Stadium package gets a cold reception

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 10, 2012 - 6:49 AM

Pulltab financing for new Vikings home encounters snags.

The funding package for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium had a shaky unveiling Friday when Gov. Mark Dayton issued new estimates for charitable gambling money for the project, and was immediately challenged by the industry's main lobbying group.

The controversy quickly overshadowed a day in which Dayton personally stumped for the stadium's public subsidy package, meeting with key Capitol leaders in their offices and conducting a series of radio interviews. His push came as the stadium bill, after months of closed-door meetings, was released just before hearings on the $975 million project are set to begin next week.

Standing with State Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans, Dayton said that allowing electronic bingo and pulltabs in the state's bars and restaurants would produce $62.5 million annually to finance the state's total $398 million stadium contribution.

That figure is $10 million a year less than a previous calculation. It was revised to satisfy charitable gambling officials who want tax relief for their industry as part of any Vikings stadium deal. "We feel confident that this is a revenue stream that we can rely on" for the stadium, Frans said.

But the revision quickly came under fire.

A spokesman for Allied Charities of Minnesota said after the governor's news conference that leaders of the charitable gambling industry did not know about the briefing and said there was no agreement with the Dayton administration on whether the revenue estimates were accurate or how the new revenues should be divided.

"We have no deal," said Ray Bohn, a spokesman. "We're pretty offended."

Bohn said Dayton administration officials had begun meeting with charitable gaming officials just three days before, and that discussions had been expected to spill into the weekend. "It's very weird," Bohn said. "I've never been treated like this before."

The briefing -- which was tacked onto a news conference on education grants -- and the new revisions showed that even as the stadium bill was being introduced, concern over the reliability of electronic pulltab projections is but one more worry in a project plagued by complicated politics and financing.

In a rare move for a governor, Dayton went to the offices of GOP House and Senate leaders to make his case. He talked to House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, for 35 minutes in Zellers' closed-door office. But Zellers was still tepid when asked whether he supported -- or would help politically push -- for a Vikings stadium and, if anything, seemed to distance himself further from it later in the day.

"I personally don't believe in funding for the Vikings stadium," Zellers said. "I didn't vote for the [public subsidies for a Minnesota Twins ballpark]. Doesn't mean it won't get a fair trial, a fair hearing."

Asked whether he was an advocate for the Vikings stadium, Zellers replied with one word: "No."

The DFL governor was asked later whether the controversial stadium project could pass the House without Zellers' help. "I think a stadium bill is going to pass the House with 68 votes. I didn't ask the speaker what his vote would be," Dayton said. "There have to be enough advocates for this project in the House and the Senate and the Minneapolis City Council.

"That's the real challenge," Dayton acknowledged.

The stadium would be built on the Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis. The Vikings would contribute $427 million toward construction costs, while the state's share would be $398 million. Minneapolis is to give $150 million upfront and share other continuing costs with the team.

What's the pulltab backup?

Frans said he was confident about this latest pulltab revenue estimate, but conceded that if electronic bingo and pulltabs failed to generate enough money, the state would have to look at a backup plan more directly supported by state money. "That's something we'll have to look at," said Frans.

State officials said that while $38 million to $40 million a year would be needed for debt service on stadium borrowing, bond houses might require twice as much because gambling is seen as an unstable funding source.

But any move to use direct state money carries a new set of political worries -- many Republican legislators who hold the majority in the House and Senate already have said they would reject any such move.

"If the electronic pulltabs just [don't] work why, then, no one can probably vote for it," said Senate Majority Leader David Senjem after his Friday meeting with Dayton. "We have to be assured there's a financing mechanism that works," the Rochester Republican said.

On whether the Vikings stadium legislation would pass the Legislature this spring, Senjem said: "We'll do the best we can. If it's not good enough, why, we'll have to, I suppose, set it aside and [do it] at a different time."

Staff writer Jim Ragsdale contributed to this report. Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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