Senate passes Vikings stadium bill; measure heads to conference panel
By T.W. BUDIG – ECM Capitol Reporter
ST. PAUL – Charges of wealthy guys in $3,000 suits strong-arming the legislative process and unspoken forces attempting to run out the clock on the Minnesota Vikings stadium initiative ricocheted within the Senate on Tuesday during a lengthy, sometime emotional stadium floor debate.
"There was a lot of passionate feelings on the floor," said Senate Vikings stadium bill author Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, after watching her bill pass the Senate on a 38-28 vote.
The House and Senate Vikings stadium bills now go to a conference committee to work out differences between the two bills. No stadium conference committee hearings were scheduled as of Tuesday night.
Rosen believes the Vikings will have to increase their level of contribution towards building the proposed $1 billion stadium.
Still, Vikings stadium front man Lester Bagley – who gave Rosen a hug in the semi-dark State Capitol corridor before assembled TV cameras late Tuesday – spoke in glowing terms of the critical Senate vote.
"It’s a great day for Vikings fans. And a great day for the State of Minnesota," said Bagley.
But the Senate debate was intense.
One issue at the center of Senate floor debate was the question of how best to finance the state’s commitment towards constructing the stadium.
From the beginning of the debate, area lawmakers were indicating an unwillingness to vote for a stadium bill that used gambling as a revenue generator.
"If I’m going to take a poison, I want it to be a less toxic one," said Sen. David Thompson, R-Lakeville, speaking of the use of user fees.
Other senators expressed similar sentiments.
"I can actually vote for this," said Sen. Pam Wolf, R-Spring Lake Park, of a user-fee based stadium bill.
Rosen in her reworked stadium bill has a variety of user fees.
These included a 10 percent fee on parking within a half-mile of the stadium on game day, a fee on National Football League (NFL) team memorabilia, such as trading cards and clothing sold at the stadium, and throwing the stadium plaza naming rights to the Amateur Sports Commission.
On the Senate floor Rosen insisted a pure fee-based funding approach was unacceptable to the Vikings.
"It’s like we’re hanging them upside down and trying to get the loose change out of their pockets," she said at one point of increasing costs to the team.
Vikings officials have sounded off on user fees. Bagley recently styled them "a false promise."
"It will not build a stadium," he said.
But Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, and other senators on the floor pushed for user-fee based stadium financing. And the idea briefly succeeded.
A Howe amendment, which included a variety of user fees, such as a 9.98 percent surcharge on stadium tickets, food, merchandise, other items, was adopted on a 34-33 vote.
A double handful of Democrats – such as Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights – joined Republicans in passing the amendment.
But the Howe amendment was quickly challenged. Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, successfully motioned to reconsider the amendment vote.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, spoke of "strong forces" working to run out of the clock on the stadium initiative. Lawmakers have scant legislative days left in the session, he noted.
But Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, dismissed Bakk’s assertion of time banditry as so many "scary words."
Rather, Nienow depicted the reversal of fortune on the Howe amendment as the velvet gloves of monied interests squeezing lawmakers.
"The $3,000 suits came with the strong arm," charged Nienow.
The bipartisan coalition broke apart on the second vote with a fistful of Democrats peeling away. The Howe amendment failed on a 35-30 vote.
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, speaking after the vote, styled the stadium bill as the product of the forces of big government, big union and big business.
One amendment that received unanimous support was brought by Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, lowering the state’s contribution towards stadium construction by $25 million while upping the Vikings commitment by the same amount.
The House passed a similar provision on Monday, decreasing the state’s contribution by even a greater amount – about $100 million.
Bagley indicated the team’s contribution would be part of further negotiations.
Not all the attempts to re-jigger the financing in Rosen’s stadium bill looked to user fees.
Sen. Michael Jungbauer, R-East Bethel, offered an amendment to allow the White Earth tribe to open a casino in the metro.
"It is a tribe suffering from poverty," said Jungbauer, explaining White Earth could provide the state with upfront money for the stadium.
Rather than the site of the Metrodome, Jungbauer looked to Arden Hills as the best location for a stadium. He didn’t want to try "shoehorn" a stadium into the constrictive space in downtown Minneapolis. But Jungbauer’s White Earth amendment failed.
Other gaming amendments were tried. Sen. Al DeKruif, R-Madison Lake, proposed to replace charitable gaming with racino, but his amendment failed.
Racino resurfaced again in an amendment offered by Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake. Vandeveer, too, sought to place the Vikings stadium in Arden Hills.
But Rosen, as she has before, argued racino would crash her bill.
Vandeveer’s amendment failed on a 40-26 vote.
Testy debate occurred over provisions in Rosen’s bill concerning the Minneapolis City Charter. Exemptions to the charter pertaining to stadium-related spending and possible referendums are found in the bill.
Again a coalition of conservatives and liberals joined forces to vehemently denounce the exemptions.
"If it’s not Minneapolis, next time it’s somebody else’s city," said Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, of the perceived assault on local control.
Not that all Minneapolis lawmakers supported the efforts to correct the perceived deficiency. Sen. Kenneth Kelash, DFL-Minneapolis, dismissed the idea as bogus.
"This is just a red herring," said Kelash. "It’s just a way to kill the bill."