Vikings stadium caught in Capitol stare down

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 7, 2012 - 1:10 PM

With the legislative session in its final days, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP legislators dug in their heels over taxes and a bonding bill.

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The Capitol was quiet Sunday but Vikings stadium supporter Larry Spooner of Plymouth wasn’t giving up.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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A chief author of the Minnesota Vikings stadium plan said Sunday it was "very questionable" that the project would win approval unless Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders first reach agreement on other issues.

"Without a global agreement, without an agreement on a bonding bill and a tax bill," said Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, "it's very questionable whether there will be a vote on the stadium."

Lanning's comments were the surest sign that Republicans were digging in their heels on broader differences with the DFL governor as the Legislature headed into what may be its final few days.

Lanning seemed to dangle the promise of the stadium passing the Republican-controlled House -- he said there were enough votes -- but said it all depended on Dayton's willingness to agree to business tax relief and a smaller state bond package.

Dayton and the Republicans held no direct talks Sunday, and the atmosphere at the deserted state Capitol was suddenly reminiscent of last summer, when the budget impasse led to a state government shutdown. The governor said Saturday that the Republicans' "view of compromise is doing things their way" and "that's just not going to work this time."

Both the House and Senate are scheduled to meet Monday, but it was unclear whether Republicans would quickly adjourn the three-month session and run the political risk of leaving without a signature accomplishment.

Following a week of renewed momentum after a visit from the National Football League commissioner, the subsidy package for the $1 billion stadium has in the past two days taken a back seat to a stare down between Dayton and the Republican House and Senate majorities.

Republicans want the elimination of the statewide business property tax, a move the governor has resisted because it could require dipping into the state's emergency budget reserves. A House-Senate conference panel nonetheless agreed late Saturday on a series of business-friendly tax provisions, including a freeze on business property taxes.

Dayton and DFLers meanwhile want a larger state bonding bill, spending that many Republicans oppose.

The Vikings stadium, which has its own set of political problems, for now seems to be caught in the middle.

"If the thought is I'm going to support an inadequate bonding bill or a terrible tax policy approach in order to get a stadium, then we're going to have to sit down and rethink [things] -- by we, I mean the entire House," said Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, a leading Vikings stadium supporter.

Also Sunday, Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley and Lanning seemed to dispute House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who said Saturday there were indications from stadium advocates that there were not yet enough House votes for the project. "That's not anything he heard from me," said Lanning.

Although Zellers and other Republican leaders have largely been cool to the stadium, the decision to tie it to business tax relief and the state bonding package appeared to represent a quick reversal in strategy.

On Friday, following the stadium's approval by the Senate Taxes Committee, Senate Majority Leader David Senjem said the stadium plan would move forward on its own. "We're not going to -- I don't think -- hold it up," he said. "If we can't get a [overall] deal, why, I suspect we'll bring" the stadium plan up for a Senate floor vote.

"I think, by and large, the idea of a vote on the Minnesota Vikings this is year is something" the Senate should do, said Senjem.

Even if the stadium plan gets to the House and Senate floor, obstacles remain.

One materialized Friday when a plan to publicly subsidize the stadium entirely with user fees was narrowly defeated in the Senate Taxes Committee, but clearly had significant support. Even Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, chairwoman of the Senate Taxes Committee, said she thought the idea had merit.

Dayton, the Vikings and Minneapolis officials -- the stadium would be built in Minneapolis -- want the state's $398 million stadium share to come from allowing electronic bingo and pulltabs in Minnesota's restaurants and bars. The city's $150 million share would come from diverting a series of local taxes now being used fund the city's convention center.

But a plan to instead rely on user fees, placing charges on everything from tickets and stadium signs to the Vikings' share of television revenue, will likely be offered on the Senate floor.

If user fees replaced public subsidies for the stadium, "I would guess 99 percent of the public opposition [to the stadium] would go away," Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, a longtime critic of stadium public subsidies, said Sunday.

Bagley said the Vikings would oppose such a move, saying that the team had spent months negotiating an agreement with state officials that obligated the Vikings to a $427 million stadium contribution. If user fees were suddenly to replace the public subsidy package, and essentially tax the Vikings' stadium revenue, the team would likely lower its $427 million commitment.

Bagley also said that many last-minute suggestions were not sincere, and were simply attempts by stadium opponents to scuttle the project. "They want to kill it,'' said Bagley, the team's vice president of stadium development and public affairs. "They want to weigh it down,"

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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