Area lawmakers here and there on Vikings’ stadium issue

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol reporter

Sen. Pam Wolf pinpointed one of the few threads that seems to run straight and true through the comments of area lawmakers on the Vikings’ stadium issue.

“It’s not like the Republicans have an idea, and Democrats have that idea,” said Wolf, Republican lawmaker from Spring Lake Park

Artist rendering of the proposed Vikings’ stadium facility in Arden Hills in winter.

“If and when something does come through, it definitely can be said to be a bipartisan approach,” she said of finding a stadium solution.

Right now, many area lawmakers complain of the lack of a concrete stadium proposal.

“I haven’t seen a plan. Nobody has,” said Sen. Chris Gerlach, R-Apple Valley, recently.

“I would have thought it would have been out a year ago, surely,” he said.

Sen. Ted Daley, R-Eagan, stressed that lawmakers need something to look at.

“We can’t say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to a bill until we have a bill,” said Daley.

Details need to be filled in.

“I can’t vote on an unknown,” Daley said.

Opinions differ among area lawmakers on how critical it is to pass a stadium bill this coming session — the session begins Jan. 24.

Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, wouldn’t mind seeing the stadium issue set aside until next year.

No consensus is forming around any one proposal, she said.

“It’s such a political hot button issue,” said Goodwin of the Vikings’ stadium.

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, believes short term the Vikings are remaining in Minnesota. The team has another year left on its Metrodome lease, Nienow argues.

“That was not complicated language,” he said of a clause in the lease dealing with building structural failure and lease extension.

Besides, in terms of selling the team, the value will only increase if the Wilf family waits for a new stadium, Nienow said.

But other lawmakers sense urgency.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said that pushing the stadium issue off into next year, into a budgeting year, would be taking on too much at once.

Rep. Bob Barrett, R-Shafer, prefers quick action on the stadium — the media has become fixated on this “shiny object,” he explained. And lawmakers, the state, and the media, too, need to move on, he said. “He (Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton) needs to lead us and show us a potential plan that he supports,” said Barrett.

A few lawmakers are upbeat about the odds of a stadium bill passing this session.

“I think we’re going to have stadium legislation happen,” said Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, a seven-term lawmaker.

Another legislative veteran agrees. “I think we’ll get a stadium bill done,” said Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, with 10  terms in the House.

While some area lawmakers express no preference to stadium location, a number of north metro lawmakers — Barrett, Abeler, Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, and Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes — like the idea of a new stadium being built in Arden Hills.

They speak of a polluted area being cleaned up, an “eyesore,” — Dettmer’s description — being remedied.

Not that having a stadium nearby wouldn’t bring problems like traffic congestion.

“There’s definitely a trade-off,” said Chamberlain.

Not all north metro lawmakers fondly look to Arden Hills.

Wolf doesn’t favor downtown Minneapolis nor Arden Hills  — she’s focusing on costs, she explained.

Others, too, look to the bottom line.

“I want a good deal for the taxpayers,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington.

Just as some north metro lawmakers look close to home for the ideal stadium site, the same is true for some south metro lawmakers.

Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, and Rep. Michael Beard, R-Shakopee, back the City of Shakopee’s bid for a Vikings’ stadium.

Davids believes the stadium will inevitably end up in downtown Minneapolis.

Some area lawmakers argue it’s bad policy for the state to be messing with stadiums at all — why favor one business over another, Benson rhetorically asked.

Dettmer suggested the Wilf family could do more to pay for the stadium. Developers like using other people’s money to finance their deals, said Dettmer. He doesn’t blame Vikings’ owner Zygi Wilf for trying, he explained. But Wilf could bring in more private investors rather than look to government for funding, Dettmer argued.

The National Football League just signed a television contract extension deal — the NFL is financially robust, explained Dettmer. Why can’t the league invest more of its money into revenue-generating stadiums, Dettmer asked.

According to Bloomberg News, the NFL will generate about 60 percent more revenue over the next decade from a nine-year contract extensions with CBS Corp. (CBS), News Corp. (NWSA)’s Fox unit and other media outlets.

The league currently earns $4 billion a year in television rights, Bloomberg reports.

One issue linked to the Vikings’ stadium is gambling, and area lawmakers have different attitudes about this, too.

Daley would look at a gambling component within the context of a stadium bill and go from there, he explained.

Garofalo, Robling, Beard, and others back racino — placing slot machines at Canterbury Park in Shakopee and/or Running Aces Harness Park in the City of Columbus. Racino would be good for the district, good for state agriculture, said Garofalo.

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, is less supportive of racino, more of electronic pull-tabs in terms of possible gambling expansion.

Chamberlain will not support the use of any gambling revenue to help finance a Vikings’ stadium, he said.

Wolf indicated support for racino, tepid support for the proposed casino on Block E in downtown Minneapolis. But she does not support electronic pull-tabs. Racino and Block E constitute places that people would need to travel to gamble, explained Wolf. Electronic pull-tabs would be “universal”  — available everywhere and too easy for problem gamblers to play, she said.

Dettmer indicated he does not oppose the use of racino as a possible stadium funding source, but with a condition.

That is, voter referendums must first be held in Columbus and Shakopee — the homes of Running Aces Harness Park and Canterbury Park, respectively. “The referendum is important,” Dettmer said.

Dayton may endorse a Vikings’ stadium proposal this week.

A total of nine stadium proposals hit the governor’s desk last week in keeping with Dayton’s submission deadline.