ST. PAUL - In a test of the Legislature's willingness to help the Minnesota Vikings build a new stadium, lawmakers sent a strong signal Wednesday that they weren't interested.
The state Senate — where stadium drives have typically fared better than in the House — stripped authorization for a $2 million stadium study from a larger tax bill. The 41-22 vote showed broad opposition from both parties.
"It's beginning the first step of putting public money into a new professional football stadium for a private owner who's not hurting," said Sen. John Marty, the Roseville Democrat who pushed to nix the study.
Legislators have less of an appetite for professional sports arenas than they did two years ago, when they approved a new Twins ballpark and a University of Minnesota Gophers football stadium. Those venues are now going up, but the state faces a $935 million budget deficit and the makeup of both houses has changed.
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said the vote was a letdown.
"We're disappointed with the signal it sends to the Vikings, to the ownership and to the NFL," he said.
Bagley said he understands the sensitivity about the $954 million stadium proposal when the state has a deficit, but noted that the team has only 40 games remaining under their Metrodome lease, which runs through 2011. He said the Metrodome won't work for the Vikings over the long run.
The rejected measure would have required the team and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission to come up with a plan for a retractable-roof stadium on the Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis, including how to pay for it. Their deadline would have been Jan. 15.
The commission and the team would have split the cost of the study.
Senate Taxes Committee Chairman Tom Bakk said lawmakers are going to have to grapple with the issue at some point, so they might as well know their options.
"We might throw it all in the wastebasket," said Bakk, DFL-Cook. "Somebody has to have done some preliminary work about what the cost is. The Sports Commission seems like the most appropriate authority to do that work for us."
But Sen. Julianne Ortman said the Jan. 15 deadline was meant to position the team to push for a package at the start of next year's legislative session.
"It turns up the pressure valve," said Ortman, R-Chanhassen.
Roy Terwilliger, chairman of the sports commission, said the panel will analyze the action before deciding how to proceed.
"I'm surprised," he said of the Senate vote. "I looked at it simply as a matter of saying we'd gather information."
The Vikings study was removed from a larger tax bill that touched off debates about business taxes, subsidies and even immigration. The Senate gave it 40-27 backing.
The bill would close off the JOBZ program of rural business tax breaks to new applicants as of May 1. It would also authorize an array of Bloomington sales taxes for a parking ramp serving the proposed Mall of America expansion. Bids to reinstate JOBZ and strip out the shopping center aid failed.
Bakk said the shopping center expansion would make the Mall of America the world's biggest mall again, while employing 7,000 construction workers and 7,000 mall workers and pumping new taxes into the state's accounts.