User Fees Debated As Stadium Funding

Vikings fans

By Danielle Nordine

A debate about whether gambling or user fees should be used to pay for a new Vikings stadium is the latest in a long fight over how to fund the project.

Two Saturday Capitol rallies previewed discussions expected when the House and Senate debate stadium funding plans.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Tom Schultz of Maplewood said of a user fee plan. “The people who buy those things are going to support the team anyway.”

Schultz and others attending a rally for the stadium said they would not mind the tax if it would keep the team in Minnesota.

“We love the Vikings and don’t want them to leave,” St. Paul resident Adam Oferosky said.

But new fees did not sit well with some attending a separate anti-tax rally outside the Capitol.

Angela Watson of Woodbury said that since user fees are “simply another tax,” she was not in favor of the plan. Even though it is aimed at stadium users, it could affect more people than that, she said.

But she also does not like the idea of expanding gambling to pay for the stadium either.

“The government shouldn’t have anything to do with a stadium,” she said.

Mark Quigley of Brooklyn Park agreed, saying lawmakers are being “bullied” by the National Football League to pay for the project.

Some stadium supporters simply wanted to make sure the deal gets done soon, even if the bill is not perfect.

John Schreiner said he is lobbying lawmakers to “stick with the deal we had.”

“It’s the best one we could fashion to bring the maximum number of folks together,” said Schreiner, who lives near the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

“It’s not a Vikings stadium, it’s the people’s stadium,” he added, noting it would be used for a number of other events other than football games.

“That’s why everybody should pay for it,” John Sullivan of Maplewood said.

Democrat and Republican lawmakers brought user fees to the forefront Friday during a contentious Senate committee meeting on the bill.

Tax Committee members moved the bill forward to the Senate floor, but many said they need more information about the financial impact of user fees before a full vote.

“We need to get to the heart of the question,” Tax Committee Chairwoman Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said. “Can user fees support a stadium?”

Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans said he could get the information in a few days. Lawmakers hope to adjourn for the year Monday.

Gov. Mark Dayton did not take a stand on the user fee issue Saturday, saying it is up to legislators.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, proposed a plan to impose a fee “basically on everything that happens at the new stadium facility,” from the sales of memorabilia and concessions to tickets and advertising.

He said user fees should be paired with the current funding proposal, which would cover the state’s portion of construction costs by allowing for electronic pulltabs and bingo.

Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said user fees should replace gambling completely.

But bill author Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said such dramatic changes could jeopardize the bill.

“There are many great options for other revenues to pay for this stadium,” she said, “but those are revenue sources that cannot be agreed upon by all parties.”

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said the Vikings likely would not keep their current commitment of funds if the structure changes.

The current gambling proposal had some lawmakers questioning whether it is dependable and who it would affect.

“There’s no uncertainty here in terms of who’s paying for it,” Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said, calling a user fee plan reliable and fair.

Anti-tax rally