minnesota if no stadium is approved this year.
The Legislature took a bit of detour beginning Tuesday when Dayton caught wind of a plan pushed by House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, to dramatically reduce state stadium funding. After two straight days of bashing the plan, Dayton finally met with Dean and other legislative leaders Wednesday and said he would consider the Dean plan.
But on Thursday, Dean announced he would withdraw his idea because the concept of using general tax funds to repay stadium construction costs would not work. The main reason is that because of bond repayment schedules, the state could only hold the Vikings to a 15-year lease, half that what the original bill sought.
"We took our best shot," Dean said.
Zellers placed the responsibility on passing a stadium bill squarely on Dayton: "The fate of the stadium now is in the governor's hands."
"We have lived up to our obligation," Zellers added.
While Zellers said he will continue to oppose the bill, he promised not to "stand in the way" of anyone who wants to vote for it.
Dayton, who harshly criticized the plan the last two days, softened on Thursday.
"I am very pleased that the Republican legislative leaders have agreed to my request for up-or-down votes in both bodies on a new 'people's stadium' that would provide jobs for several thousand Minnesotans and keep the Vikings here," Dayton said in a statement. "Now everyone will be able to hold legislators accountable for that momentous decision."
Dayton said he will continue to push for the Lanning-Rosen plan and urged Minnesotans to urge their legislators to support it, too.
Zellers attacked Dayton harder than ever.
"At just about every turn ... our priorities have been ignored or disrespected," said Zellers, who normally has kind words for Dayton even when they disagree over policies.
During Monday's lengthy stadium debates, senators and representatives are expected to offer a multitude of proposed amendments. Some will be attempts to kill the bill, others to make the proposal more acceptable.
One of the biggest complaints has been the use of gambling revenue to repay stadium construction expenses.
Lanning, Rosen and a working group that put the bills together decided the best funding was to allow charities that sponsor pulltab and bingo games to expand with electronic devices. That was expected to provide enough revenue to fund the stadium, although backup finance plans also are provided in the bills.
Among optional funding sources is the use of user fees, such as taxing sports memorabilia, signs in the stadium and other related provisions.
A prime supporter of user fees, Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said the fee would be 10 percent for the first few years.
Even if the House and Senate pass bills Monday, they likely will be different. That would force a conference committee to meet to work out differences, a process that could take days.
The Lanning-Rosen plan would fund stadium construction with $398 million from the state, $150 million from Minneapolis and $427 million from the Vikings.
While stadium proponents prepared for Monday's debate, the Senate followed the House in passing 41-25 a tax-relief bill that is funded by taking money from the state budget reserve.
Dayton is expected to veto the bill, saying it is dangerous to drop the reserve.
"This bill spends money we do not have," Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said, adding that it would appropriate $150 million in what he called "deficit spending."
Republicans, however, said that it is a good bill to help reduce business expenses.