Legislators' letter details plan for roofed Vikings stadium

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 1, 2011 - 11:05 AM

A letter outlined plans for a roof and funding details to be introduced next week. The team called it a good start.

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Vikings stadium bill emerges

A new Minnesota Vikings stadium, including a roof, would be built with up to $300 million in state money raised from an assortment of new fees and taxes, under a plan that will be introduced at the Legislature next week.

The new details emerged late Thursday, when two leading Republican legislators sent a letter to their colleagues broadly outlining the public subsidy package for the project and told them that "the time has come to move forward on a bill."

The letter, along with a research paper describing the plan's highlights, says the state's share of the project -- at least $30 million a year -- would come from a variety of fees, including a sports memorabilia tax, stadium naming rights, a lottery game and a pro football player income tax surcharge.

Local governments could submit bids to host the new stadium and would be permitted to levy a half-cent sales tax to cover their costs in providing a stadium site.

In addition, Hennepin County would be permitted to use excess public subsidies from Target Field, the year-old home of the Minnesota Twins, and Minneapolis would have the option of diverting excess public subsidies from the city's convention center. Officials for both the city and county however have expressed a continuing reluctance to use those funds for a new football stadium.

The Vikings welcomed the bill as a good start, "a workable framework to negotiating a deal to secure the team and resolve the [stadium] issue," Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president for public affairs and stadium development, said on Thursday night. "We're encouraged, and we're appreciative of state leaders bringing the bill forward."

He said that the team is concerned about financing provisions that include the creation of a NFL player income-tax surcharge and a sales tax on luxury boxes, as well as a proposal to turn over stadium naming-rights revenues to the state -- as opposed to the team. The provisions could impact the Vikings' ability to compete in the Twin Cities market and in the NFL, Bagley said.

While not commenting specifically on the proposed bill, Katharine Tinucci, spokeswoman for Gov. Mark Dayton, reiterated Dayton's interest in building what he has called a "people's stadium," and not using any general fund dollars.

With 53 days left in the legislative session, the latest stadium developments came as evidence mounted that Republicans had been holding back on releasing the plan this week while legislative leaders in the GOP-dominated House and Senate pushed through far-reaching budget cuts to mitigate the state's looming $5 billion deficit.

"As we all know, the primary focus of this legislative session is to resolve the state's budget deficit and add jobs to improve Minnesota's economy," said a letter signed by Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the chief authors of the legislation. "Next week, the last of the omnibus budget bills will have been processed, and we will be ready to introduce the bill."

The proposal, the legislators assured colleagues, would not mean a state sales tax increase or the use of state general fund money. But some questioned if the new taxes would cover the state's share of the stadium.

Phil Krinkie, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and a former House Taxes Committee chair, said memorabilia taxes and other so-called "user fees" would generate relatively little money. A Vikings lottery game, he added, "generates next to nothing."

Krinkie said that finding a local government partner remained paramount for the project, but he said that Vikings supporters continued to incorrectly believe that the stadium was a "prized pig that you want to bring home to your local taxpayers."

The team, according to the plan, would be required to pay $1 for every $2 paid by state and local governments. Though the proposal does not put an overall price tag on the stadium, earlier estimates had pushed the stadium's cost to nearly $900 million.

Lanning insisted Thursday that the Vikings proposal would have support with both Republican and DFL legislators and there have been indications that the stadium's fortunes have improved recently, despite public opinion polls that show most voters opposed to a public subsidy.

The team's lease at the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, where the Vikings have played for 29 years, expires after this year, fueling speculation that without a new playing venue the team might leave Minnesota. In addition, the collapse of the Metrodome's inflatable roof in December -- which still is not fixed -- was quickly seized upon by supporters as the final argument for the need for a new stadium.

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said the reported funding plan was a "reasonable solution." He added: "Could that outline, at some point, work? Probably."

But others noted that the plan emerged one day after the Republican-led Senate adopted a dramatic plan to shrink the role of government in providing health care for poor and disabled Minnesotans.

"Throwing 200,000 people off of health care -- [and] then the priority is funding the Vikings stadium? Those are the wrong priorities, if you ask me," said Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, the party's leading expert on human service issues.

Even some of Lanning's fellow Republicans seemed to agree that the timing was poor.

"I'm not interested in anything right now but making sure" the state's $5 billion budget deficit is resolved, said Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca.

And State Republican Party chair Tony Sutton added Thursday it was important that the stadium discussion be "framed" so that it did not appear legislators were pushing for a stadium while making major cuts to state government.

Staff writers Anthony Lonetree and Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report. Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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