Editorial: A misguided GOP stadium ploy

  • Updated: May 2, 2012 - 8:51 PM

Plan to use bonding needs a lot of work in a short time period.

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GOP legislative leaders rattled Capitol calm and riled DFL Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday with a new plan for a roofless Vikings stadium financed with general obligation bonds -- that is, backed by state sales and income taxes.

But after a closed-door leadership meeting Wednesday afternoon, enough equanimity had been restored for lawmakers of both parties to voice at least some willingness to examine elements of the unexpected, 11th-hour idea.

This is a diversion from usual lawmaking procedures that stadium backers do not welcome, and for good reason. A fully vetted bill with bipartisan sponsorship -- the product of many months of painstaking negotiations and backed by key stakeholders -- sits ready for a vote on the House and Senate floors.

The emergence of a new funding concept appears to represent a tacit admission that GOP leaders cannot or will not find enough votes to pass that bill.

If that's unalterably so, the new GOP idea must be considered with both thoroughness and speed. It's very late in the lawmaking season to upend a major bill and replace it with an idea as freshly concocted and poorly understood as the one Republicans propose.

The state Constitution requires adjournment by May 21. To rank as a serious alternative to the bill that has already traversed through seven committees, the GOP leaders' version needs a lot of work.

The most soothing message Wednesday from the new idea's chief architect, House Majority Leader Matt Dean, was that "a roof is required." General obligation bonds must be used for public-purpose facilities, legislators explained. To qualify, a new football stadium would have to be available for use by more than the Minnesota Vikings.

What's more, to be the "People's Stadium" that Dayton has sought since Day 1, it must be available year-round. As Art Rooney II, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and head of the NFL's stadium committee, said during an April 20 visit with the Star Tribune Editorial Board, an enclosed Vikings stadium would be able to host a Super Bowl and other major events that his roofless Heinz Field in Pittsburgh cannot.

More reassuring words are needed from GOP leaders in coming days for their idea to gain traction. They ought to schedule public committee hearings, to avoid the mistakes that are too common when public input is insufficient.

They need to engage the putative host city, Minneapolis, whose participation to the tune of $150 million is a crucial piece of the new facility's financing. Their failure to do so before going public on Tuesday needlessly raised hackles.

They need to better explain what revenue stream would pay for the general obligation bonds they propose to issue for a stadium. Antipathy for using gambling revenue to finance the project, as the already vetted bill would, is one reason for the GOP desire for a change.

Gambling is not this newspaper's favorite funding source, either. But do Republicans mean to replace new revenue from electronic pulltabs and allow stadium debt service to come from the general fund at the expense of schools, nursing homes and all the other projects it finances?

They refused to say on Wednesday. They can expect stiff DFL resistance if they do.

Republican leaders also need to exhibit more capacity to function in a bipartisan fashion than they've shown to date. Adding stadium provisions to the bonding bill means securing a 60 percent supermajority for the project. DFL votes will be required.

To win them, Republicans have to overcome a freshly generated partisan rift. On Monday evening, Dayton sent Republicans a tax bill offer, following up on talks begun Monday afternoon.

The House GOP response Tuesday morning was to break off talks and pass its version of the tax bill on a near-party-line vote. That kind of dealing won't get a stadium built, or keep the Vikings in Minnesota.

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  • THE VALUE OF A STADIUM ROOF


    "The one decision that's been made here that's worth pointing out that we didn't make in Pittsburgh -- and look, we're very happy with our stadium, it works well for us -- but the decision was made here [in Minnesota] to put a roof on the stadium. And for a community that means a lot of things."


    -Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II, from an April 20 meeting with the Star Tribune Editorial Board

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