Vikings stadium bill can’t pass committee, is tabled

Another hearing later this week could take place

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

A much anticipated committee vote on the Vikings’ stadium bill Wednesday, March 14 failed to occur, Senate Local Government and Elections Chairman Ray Vandeveer instead laying the bill on the table.

“I think that would be the most productive thing to do,” said Vandeveer, explaining that Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, stadium bill author, requested the action.

Vandeveer said the stadium bill in its current form could not have passed his committee.

“Most people (committee members) thought it needed more work,” Vandeveer said.

Rosen, surrounded by media outside the Senate committee room, said she intended to ask for another hearing this week. “You never work on a bill to fail,” she said.

Rosen and House stadium bill author Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, later appearing with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, said they needed to have Republican leaders engaged in advancing the stadium legislation. And they needed a sign of support from the Minneapolis City Council.

Dayton said the bill would not succeed without the support of Republican leaders. He suggested that hidden legislative hands were covertly out to scuttle the stadium legislation to escape responsibility.

“I know when I’m not getting any help,” Dayton said. “I know what’s going on.”

Dayton would not name the names of lawmakers he believed out to quietly smother the stadium initiative, but suggested it was more than one.

But Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, said his hope was that the stadium bill would still get a vote on the Senate floor.

“The only reason it’s a mess is because we got it (the legislation) so late,” Senjem said, referring to the procedural deadline crunch the bill theoretically faces.

“We just have to shake this out — understand it better,” Senjem said of the bill.

One part of the legislation that had area Republican members of the local government committee concerned was the stability of the revenue flow from the charitable gambling expansion provision in the bill.

Sen. Pam Wolf, R-Spring Lake Park, during the committee hearing, traced the flow of the gambling revenue into an account in the state’s general fund.

She questioned whether general fund dollars — dollars that pay for education and other things — might be tapped if the gambling revenue projections prove flawed.

“The (gambling) numbers are real,” Rosen said, trying to assure Wolf.

Moreover, “blink on” alternative funding sources are being considered to make good any gambling revenue shortfalls, Rosen explained.

But speaking after the committee hearing, Wolf said she remained dubious. “As it is — no,” she said of voting for the bill.

She was also uneasy with lawmakers acting on a stadium bill prior to the Minneapolis City Council affirmatively voting its support, Wolf said.

“I don’t feel comfortable with doing a railroad around Minneapolis,” she said.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak during the hearing said the stadium proposal had some support on the city council. “We need to get more support,” he said.

Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park, said during the hearing he was concerned about shortfalls in gambling revenues.

Kruse successfully amend the stadium bill to increase the length of the Vikings’ lease of the new stadium from 30 years to 40 years. “We made a firm statement today,” Kruse said.

Still, Kruse said he could not vote for the bill that came before the committee.

Other area lawmakers expressed concerns about the stadium legislation.

Sen, Kenneth Kelash, DFL-Minneapolis, questioned why business interests in Minneapolis and elsewhere were not stepping forward to financially back the stadium effort.

“I don’t see that connection there,” he said.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, sharply questioned Dayton stadium front man Ted Mondale during the hearing on the stadium’s long-term financial benefits.

Mondale indicated that long-term the state would come out millions of dollars ahead on its stadium investment.

But Chamberlain discounted the idea. He placed the long-term financial benefit at “zero.”

Members of the public questioned the proposal.

Tom Pritchard, of the Minnesota Family Council, spoke against the use of gambling as a funding mechanism.

He called gambling “predatory,” expressing unhappiness over thousands of electronic pull-tab machines in the hands of gamblers across the state.

Tom Goldstein, a published writer on stadiums, turned the “but-for” stadium argument — that the state was getting tax revenues but-for the Minnesota Vikings being here — on its head.

He argued the Vikings’ stadium finances were based but-for the team deriving revenue from stadium suites and other amenities.

But Vikings’ stadium point man Lester Bagley told the committee that they had a good proposal before them. “We’ve been patient,” Bagley said.

After the hearing, Bagley down played the tabling. It’s the first hearing, he said.

“We do feel there’s an opportunity to get done this year,” Bagley said.

Lanning, standing with Rosen and Gov. Dayton, said it’s time for a decision on the stadium. Otherwise the issue will leak into next session and everyone, stadium opponents and supporters, will be further exasperated, he argued.

Dayton spoke of the stadium debate as sometimes resembling a “theater of the absurd.”

Every time one stadium issue is resolved, a new one pops up, he explained. “Let’s just be honest about this,” he said.

If the Republican leaders simply aren’t interested in dealing with the stadium, just say so, Dayton urged. And if that’s the case, “let’s move on.” he said.