Stadium Bill Runs Into Stronger Defense

Sens. Doug Magnus, Gretchen Hoffman

By Danielle Nordine and Don Davis

A Vikings stadium construction bill that was gaining speed hit a number of roadblocks Wednesday, threatening its passage.

Authors said they need to regroup.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill 9-5 Wednesday, but added a proposal to allow casinos at the state’s two horse-racing tracks as a backup funding source. It is a change Senate bill author Julie Rosen said could kill the measure.

“We need to regroup and move forward,” Rosen, R-Fairmont, said.

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said the Vikings do not have a strong opinion on the racino issue, but he was worried about its addition so close to the end of the legislative session. He said he is concerned the bill is “getting heavy, it’s getting complicated.”

The bill faces another Senate committee stop before a full vote. It was expected to head to the Senate floor after the Finance Committee approved it, but Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said it should go through her Tax Committee first, where it was tentatively scheduled for Thursday morning.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he thinks the stadium bill has a 50-50 chance of approval when all lawmakers vote, but the Tax Committee could be “problematic.”

A similar bill awaits a House floor debate. House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said he would put the stadium bill before lawmakers as soon as its backers tell him they have the votes.

House author Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said there is a good chance the full House could debate the bill as early as Thursday, but supporters were meeting Wednesday night to make sure the votes are there.

How many votes are needed from each party is up for dispute.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said his party could offer votes in proportion to their numbers in the House, meaning Republicans would need to provide more votes. Zellers, however, insisted each party give 34 votes.

Thissen and others said it is time for all lawmakers to have a chance to vote on the stadium.

A full Senate vote could come on the stadium as early as Friday.

Lanning said that meshing the two bodies’ versions will be tough, a job usually handled over days or weeks. With the Legislature facing a self-imposed Monday adjournment deadline, that much time is not available.

“It is clear the two bills are going to have a lot of differences,” Lanning said.

The $975 million stadium, which would host a range of events, is thought to be the largest single-project bill the Legislature ever has considered.

Its price tag is twice that of the Twins ballpark and four times the size of the University of Minnesota football stadium, both passed in recent years.

The bills propose a $398 million state contribution to stadium construction at the Metrodome site in Minneapolis, funded by allowing for electronic pulltab and bingo devices. The Vikings and other private sources would contribute $427 million and Minneapolis would add $150 million.

Rosen said the estimated revenues from electronic gaming are very conservative.

“We will be able to pay off our debt service at a quicker pace,” she predicted.

But some Finance Committee members questioned whether gambling could cover the state’s portion of stadium funding, part of the reason racinos were considered.

Before committee members voted on the racino amendment, Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, changed it to allow both pulltab and racino expansion rather than replacing planned funding with racinos.

Dayton said he does not favor racino funds for a stadium because it would be tied up in court for years by American Indian tribes and others fighting it.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said his biggest concern is whether local charities are getting a fair shake out of proposed charitable gambling law changes.

Since Commissioner Roger Goodell of the National Football League visited with Dayton and state leaders Friday, interest in a stadium has soared.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said a stadium bill defeat in a House committee last week peaked interest of the public.

Dayton and other stadium supporters warn the Vikings could leave the state if a stadium agreement is not reached.

Legislators are looking at ways to help St. Paul fund some of its sports facilities or pay off debt in the bill as well. Rosen proposed giving St. Paul $1.3 million annually for 20 years. The Finance Committee removed a proposal to give St. Paul $43 million to help pay for its River Centre and Xcel Energy Center that was added in Wednesday’s jobs committee.

St. Paul lawmakers and Mayor Chris Coleman had asked the committee to leave the provision in the bill so the city could “remain competitive.”