People’s House Vs. People’s Stadium?

By Danielle Nordine

A plan to fix the state Capitol building recently crumbled, but the building is becoming a pressure cooker when it comes to funding a new Vikings stadium.

The House defeated a Capitol repair bill by one vote Thursday while Vikings stadium proposals have devoured much of lawmakers’ attention recently. The stadium carries a price tag for the state of $398 million, while the Capitol bill (which was revived in a Friday night committee meeting) would have cost $221 million.

While it may seem that what Gov. Mark Dayton has called the “people’s stadium” is more important to lawmakers than the people’s house, the state Capitol, many lawmakers say it is not a fair comparison.

Democrat and Republican lawmakers had found common ground in the past on the fact that the Capitol needed serious work.

“I thought the bonding bill we did yesterday was going to be kind of a slam dunk,” Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said of Thursday’s vote on the Capitol renovation bill. “But it became a political issue.”

Many Republicans said they thought the fact that the Capitol bill did not pass Thursday was a strategic move by Democrats, focused more on politics and sending a message than on the Capitol.

Capitol repairs and a stadium are priorities of Democrat Dayton, but many House Democrats have voted against both measures.

The revived interest in the Vikings stadium likely is due to new pressures. Anderson said that “reality hit” after the stadium bill was voted down in a House committee Monday. “The feeling changed a bit.”

Rep. Mark Murdock, R-Ottertail, said the focus on the stadium also could be ratcheting up because of increasing pressure. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met with the governor and legislative leaders Friday and warnings have echoed throughout the Capitol that a lack of a stadium deal could mean the team’s exit from Minnesota.

“If that’s what it takes to wake the folks up around here then that’s what it takes,” Murdock said.

The discussion has gone on long enough, Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington added.

“The problem has been ignored for over 10 years, and now we’ve reached the deadline,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he thinks both bonding and the stadium will be “on the front burner” next week. Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said he has not ruled out the possibility of a special session on the Vikings stadium issue, which Dayton has said he would consider.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said the stadium and bonding bills are linked because of the spending involved.

“There are some Republicans that are opposed to any borrowing,” he said.

Republican Rep. Bruce Vogel of Willmar had another theory about why Democrats are now pushing for a stadium.

“They’re trying to make up for a mistake they know they made” in voting it down Monday night, he said.

“I’m disappointed in their unwillingness to get behind fixing the building,” Vogel said of Democrats. “We need bipartisan support.”

The Capitol bill did get some unusual support.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, is typically against borrowing funds, but he voted for the Capitol improvement bill.

“The condition of the building and cost of inaction is very compelling,” he said.

Drazkowski said a public works bonding bill does not need to happen this year since the Legislature passed one last year.

Reinert said he would like to see a Vikings stadium and bonding bill approved this session, but said with lawmakers aiming to adjourn by April 30, the likelihood of that is slim.

“There’s still a lot of opposition to it,” Anderson said of the Vikings stadium, especially with the public funding. He and others did point out that the stadium will be owned by the state, not the Vikings.