A key House Republican committee chair said Friday that legislators may turn to the Minnesota Vikings and Hennepin County as part of a plan to back up charitable gaming money being used to finance the team’s new stadium.
Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, the chair of the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee, said lawmakers are hoping to piece together three to five new funding sources in case money from electronic bingo and pull tabs do not produce enough revenue to cover the state’s $398 million share of the nearly $1 billion stadium.
While he stressed that no decisions have been made, Hoppe said the options included excess Hennepin County sales tax money being collected to pay for the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field that opened in 2010. He said other options included asking the Vikings – who are contributing $427 million toward building the stadium – for more money, and possibly adding more Minneapolis convention center tax money and even state lottery funds.
“I think it’s possible,” said Hoppe, whose panel is expected to give the stadium plan its first House hearing, possibly as soon as early next week. “It could be three or four or five backstops.”
For weeks, the plan to build a new Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis has been stalled in part by doubts among legislators and others that allowing electronic bingo and pull tabs in Minnesota’s bars and restaurants may not consistently produce enough money to fund the state’s stadium obligation. State legislators, especially Republicans, have insisted that the state’s general fund should not be used as a backup for the charitable gaming money.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief House author of the Vikings stadium legislation, declined Friday to confirm or deny if any of the funding sources were being considered, but said that almost all of the suggested backup funding plans had critics.
“Not everybody is going to be happy,” Lanning said.
Both the Vikings and Hennepin Board Chair Mike Opat objected Friday to having the team or the county serve as a financial backup to the state’s Vikings stadium contribution.
Hennepin County approved a 0.15 percent sales tax increase to help fund the Twins ballpark, and revenues from the tax are also used to fund youth sports programs in the county and maintain expanded library hours. Excess money being collected by the countywide sales tax is being used to pay down the ballpark’s debt.
Hoppe’s comments Friday were the second time this week he had said that turning to the Vikings and Hennepin County might be an option. “There’s enough money around, either from the Vikings or the city of Minneapolis or Hennepin County, or various different pots of money, that I think we can [use],” Hoppe said Monday. “I think that there’s room to make that work.”
Minneapolis has already pledged to contribute $150 million toward building the stadium, and another $189 million for operating costs, with the money coming from diverting local sales tax money now paying for the city’s convention center.
Opat, who spearheaded the county’s drive to help build the Twins ballpark with a countywide sales tax, said he would oppose using excess money from the tax for a Vikings stadium and called the approach “disappointing.”
The Hennepin County Board chair said that diverting the excess Target Field revenue to a new Vikings stadium would be the same as levying a new tax, since the county had not approved that specific use.
Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley declined comment on whether the team might be tapped to help back up the state’s stadium contribution, but said the Vikings would oppose such a tactic.
“We would not agree with the principal of having the team backstop the state’s contribution,” said Bagley, the team’s vice president for public affairs and stadium development. “We negotiated for months on a term sheet that ended up with the team putting in $427 million up front, which is the third largest private contribution in” National Football League history.
The doubts surrounding the estimated revenue from electronic bingo and pull tabs have been a much-debated topic at the state Capitol, where the Legislature is entering its final weeks and the Vikings are trying to have lawmakers adopt the state’s public subsidy package before adjourning.
On Thursday, the president of Home Field Advantage, an influential Minneapolis business group, said legislators were “doing more arguing” than usual in challenging state estimates that the charitable gambling proposal would be enough.
“This year, there’s been more arguing among political leaders about their accuracy than several of us have seen in decades,” said Sam Grabarski, the group’s president. He said legislators wanted “unusually high standards” in making sure the gambling revenue would be enough to prevent the use of state general funds.