Vikings stadium drive still stalled in Senate

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 27, 2012 - 9:49 PM

Minneapolis council support means little in St. Paul, where senators' concerns have slowed Vikings plan.

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One day after a new Minnesota Vikings stadium received a boost from its presumed host city, the state Senate still lacked the votes to move the $975 million project out of its first committee.

For two weeks, the stadium's public subsidy package has sat in limbo before a Republican-controlled Senate committee. On Tuesday, the panel's Republican chairman said he too opposed the project, saying that "if this is the final form of the bill, I will not be supporting it."

Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, chairman of the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee, said he opposed using charitable gambling money to pay the state's $398 million stadium share. "Somehow, 'charitable' and the Vikings stadium -- they don't belong in the same sentence," he said.

The views of the 14-member panel are emblematic of the problems facing the stadium proposal at the Legislature, with different legislators opposing the project for different reasons and with Republican leaders remaining lukewarm to making the stadium a priority.

At a breakfast meeting Tuesday with Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader David Senjem said Republican leaders who hold majorities in the House and Senate told the governor they "were on a glide path to the end" of this year's legislative session and would make no promises regarding a stadium plan that continues to have "funding challenges."

The stadium cleared a large hurdle Monday when Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak announced that a majority of the City Council now supported the project, but there was little evidence Tuesday that the shift had created new momentum.

The political math for the stadium in Vandeveer's committee remains daunting.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said that four of the panel's six DFL members would support the project, meaning that at least four of the panel's eight Republicans would be needed for approval.

But in interviews Tuesday, four of the Republicans said they were either opposed to the legislation or had major unresolved concerns. Two other Republicans are sponsoring alternative legislation that opposes a direct public subsidy, and would limit any stadium help to a repayable state loan.

Even the one Senate Republican who said her objections were now resolved said she would rather have the House take up the Vikings stadium first. So far, the House has not scheduled a stadium hearing.

"I think a number of us feel that the House needs to get this done first," said Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester. "That would make it easier for other people to support it. We don't know where they are."

The stadium would be built in Minneapolis, with the Vikings contributing $427 million to its construction. While the city would add $150 million to the total, the state's $398 million share would come from allowing electronic bingo and pulltabs. But questions remain over whether the charitable gambling would provide enough money and what state officials would use to back up any revenue shortfall.

Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park, said he did not see where the stadium's Republican support would come from on the panel. "I do not see myself as one of the four votes for the stadium" if gambling money is used for the state's stadium share, Kruse said. "I heard concerns from all of the [Republican panel] members."

"That leads me to question whether they have three votes locked down," he said.

When the panel heard the Vikings stadium plan on March 14 and abruptly adjourned without voting, Bakk said the political dealing fell apart when only three of the panel's Republicans indicated they would vote for it.

Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, another Republican on the panel, said Tuesday she too had lingering concerns. While the Minneapolis City Council's stadium support is "important," she said, it is "not as critical to me as the [state] funding source."

"I still need to see some kind of a backup funding that guarantees that it will not involve the [state's] general fund," she said Tuesday.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, went a step further, saying that despite the City Council majority's backing, he would not support a Vikings proposal without a referendum in Minneapolis on the city's public subsidy package.

"I've always been in support of the population [in] the host community weighing in on it," said Limmer, who also sits on Vandeveer's panel. "They need to cast a vote to give us an indication that that's actually something they want in their back yard."

Bakk said Tuesday that Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the chief Senate author of the stadium legislation, had not indicated when -- or whether -- she would try again to push the Vikings plan through Vandeveer's panel. "It tells me we're running out of time to get it done," he said.

Mike Kaszuba • 651-925-5045

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