Stadium bill future remains in doubt

Lanning

A new Vikings stadium remains possible after a Senate committee delayed a construction proposal Wednesday and Gov. Mark Dayton delivered some harsh words about legislative leaders’ lack of support.

Stadium supporters have lots of work to do if they are to salvage the plan this legislative session.

After a decade of discussion and more than a year of intense work on a stadium-funding bill, the proposal stalled in the Senate local government committee after less than two hours of debate Wednesday over several questions. The major concern was whether Revenue Department estimates were accurate in predicting $62 million would be available annually to repay stadium loans.

“If somebody doesn’t like our source of revenue, then what is their idea?” a frustrated Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said shortly after the stadium bill was tabled.

The future of the bill rests with legislative leaders, Dayton said, especially Republican Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem and House Speaker Kurt Zellers. The two could allow the stadium plan to proceed even if it misses a Friday deadline, which became more likely after the Senate committee impasse.

“Because of what happened today we need some help from leadership to move forward on this,” Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said Wednesday. “We are at the point where they need to be engaged in this.”

Dayton was critical of leaders for not doing more to push a bill along.

“By no means is Senate leadership stalling the bill,” Senjem, R-Rochester, responded.

Senjem promised to keep the bill moving along the committee process, even if it misses the Friday deadline.

But Zellers, R-Maple Grove, would not go there. He said that it still is too early to say if he would help move the stadium plan.

Dayton said the issue deserves a vote, and that Minnesotans should know where each legislator stands on the issue.

“Whether you’re for or against a stadium, we need a decision,” Lanning said.

The primary problem among senators is whether a plan will work to use pulltab and bingo tax revenue to finance repaying a stadium loan. Senjem said he shares that concern, even though he co-sponsors the bill.

Dayton’s Revenue Department estimates that the state would collect $62 million more a year in taxes on charities if they were allowed to use electronic pulltab and bingo games instead of just paper games like they do now. That new money would pay off stadium construction costs.

The state organization representing charities that sponsor pulltab and bingo games in bars statewide doubts the estimate. Some senators on the committee considering the bill also wondered about the estimate, as well as questioning what would happen if the gambling revenue did not meet expectations.

Lanning, the House stadium bill author, said there are number of plans that could be used if the e-pulltabs don’t bring in enough money to pay off the stadium. But Zellers said if the backup plan involves using general fund money, it will be difficult for members to approve.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said that she and other stadium supporters are working on a backup plan in case pulltab and bingo revenues fall short.

One idea Rosen said is being considered would place fees on sports-related activities. That could kick in, the Senate bill author added, if the gambling revenue falters.

Those funding questions prompted Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, to move to lay the bill over in the Senate committee. Chairman Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, immediately tabled the measure, later saying he will wait until Rosen can get the questions answered before calling a new meeting.

“It wasn’t quite ready yet,” Vandeveer said.

Others said Vandeveer’s committee was evenly divided and probably would not have advanced the bill if there was a vote.

“It’s imperative to this governor and this Legislature to get this done,” Rosen said.

Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park, was critical of using gambling to fund a stadium.

“This gambling revenue is a tax and one of the most regressive taxes we could offer,” he said, adding that it also is undependable.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, received a promise from Rosen to work with him on his proposal to establish one governing body to oversee all of the state’s professional sports team facilities. He said that such an entity would take the lead on new stadiums and stadium updates.

“Do we want to continue to do this over and over and over again?” he asked.

 Danielle Nordine contributed to this story. 

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