Stadium bill sacked at Capitol

A House committee voted 10-9 to reject a Vikings stadium plan, meaning the issue is just about dead for this session.

The Vikings' push for a new stadium came to an abrupt halt Wednesday when a House committee, led by a chairman critical of the proposal and last-minute maneuvering to get it passed, left the plan for dead.

While the decision and a related Senate vote left open a slight possibility that the project could be revived, even the stadium's most enthusiastic legislative supporters left the meeting with glum faces after the 10-9 vote by the House state and local government operations committee. Outside the hearing room, wearing a team jersey and cap, Vikings fan Larry Spooner summed up the team's frustration: "Ten to 9? I want a 'do-over.'"

But the stadium's problems were larger than the panel's razor-thin vote suggested.

Ever since the proposal was introduced Monday, critics complained that it had been put together too hastily, was fundamentally flawed and did not have the backing of the State Capitol's biggest players, including Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said the Minnesota Supreme Court's much-anticipated ruling on unallotment, released Wednesday while the House committee was moving toward a vote and driving home the state's larger budget dilemma, may have affected the outcome.

"[The vote] makes it more difficult," said Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, the plan's chief House author. "If nothing else, we started the conversation." Solberg said he had not decided whether to try to resurrect the proposal but added that "I'm not going to do anything funny, or anything like that. I respect the system."

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, another supporter of the plan, said after the hearing that a stadium proposal now had less than a 5 percent chance of passing before legislators adjourn on May 17. Others, including House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, quickly dismissed the stadium, saying "It sells [news]papers, it leads the news, but we're balancing the state budget."

Rep. Tom Emmer, the Republican-endorsed gubernatorial candidate, was among the 10 legislators Wednesday who voted against the stadium plan.

Senate panel OKs a plan

A Senate panel, meanwhile, took a different path Wednesday in trying to keep the stadium plan alive, but that approach also raised questions.

Hours after the House committee's vote on the original plan, the Senate State Government Operations and Oversight Committee voted to raise money by selling personal seat licenses to fans instead of relying on taxes or money from a new state lottery game.

Fans would pay an average of $8,000 for permanent rights to seats, with some choice spots costing $20,000, under the proposal by Sen. Rick Olseen, DFL-Harris. The measure passed the committee 9-3. The cost of season tickets would be on top of the seat licenses, according to Olseen.

He envisioned the seat licensing arrangement paying for two-thirds of the cost of a new stadium, with the Vikings picking up the remainder.

Olseen said an earlier proposal calling for a new lottery game to generate money had little support. "This kept the bill alive," he said.

But even Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, a major stadium supporter, was skeptical afterward that the seat-license plan would generate enough money. So was Bagley, who said the Twins looked into a similar arrangement for Target Field and concluded there was a market for selling only 3,000 seat licenses.

Tough time in House

With the team announcing that it would not renew its lease at the Metrodome in Minneapolis after the 2011 season, supporters had hoped that a stadium plan using public subsidies could move forward this year despite the state's budget problems. But proponents acknowledged that they had not introduced a formal plan until Monday in part because of internal disagreements over how to fund it.

With the House debating a major human services bill Tuesday evening, legislators didn't hold their first hearing on the plan until nearly 11 o'clock that night, before the House Local Government Division. Even then, supporters were changing significant portions literally as the testimony was underway. One provision, to use taxes on lodging, rental cars and National Football League merchandise, was discarded barely a day after it was announced at a Capitol news conference.

Vikings supporters ran into another hurdle, with Minneapolis officials balking at using taxes now being collected to pay for the city's convention center to help fund the stadium. Though proponents said the money would not be diverted until the convention center was paid for, City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden told the panel that doing so "cuts off our ability to fully support the convention center [future maintenance], and that's our great concern."

In a sign of the deadline pressure the stadium plan was facing, Glidden's testimony was cut off by legislators who wanted an immediate vote because House rules prevented the panel from meeting past midnight. "We have to take the vote," committee Chairman Mike Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told Glidden just before midnight Tuesday. The panel approved the plan 6-4.

But the chairman of the committee that took up the bill on Wednesday, Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, was clearly upset with having to give it a hearing at all, and at one point said he was only doing so after being asked by DFL House leaders. In the hearing's most dramatic moment, Pelowski repeatedly questioned Bagley, asking whether Minneapolis officials supported the plan to use the convention center tax for the stadium.

"Can you tell me has Minneapolis ... agreed to have the stadium and the taxes?" asked Pelowski.

When Bagley said the city could give that answer, Pelowski interrupted:  "I would like the question to be answered by you."

After Wednesday's hearing, Nelson paused when asked about the stadium's remaining chances before the Legislature adjourns in less than two weeks. "I guess there's plenty of time left in session.  Nothing's dead until [we adjourn]," he said. "This is a setback, yeah." • 651-222-1673 • 651-222-1210

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