Vikings stadium bill clears Senate, heads to Dayton

By T.W. BUDIG – ECM Capitol Reporter

ST. PAUL – Sen. Julie Rosen summed up the most critical element of stadium legislation in four words.

"We got it done," she said.

The Senate Thursday passed the Vikings stadium conference committee report on a bipartisan 36-to-30 vote.

Indeed, Democrats put up the majority of the votes to push the so-called "People’s Stadium" over the top.

A gubernatorial signature is now required to change the long-debated and elusive stadium solution into girder and concrete structure.

"What a great feeling," said Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, who along with Rosen shepherded the stadium legislation through a complex political field, suffering setbacks, momentum flow and ebb, but methodically continuing to eventual success.

"You have to work together," said Lanning of uniting the House and Senate to achieve big things.

Rosen, Lanning, and other lawmakers such as Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, have been crafting their stadium legislation for months, often meeting on Sunday nights to hone the complex bill that should place a new $975 million stadium at the site of the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

With luck, the Vikings will only need to play a few games outside of their own stadium during the construction process.

Late last night the Vikings officially agreed to the final stadium bill that has them paying $50 million in extra upfront money but also signing onto legislation virtually devoid of the user fees that team officials depicted as a dead end.

On the Senate floor, Rosen spoke of Vikings owner Zygi Wilf’s "entirely admirable" willingness to cast his business lots in the State of Minnesota.

Still, Rosen also noted what was visible in debate on the Senate floor.

"Emotions are still running high," she said.

Senate opponents slammed the stadium bill as a bad deal for Minnesota; its use of electronic pull-tabs and bingo as revenue engines financially suspect and inherently unfair.

They criticized the procedural process Rosen and Lanning took in conference committee.

"We have what we have before us," said Bonoff of might-have-beens.

Although legislation opponents did not have the votes to send the bill back to conference committee, the act would have been complicated by the fact that the House had already adjourned sine die after passing the stadium conference committee report earlier in the day.

But the opponents did not give up.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, suggested the stadium initiative was following some oddball logic that would spend $20 million to repair the torn roof on the Metrodome "and now we’re going to tear it down."

The stadium working group, Rosen said, had carefully studied the option of refurbishing the 30-year Metrodome and concluded that saving $40 million wasn’t a bargain against building a new "People’s Stadium."

Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, argued that tremendous pressure was being exerted on senator to vote for the stadium bill.

"The easy vote today is ‘Yes,’" she said.

But Ortman urged colleague to stand steadfast against the perceived special interests driving the stadium legislation.

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, citing the many times the state general fund is referenced in the stadium legislation, depicted the bill as financially unstable.

"At least go in eyes wide open," he said of perceived necessity of using general tax dollars to fund the stadium when projected gambling revenue fail.

But Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, argued that the stadium legislation was the sole accomplishment that could spare the legislative session as being one of the least fruitful in state history.

And Bakk credited Democrats for saving the session by providing the votes to ensure the stadium legislation passed.

Area lawmakers voting for the stadium bill were: Bonoff, Goodwin, Jungbauer, Kelash, Koch, Latz, Metzen, Michel, Olson, Rest, Robling, and Sieben.

Area lawmakers voting against: Benson, Brown, Chamberlain, Eaton, Gazelka, Gerlach, Hall, Hann, Kruse, Lillie, Limmer, Nienow, Ortman, Thompson, Vandeveer, and Wolf.

Twenty-one of the 36 senators voting for the stadium bill were Democrats.