Saying that they had the only Minnesota Vikings stadium plan that could pass the Legislature, three Republican senators offered a plan Thursday that would limit any direct public subsidy to the team to a $300 million loan.
The proposal -- which the Vikings and Gov. Mark Dayton quickly dismissed -- took the stadium debate at the state Capitol in an entirely different direction: Arguing that the team should only be offered minimal assistance and nothing beyond what other businesses could expect.
The three senators, led by Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said that the state should not be involved in whether the stadium had “gold-plated tile” and needed to cost $1 billion.
The Legislature “shouldn’t have an interest in whether they build a stadium with a roof or astro-turf, or how many suites they have, or whether it’s in Ramsey County,” said Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, a co-author of the proposal. “Those are things that the business itself ought to work out with local communities who have interest in hosting that site.”
But the plan had one new caveat: The proposal also called for a phase out beginning in 2014 of the statewide business property tax.
Chamberlain however denied that his support for any stadium plan was tied to the elimination of the statewide business property tax. “It’s not a price of a vote – that is spinning things out of control,” Chamberlain said in responding to a reporter’s question at a Thursday press conference. “Does it have to be in the bill? We would like to see it there.”
The senators suggested that eliminating the tax could be an incentive for businesses to financially partner with the Vikings on a new stadium.
Dayton, who wants the state more involved financially in a Vikings stadium, almost immediately criticized the Republicans' proposal, saying eliminating the statewide business property tax would almost certainly mean higher taxes for most other Minnesotans.
"If they now eliminated all the property taxes that businesses pay, everyone else's property taxes would inevitably increase," the governor said in a statement.
Chamberlain and Hann said the cost of the stadium would be left to the Vikings and the business community, and that the state loan would be repaid with user fees generated by the project. Chamberlain, a freshman state senator who was recently named as an assistant Senate majority leader, said one scenario called for a 10 percent user fee tax and added that a $300 million loan, at 5.9 percent interest, could generate $23 million annually.
The three senators however said that the loan amount could be more or less than $300 million, depending on what the Vikings wanted. “The $300 million can go up or down,” said Chamberlain. “The Vikings can spend as much, or as little, as they want” on a new stadium.
The proposal would also give the stadium a sales tax exemption for construction materials, and "an appropriation for infrastructure improvements."
It was unclear Thursday whether the proposal reflected the overall mood of Senate Republicans, who hold a majority. Senate Majority Leader David Senjem said the plan not only captured a feeling that a Vikings stadium should not include state general fund money, but also should not be funded with gambling money.
"So it carries it, probably what typically might be said, a step further," said Senjem. "It's a noble attempt to make this thing work under a free-market approach. Whether it can or not, I don't know."
Senjem however said that the proposal to eliminate the statewide business property tax did reflect a Republican priority. "We'd all be in favor of that for either this reason or other reasons," he said. "I suppose the question is, if we did that, would there be a voluntary participation coming back from the business community in Minnesota to fund a stadium. I don't know."
But the three senators, who were joined by Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines, said the proposal’s main motive was to change the focus of the Vikings stadium debate.
“We’ve been through a number of decades of, really, stadium funding wars in Minnesota,” said Runbeck. “We’ve had, I think, at least four governors that I can remember who have never said to the private sector, ‘This is for you, why don’t you step up?’
“We have not seen any proposal, so far, in either the House or Senate that appears likely to succeed,” she added. “There aren’t enough votes.”
The plan came one day after Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, introduced his own plan to build a Vikings stadium in Ramsey County’s Arden Hills and use electronic bingo and pull tab revenue to help the state fund the project.
With the Legislature scheduled to adjourn in late April, Dayton, the team and the city of Minneapolis have meanwhile been working on a plan to build a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis at or near the Metrodome, the team’s 30-year home.
Despite almost daily headlines surrounding that effort, no proposal has been announced.
Their tentative plan would also use electronic bingo and pull tab revenue – and both Chamberlain and Hann said Thursday any proposal pairing gambling money and a stadium was almost sure to fail at the state Capitol.
“We’ve been hearing that for five months -- that ‘we’re going to have a bill next week,’ “ Hann said of the effort being led by the governor.