Except for a handful of forward-thinking legislators, key stakeholders in the Vikings stadium debate seem to be running away from a problem that is only going to get worse without leadership and compromise.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty is unwilling to support any financing plan that includes new taxes, even if they are targeted at sports fans and stadium users. Ditto the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. The city of Minneapolis, which is the most likely local partner, remains on the sidelines. Even the team, desperate for a stadium solution after years of debate, is playing games with just two weeks left in the legislative session and two seasons left on its Metrodome lease.
The only positive development on the stadium front is that even though a consensus-generating proposal remains elusive, there is a growing sense of urgency at the Capitol. But if that energy fails to produce a successful stadium bill during this legislative session, Minnesotans may one day look back on 2010 as the year the state lost its best chance to secure the Vikings for future generations.
State Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, who deserves praise for trying to find a solution, joined a bipartisan group of legislators Monday at a news conference held to release details of legislation that would build a $791 million stadium, financed with $264 million from the team and revenue from a mix of taxes on National Football League merchandise, rental cars and hotels, a new lottery game, and tax revenue now being used to fund the Minneapolis Convention Center -- or some or all of the above. In return, the team would have to sign a 40-year lease.
The fact that there are two financing proposals still in play this late in the game is a signal that the Vikings and their legislative supporters were unable to come up with a single, saleable approach. Instead, the legislation proposed Monday looked a lot like a last-ditch effort to see what might stick. "It's a great start,'' Vikings lobbyist Lester Bagley said after saying the team was committed to only a $210 million contribution and that the 40-year lease might be a problem. We're not sure how those objections figure into a "great start.''
Pawlenty, who said he was open to new ideas, didn't offer any. Instead, his spokesman said the governor would continue to oppose "any stadium plan that includes tax increases, including the hotel tax, jersey tax and rental car tax in one of the plans unveiled today.'' That would leave the alternative financing plan, which would create a new sports-themed lottery game -- something to which the governor has been receptive -- and require the city of Minneapolis to extend the sales tax now being used to partly fund the city's convention center. City officials have shown no interest -- or civic leadership -- in becoming the much-sought-after local partner for the Vikings.
Fresh off her DFL endorsement victory, gubernatorial candidate and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher didn't exactly embrace the legislation. "I don't think that I'm going to do anything extraordinary here for this bill,'' she said, referring to the "multitude'' of competing problems in the state. Her opponent, GOP endorsee and state Rep. Tom Emmer, has said he opposes using public money for stadiums, although he wasn't ready to take a position on the bill unveiled Monday.
The leadership vacuum is growing. Many of our key elected officials continue to talk about the state's having to do something to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, but few appear willing to join Bakk in finding a solution. The situation is yet another example of how politics is trumping policy in Minnesota today, leaving major challenges unresolved.
The Star Tribune, which owns property near the Metrodome, could benefit from a new stadium on the site. But this newspaper has been advocating for a stadium solution for years because the Editorial Board believes the Vikings are a valuable state asset and that the future of the franchise in Minnesota is in jeopardy. Without the National Football League, this would no longer be the major league market it is today -- a point made often by Fortune 500 CEOs and business leaders but seemingly lost on their state Chamber of Commerce.
The clock is running out on this legislative session and on the Vikings' Metrodome lease. Let's hope meaningful leadership surfaces in Minnesota before it's too late.