Lawmakers Look For New Vikings Stadium Money Source

By Don Davis

The treasure hunt is on: Seeking money for Vikings stadium construction costs after the original plan produced less money than expected.

The Minnesota House Taxes Committee discussed a bill, but took no votes Wednesday, that would slap a 10 percent tax on professional sports memorabilia sold in the state.

That is the first committee to receive committee consideration since it became known that revenue from electronic pulltabs, which was supposed to fund the state’s portion of the nearly $1 billion stadium, were a fraction of what was planned. Many lawmakers are making suggestions about what can be done.

Alternatives under discussion include forcing Vikings owners to up their contribution, authorizing slot machines, taxing sports spectator suites and delaying work on the project until stable funding is available.

“There are no easy solutions,” Rep. Anne Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, said in telling the Taxes Committee about her sports memorabilia tax plan.

Lawmakers are split about whether action is needed before legislators adjourn for the year by May 20 or if the original electronic pulltab revenue source still will work.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said it would be hard for Minnesota to borrow money with the stadium uproar continuing, but stadium bill author Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said no action is needed now.

“It is not the time to hit the panic button,” she said.

A year ago, Dayton signed into law a bill Rosen and then-Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, authored to fund a $975 million stadium at the current Minneapolis Metrodome site.

The state’s $348 million contribution was to come from charitable gaming taxes on newly approved electronic pulltab and bingo games. Minneapolis is to pay $150 million for construction, with the Vikings and other private sources adding the remaining $477 million.

Groundbreaking is planned for October, with the stadium opening in July 2016.

The funding problem arose when only a fraction of the charities and bars using paper pulltabs opted to go to the electronic version. Only 10 percent of the estimated funds have come in, leaving many legislators concerned about the state’s ability to repay bonds that will be sold in August or September to fund the state portion of the project.

“Every gambling establishment in Minnesota would have to triple its revenue to make this work, triple,” Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said.

Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen of the Minnesota Stadium Authority said she is less concerned than others about funding, but supported Lenczewski’s 10 percent sports memorabilia tax. She was less supportive of a companion proposal to tax corporate stadium suites.

Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, complained about the sports memorabilia tax because he will have to tell his son he cannot have all the jerseys he would want.

“Will is going to be asking for a jersey for every sport,” Zellers said. “He and I will be paying an extra 10 percent.”

Officials from Minnesota’s professional sports teams told the Taxes Committee they object to taxing all pro sports memorabilia to support a stadium mostly for just the National Football League.

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, asked the most revealing question of the day: “If you have a Packer fan and buy a Packer jersey, would they be, in effect, be subsidizing the Vikings?” Yes, a House staff member answered.

Among legislators offering an option is Rep. Bob Barrett, R-Lindstrom, who suggests two alternative funding options.

One Barrett option is requiring Vikings owners contribute at least $200 million more toward stadium construction costs. Another alternative could be to allow slot machines around the state, with stadium funding coming from profits.

“If we cannot agree on either one, then all stadium planning should stop immediately until e-pull tabs reach their target,” Barrett said. “It would be absolutely wrong for us to continue. Since Minnesota’s taxpayers, school kids and the elderly will pay for any large shortfall, we need to create a new game plan or call a timeout until a new plan can be drafted.”