The momentum-gathering plan for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium cleared another hurdle at the state Capitol on Tuesday, passing through a second Senate panel, this time unanimously.
The proposal for the nearly $1 billion stadium, which could face a House floor vote as early as Wednesday, continued an extraordinary political march at the Legislature after being left for dead barely a week ago. In the Senate, the public subsidy package for the stadium seems likewise headed for a floor vote in the next few days.
“It feels like a first down, [and] another first down – got a good drive going here,” said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, who chairs the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee. The Senate panel passed the proposal unanimously on a voice vote Tuesday. “I think, after awhile, it starts to take on a little bit of momentum and an air of inevitability,” said Michel.
Tuesday’s action showed that stadium supporters were again trying to steer the proposal through a series of House and Senate committees without, if possible, having legislators individually vote on the project.
Of the five House and Senate panels that have debated the Vikings stadium plan this month, three of the panels have passed the proposal on simple voice votes. In one of the two hearings where there was a roll call vote – with legislators having to cast individual votes – the plan failed.
Since National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell visited the state Capitol last Friday, the Vikings stadium plan has not only been resurrected but gained increasing political steam. Some legislators however have complained that the quickened pace of the proposal – and the political short cuts being taken – might be offensive to the public. Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said the Legislature’s treatment of the Vikings stadium plan in the past few days was making lawmakers look like “a total gang of idiots.”
But there were dangers Tuesday that the stadium proposal was taking on too much financial weight – including a plan to have it also provide $43 million in debt relief for St. Paul’s River Centre and Xcel Energy Center.
The chief Senate author of the stadium legislation said using a Vikings stadium plan as a vehicle for debt relief in St. Paul was “not doable”, and afterward she said that the provision would likely have to be dropped in order for the Vikings stadium plan to succeed. “That will have to come down significantly. Forty-three million is a tremendous amount of money,” said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the chief Senate stadium author.
Another attempt to provide a financial sweetener for St. Paul – part of the jockeying to gain St. Paul votes for the Vikings stadium package – would have added $27 million for a new St. Paul Saints stadium in downtown St. Paul. By the time the Senate panel voted on the overall Vikings plan Tuesday however the Saints stadium initiative had been dropped.
Instead the Vikings stadium legislation now includes a provision to provide St. Paul with $1.3 million annually for 20 years that can be used “for the operating or capitol costs of existing or new sports facilities.”
“I don’t want to drag this thing down, but I do want to help St. Paul,” said Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, who proposed the debt relief for St. Paul’s River Centre and Xcel Energy Center.
Metzen's move created some tension however, and it could be seen Tuesday as Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak – the Vikings stadium would be built in downtown Minneapolis – had an animated conversation with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman in the back of the room as the hearing continued.
“We absolutely believe there has to be parity,” Coleman told the panel.
The St. Paul mayor’s comments came after Rosen reinserted language – taken out by an earlier Senate panel – that would provide tax relief for Target Center in Minneapolis. City officials in Minneapolis have said that the tax relief is essential to secure enough City Council votes for the Vikings stadium plan.
Under the proposal, the Vikings would contribute $427 million to the stadium, the state would contribute $398 million and Minneapolis would add $150 million. The team would also add $327 million to the stadium’s operating costs over time, and the city would contribute another $189 million.
Michel said the final Vikings stadium vote in the comings days would be difficult for many legislators, but said the Vikings are "one of the things that puts us on the map.
"We don't have an ocean," said Michel who added that, to many outsiders, Minnesota merely represented "fly over" country. "We need some things. This is part of our stuff."
But Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, viewed the debate in another light. "Unfortunately, those trying to pick the pocket of the taxpayer seem to have a more effective lobby," Thompson said of the Vikings.