By Jim Ragsdale and Baird Helgeson
After a grinding week of late nights and marathon floor sessions, the state Senate granted final approval to a new Minnesota Vikings stadium on the final day of the legislative session.
"We delivered," said Republican Sen. Julie Rosen, who sponsored the stadium bill. "We are going to have first-class stadium we can all be very, very proud of."
The Senate approved the $975 million project 36 to 30 amid cheers from Vikings fans in the gallery. The House gave final approval to the bill at 3:30 a.m., after the team agreed to kick in an extra $50 million.
Foes and supporters predicted Senate passage, although not without a bumpy ride. The plan to build a new stadium on the site of the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, with the state share funded by a huge expansion of bar-gambling, still has many critics.
But they don't appear to have the support to stop the bill from reaching Gov. Mark Dayton, the stadium project's most ardent supporter at the Capitol.
"We made the best arguments we could to demonstrate problems with the bill. We weren't successful," said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, who argued for an emphasis on "user fees" such as taxes on tickets and parking, and a much more limited state role. "It seems to be the die is cast here."
Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul, who said he is inclined to support the bill, still regards the finished product as "half a loaf" for his city. The bill provides $2.7 million per year for the city for sports facilities and allows the Target Center in Minneapolis to become refurbished and fully competitive with the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"The rich get richer," Harrington said, referring to the concentration of major state projects in downtown Minneapolis, as opposed to St. Paul.
Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, who battled to remove gambling funding and replace it with "user fees," said he is upset that the final deal appeared to be made in private, by legislators who took care not to violate the letter of the open meetings laws.
"Isn't it about not violating the spirit of the laws?" he said.
Howe said he remains convinced the gambling revenues will fall short and that taxpayer dollars will eventually be needed to pay the stadium debt. "There will be an I-told-you-so moment," Howe said.
Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, said many GOP senators would have liked more user fees to pay the state’s share, but the Vikings’ increased contribution “helped a lot and sort of mellowed them out a bit.”
“I wouldn’t have wanted to go in here today without that additional $50 million,” Senjem said.
Democratic Sen. John Marty, a staunch stadium critic from Roseville, conceded early in the morning that the agreement has a "99.9995 percent chance" of passing.
Marty, who spoke more than two dozen times during the measure's first visit to the Senate floor earlier in the week, said he did not anticipate any shenanigans to drag out Thursday’s stadium debate.
Following this vote, the Senate will hear speeches from retiring members, including Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, who has voted on virtually every stadium project in his nearly four decades in the Legislature. He is inclined to support the Vikings project, even though he wishes a racino was funding the project rather than charitable gambling.
Because he is not seeking re-election, this will likely be his last vote in the Legislature.