House panel vote leaves Vikings stadium plan in peril

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 17, 2012 - 11:59 AM

With the Legislature close to adjournment, Vikings' prospects are dire.

The proposed public subsidy package for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium was decisively rejected by a House panel late Monday night, leaving the team and stadium supporters visibly stunned.

With the Legislature planning to adjourn in two weeks, the nearly $1 billion stadium plan was left needing an extraordinary injection of support to stay alive at the state Capitol this spring.

"Somebody would have to pull a rabbit out of the hat," said Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief House stadium author.

Just one of the House panel's six DFLers voted for the project, even though Gov. Mark Dayton -- himself a DFLer -- had made the stadium a legislative priority. But DFLers quickly claimed that outstate Republicans on the panel were more easily able to back the stadium because it would be paid for with gambling revenues and city taxes in Minneapolis.

Team officials were clearly disappointed by the vote.

"It's a mistake to think the Vikings and the [National Football League] will continue with the status quo" of playing in the Metrodome without a new stadium, Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley told a large crowd of reporters after the 9-6 vote. Bagley stopped short of saying that the vote could lead the team to leave Minnesota.

"We've got some time left, and we'll see what happens," Bagley said of the legislative session.

For the stadium plan to get new life, it likely would need to be resurrected by a Senate panel that considered the proposal last month but did not take action because there weren't enough votes to approve the project.

From the outset Monday, the stadium plan faced harsh scrutiny by a House panel chaired by Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, who had earlier said she wanted Minneapolis residents to have a referendum on the controversial project to build a new stadium at the Metrodome, the Vikings' longtime Minneapolis home.

In an early sign that the project faced trouble, Peppin's 15-member House Government Operations and Elections Committee blocked an attempt to void a Minneapolis city charter provision that requires citizens to vote on spending city money for a new sports facilities.

"To me, the language is pretty clear," Peppin said of the city charter. "I think [the city's residents] deserve a vote on this."

By itself, the move was possibly a major setback for the stadium legislation, though it was unclear whether the action removed any chance of avoiding a vote.

Stadium proponents have insisted that a city charter provision that calls for a referendum when the city spends at least $10 million on a sports facility did not apply because the state would at least technically be spending the city revenues on the stadium.

In approving another amendment before the final vote, the House panel also rejected diverting excess Hennepin County sales tax money now being used to pay for the Minnesota Twins' Target Field. Hennepin County Board Chair Mike Opat said such a tactic would be "effectively highjacking county revenue."

The stadium plan had four funding backstops -- estimated to generate at least $9 million a year -- if the state's plan to authorize electronic pull tabs and bingo in Minnesota's bars and restaurants failed to generate at least $42 million needed each year to pay the state's $398 million share of the stadium. A 10 percent tax on stadium luxury suites would be used first and Hennepin County's sales tax money would be a third option.

Under the plan before the Legislature, the Vikings were to contribute $427 million to the stadium, the state would add $398 million and Minneapolis would add $150 million. The team would also contribute $327 million to the stadium's operations and the city would over time add another $189 million.

Monday's hearing began with a jolt when Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, asked: "Why should the state of Minnesota contribute to a stadium for a billionaire owner?"

Team officials were quickly peppered with questions asking why Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was not contributing more to the stadium and how much the Vikings' value would grow with a new stadium.

"It's difficult to say," Steve Poppen, the team's chief financial officer.

Lanning pleaded with legislators to keep the stadium plan alive, saying that he had worked on public subsidies for a new Vikings stadium for seven years and that four proposals had failed during that time. "This clearly is the best proposal that we've had," he said.

There were some signs that, before Monday's hearing, Republican leaders in the House and Senate may have been trying to position the stadium as a bargaining chip to entice Dayton to negotiate an overall agreement that would give the DFL governor a stadium as long as Republicans got their own end-of-session wish list.

But even to get to Monday's hearing, the stadium public subsidy package had already been delicately nudged along -- the first House committee adopted it on a simple voice vote two weeks ago. Shortly before the Legislature's spring break, the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee kept the plan alive by granting it a procedural exemption.

The exemption was seen as a sign that House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who has been vague on how much he will do for the stadium, was not inclined to kill it. "If the speaker wanted to kill it, he wouldn't have let it get through," said Rep. Michael Nelson of Brooklyn Park, the lead DFLer on the House committee that heard the proposal on Monday.

Staff writers Kevin Duchschere and Eric Roper contributed to this article.

Mike Kaszuba • 651-925-5045

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  • DFL Rep. Terry Morrow, left, and Republican Rep. Morrie Lanning shook hands after their bill was voted down in committee.

  • Republican Rep. Morrie Lanning, foreground, and DFL Rep. Terry Morrow testified in favor of the stadium bill before the House‚Äôs Government Operations and Elections Committee.

  • A hearing of the House's Government Operations and Elections Committee...

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