Tax talk trumps stadium hearing

Ortman

By Danielle Nordine

Work on changing Minnesota tax laws took precedence Thursday over considering a new Vikings stadium.

“We can only do so much at one time,” Senate Tax Chairwoman Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said.

On Thursday night, the Senate announced the committee would meet about the stadium Friday afternoon. That came after Ortman said her priority was to work on the tax law changes first, including provisions such as providing tax breaks for business investors.

The senator she was not holding the stadium bill hostage in order to get support for tax changes.

Ortman’s Tax Committee had planned to debate the bill, but did not meet Thursday.

The bill needs to go through the committee before the full Senate can vote on it.

Ortman, the deputy Senate majority leader, is involved in high-level talks with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and other legislative leaders that center on public works projects and tax changes.

Bill author Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said the stadium likely will be one of the last bills debated this year, but the self-imposed Monday deadline for the session to wrap up is quickly approaching.

Dayton and legislative leaders said they did not discuss the stadium proposal Thursday.

Supporters pushing for approval this year have been making their voices heard.

A crowd donning face paint and wearing horns, Viking jerseys and other garb took to the Capitol Thursday to encourage lawmakers to move the stadium project forward.

Dayton and others have warned the Vikings could leave Minnesota if lawmakers do not pass a stadium plan.

The issue had been gaining speed since a Friday visit by National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, but started faltering mid-week.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the stadium bill 9-5 Wednesday, but added a proposal allowing casinos at the state’s two horse-racing tracks as a backup funding source. It was a change Rosen said could kill the bill and hoped it could come out of the plan during further negotiations.

Rosen said many details can be worked out when the House and Senate combine their versions of the bill after each passes its own, but there are significant differences.

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

Meanwhile, lawmakers unhappy with gambling proposed as a funding source for the stadium are calling for other plans.

“There are a number of things that are very troublesome about this proposal,” Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said of the current bill.

Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, said he will propose a plan adding taxes on stadium users, such as on sports memorabilia, ticket and stadium sales, liquor and team income.

Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, introduced a proposal that would rely on other sources including more funds from the team, businesses purchasing naming rights and advertising and fees on concessions, tickets and memorabilia.

Benson and Hann said more discussion needs to happen before a stadium decision is reached.

The lawmakers did not share the sense of urgency stadium supporters have had.

“I think we’d have a better opportunity to get a better deal if we didn’t try to rush something through in the last couple days of the session,” Hann said.

“I think the momentum is changing,” Benson added.

Bills by Rosen and Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, propose paying for the state’s $398 portion of the stadium construction costs by allowing for electronic pulltab and bingo devices. The Vikings and other private sources would pay $427 million and Minneapolis $150 million for the stadium on the current Metrodome site in Minneapolis.

Rosen said the estimated revenues from electronic gaming are very conservative and should be more than enough to pay the state’s portion.

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