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New Senate stadium plan includes user fees

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Senate is debating a Vikings stadium funding bill that mixes user fees with gambling taxes as a financing plan.

Senators began the debate at 12:50 p.m., nearly four hours late. They planned to be at it for hours.

"It is an issue that has been put on our lap," bill author Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said, adding that her plan is "the best stadium bill we have had to date."

She immediately got her colleagues to amend the bill to include user fees.

The proposal, which differs from a House-passed bill, would charge a 10 percent fee on suites and parking within a half mile of the stadium on game days. A 6.875 percent fee would be tacked onto National Football League memorabilia sold at the stadium.

Also, the Rosen bill would require the state lottery to conduct a sports-based game to generate at least $2.1 million a year.

Rosen said her bill maintains legislative priorities: no general ax increase, respect existing agreement with the American Indian community, no funds will come from general state taxes and a local partner is needed.

"This is the people's bill," Rosen said.

"This is the two-minute warning," Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said. "I think the question in front of us today and maybe tonight is: Do you want to keep an NFL franchise?"

Gov. Mark Dayton and other stadium supporters say it is likely the Vikings would be sold the leave Minnesota if no stadium is approved. The team says it cannot make enough money in the Metrodome.

"The Vikings bring us together like, really, nothing else does," Michel said, adding: "I don't want to cheer for the Green Bay Packers."

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said Minnesota does not need the all-time best sports facility in history.

"We are pushing the envelope," he said.

The team's $427 million contribution to construction costs easily could be covered by stadium naming rights and suite charges, Marty said, wondering why the state should build a stadium.

The Rosen bill would fund a 65,000-seat roofed stadium, expandable to 72,000 seats, on the current Metrodome site.

The Rosen plan allows the state to collect naming rights of a plaza around the stadium, with profits used for amateur sports.

The Senate bill and one the House passed 73-58 late Monday after an eight-and-a-half-hour debate are more similar than different, but those differences could create problems when negotiators try to work out differences.

The big difference came in a House amendment offered by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, that upped the Vikings' responsibility for stadium construction costs $105 million.

The Vikings say they cannot accept paying $532 million after saying for weeks that $427 million was as high as they would go for the publically owned stadium.

Also, the House bill now requires stadium naming-rights profits to be split between the team and the state.

The two bills also differ in how much charitable gambling taxes the state would get. The House bill evenly splits an estimated $72 million a year in new taxes that are expected if electronic pull tab and bingo games are allowed; senators considered a bill giving the state $59 million and charities $13 million.

The Senate plan makes it a public responsibility to pay for any construction and operating cost overruns, but the House votes to force the team to pay those costs.

The House and Senate versions agree that the stadium will cost $975 million, have a roof and be used for events ranging from concerts to amateur sports.

Both bills require the Vikings to sign a 40-year lease.