Vikings stadium revived, rolling

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA and JIM RAGSDALE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 24, 2012 - 12:40 AM

A suddenly rejuvenated Vikings stadium legislation accelerates toward House and Senate floor votes.

The Minnesota House revived the plan for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium on Monday, and the project's momentum accelerated throughout the day amid indications the full House and Senate could vote on the proposal by Friday.

Just a week after a House committee dealt a severe blow to the project, the Ways and Means Committee Monday night sent a revised funding plan to the full House without recommendation.

The voice vote on the measure that merged the Vikings stadium plan into a bill that would greatly expand charitable gambling appeared to be mixed, making it hard to gauge how much support the plan enjoys among House members.

But the committee action on plans for the nearly $1 billion stadium, which would be built largely with public money, capped a day in which leading Republicans in both the House and Senate outlined a road map that would quickly spin the project through a series of final hearings and on to a vote this week.

"It's had its bumps, and it's moving along quite nicely," Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the chief Senate author of stadium legislation, said Monday. Her comments before a Senate panel came as she successfully requested what is expected to be a series of procedural exemptions to have the project move more quickly toward approval or rejection as the Legislature readies to adjourn.

But the stadium's political high-wire act at the Capitol continued to be full of complications.

As the legislation moved forward, there were also behind-the-scenes attempts Monday to steer it away from some legislative panels -- the Senate Taxes Committee, for one -- where it may not have enough votes to pass.

And although a Senate Republican spokesman said DFLers would be expected to contribute half the votes on the Senate floor -- Republicans hold a 37-to-30 majority -- the leading Senate DFLer declined Monday to make that commitment. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said that, although DFLers had helped the stadium proposal survive a vote Friday in a Senate committee because of heavy Republican opposition, "people shouldn't expect every committee and the floor is going to go that way."

Too late to change

In just the past week, legislators have tentatively altered the plan on two critical fronts: Making it more likely that residents in Minneapolis -- the stadium would be built in downtown Minneapolis -- would have a referendum on the stadium, and also putting in jeopardy financial relief for the city-owned Target Center as part of the plan.

But Monday, the chief House author of the stadium legislation said that, despite lingering criticisms over the stadium's funding and location, it was likely too late to make such major changes to the proposal.

"There's an increasing sense that people want to get it to the floor for a final vote -- even the people who likely are going to vote no," said Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead.

"I think we're beyond that," he said of major changes to the plan. "There just simply isn't time."

The Target Center renovations are a particularly critical piece of the package, Lanning said. "If we do take it out, the city of Minneapolis has indicated it will not support this," Lanning told members of a House committee Monday night.

Unlike the Senate measure, the House version preserves Target Center funding.

State Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul, had said it would hurt the competitiveness of the Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul.

Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, sponsor of the gambling bill, and Lanning merged their bills as a way of getting around last week's committee defeat. The new bill allows bars and other charitable gambling venues to install new electronic pulltabs, electronic bingo and sports game-themed tip boards. Even with a hefty tax cut for the gambling operators and organizations, the expanded gambling could produce $52 million per year, according to state estimates.

The one caveat is that $16 million of that comes from tip boards, which are of questionable legality because of their relationship to sports games.

Committee members strongly questioned the revenue figures. "If this revenue source does not work -- something that's unknown -- the state taxpayer is on the hook,'' said Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, who argued against the bill.

Under the proposal endorsed by Dayton, the Vikings would contribute $427 million to the stadium, the state would add $398 million and Minneapolis would contribute $150 million toward building the project. The team would add another $327 million to operate the stadium and the city would contribute $189 million.

The stadium would be built in downtown Minneapolis on the site of the Metrodome.

Counting votes

Lanning said vote counting in the House had begun and that Republicans, who hold 54 percent of the seats in the House, would vote for a stadium in proportionate numbers. "I think we can get the votes we need on my side of the aisle," he said.

That was good news Monday for the more than 50 Vikings fans, some of them holding infants in team jerseys, who rallied on the Capitol steps for a new stadium.

Scott Asplund of Maple Grove wore Vikings horns and carried a sword and shield. "I've had a [running] dialogue with Kurt," he said, referring to House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who is also from Maple Grove. "Oh, yeah, he's been very challenged by me."

Zellers has been vague on how much influence he will exert to pass the stadium bill.

"If we don't get the Vikings kept, we will all remember in November," said Asplund. "We're the Purple Party."

mkaszuba@startribune.com • 651-925-5045
jim.ragsdale@startribune.com • 651-925-5042

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