Doug Belden, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn. –
The Vikings stadium cleared two hurdles at the state Capitol and Minneapolis City Hall.
City Council, on a 7-6 vote the evening of Tuesday, April 24, voted a measure supporting the stadium proposal. The vote followed several hours of public testimony from residents on both sides of the debate.
Earlier Tuesday, the state Senate Jobs and Economic Growth committee moved the proposal forward on a voice vote. It will now go before the Finance committee and, if approved there, could end up on the Senate floor for a vote by week’s end.
The House version of the $975 million stadium proposal has cleared committees and could get a floor vote as early as Wednesday. Monday night on divided voice vote – which means the members’ votes weren’t recorded – the House Ways and Means Committee moved the bill forward to the House floor without recommendation.
Getting an up-or-down floor vote in both chambers is what Gov. Mark Dayton and other stadium backers have been asking for all session, so Monday’s developments were a significant step.
The process has seemed to pick up momentum since the visit Friday of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who urged Dayton and legislative leaders to reach a deal this session or risk losing the team.
But getting enough votes on the floor to pass it – 68 in the House and 34 in the Senate – is a whole new challenge.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said last week he would expect to get 12 Democrats to vote for the bill, the
same number of Republicans who voted for the Twins stadium in 2006.
But Senate GOP spokesman Steve Sviggum said Monday his expectation is each party would put up 17 – half of the number needed to pass the bill.
“Twelve Democrats would not be enough to pass the bill,” Sviggum said. “It’s certainly going to be 50-50, or it ain’t going to be.”
The stadium bill has had an up-and-down path in the House.
A week before Monday’s vote, a different committee rejected the bill. Then Thursday, the Taxes Committee approved a charitable gambling bill that was envisioned as a potential vehicle to allow the stadium bill to come back to life.
That’s what happened Monday.
The Ways and Means Committee started considering a bill that would authorize electronic charitable pull-tab and bingo gaming.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, offered an amendment, adding to the gaming bill a revised version of his stadium proposal, which was rejected last week.
The amended bill was passed, but not without significant opposition.
Several Democrats pushed for details on the social and other indirect costs of the gambling portion of the bill, in which tax revenues from the new electronic forms of gaming would be used to pay the state’s share of the stadium project.
“I would like to know what this is really going to cost the state of Minnesota, and what I’ve heard so far is, ‘We don’t know,'” said Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth.
Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, questioned the revenue assumptions from the electronic forms of gaming.
“We don’t have any proof that this works,” he said. “These do not exist anywhere.”
The sponsor of the gaming bill, Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said just because other states don’t do it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.
“With that kind of logic we’re just going to be stuck forever,” he said. “We have to get innovative with something like this.”
Lanning said state gambling and revenue officials have said the estimates are reliable, and even conservative. Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans confirmed that.
The bill relies on $16 million in revenue for the state from sports-themed tipboards, which Dayton has argued are not allowed under federal law.
Frans said that’s still the governor’s position, but that if the sports-themed tipboard provision could be written in a way that could survive legal challenge, the administration is willing to look at it.
Hackbarth predicted the cost of the state’s portion is going to wind up on the backs of Minnesotans.
“You have to have a bill that works, Representative Lanning, and this bill doesn’t work,” he said.
Lanning’s revised stadium bill strips out language that exempted the project from a charter requirement in Minneapolis
calling for a public referendum on any expenditure of more than $10 million for a sports stadium.
Even without that language, the project does not trigger the charter’s requirement for a referendum because the sales tax money in question is under the control of the state, not the city, said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.
Does that mean we should count the $150 million said to be contributed by Minneapolis to the stadium project as part of the state’s portion instead? asked Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina.
“It seems like we kind of want to have it both ways,” he said.
Rybak said even though the sales tax money is under the control of the state, residents of Minneapolis still consider it as their contribution.
Lanning said that if the state approves the stadium bill and the governor signs it, the city council will still need to take another vote to authorize the project.
He said he expects the bill will hit the House floor later this week.
The $975 million proposal would put a new Vikings stadium on the site of the team’s current home at the Metrodome.
The state would kick in $398 million from tax revenue derived from the new electronic gaming; the team would put up $427 million, much of it from an NFL loan and naming rights revenue; and the city would contribute $150 million from sales taxes currently used to support the convention center.
Earlier Monday, the stadium bill in the Senate was exempted from deadline requirements by the Rules and Administration Committee and forwarded to Jobs and Economic Growth, where it will be heard Tuesday morning.
Sviggum said he expects the bill could be on the Senate floor by Friday, or even as early as Thursday, assuming sufficient support in committee.
After the Jobs and Economic Growth panel, the bill would need to go to the Finance Committee.
Bakk said that because the bill includes sales tax exemptions related to the stadium project, it should be reviewed in the Taxes Committee as well.
Taxes chair Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said her committee did not need to see the bill.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, offered to pull the sales tax exemption language to avoid review in Taxes.
The sales tax exemption language was pulled in the House version that Lanning presented Monday evening in Ways and Means.