The prospects for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium suffered a pair of major setbacks Wednesday.
The Minnesota Supreme Court threw the state budget situation into turmoil with less than two weeks left in the session by striking down some of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unilateral budget cuts, and this morning, a key House committee narrowly rejected a stadium funding bill.
Members of the House State and Local Government Operations Committee voted 10-9 against the proposal.
Supporters say the bill is not dead yet, and the Senate version remains alive and well after passing its first committee test.
The stadium bill defeat in the House came just a few hours after its initial committee victory. The House measure cleared its first hurdle late Tuesday after Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, removed tax increases on metro-area hotels and rental cars, as well as a wholesale tax on sports memorabilia.
After the bill's rejection this morning, Solberg wouldn't say his Vikings bill was dead for the session, but he did describe the measure as in a hospital bed and on oxygen.
"This type of thing is very controversial. People express their opinions and have all kinds of different issues with it," Solberg said. "We go back to the drawing board or continue to negotiate to see if there's a way to make it more palatable."
Solberg's altered bill identified only Minneapolis as the potential site for the proposed $791 million stadium.
The Vikings would have to cover about one-third of the cost, with the rest coming from a sports-themed lottery game and an extension of taxes now being used to pay for the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Minneapolis officials, however, aren't on board. City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden says Minneapolis is protective of its convention center and the entertainment tax that helps pays for it.
"We know that this is of great value to the state as a whole, and to the entire region. We're protective of the funding mechanisms that allow us to run the convention center, to pay the debt and to prepare for the needs of this convention center for the future," she said.
The Vikings have concerns, too. Team officials say the required 40-year lease is too long, and the required team investment of $264 million is too big. But Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, suggested to Vikings officials that the team should have to pay more.
"In New England, the business community put in money for $40-million-a-year for sponsorships and premium seat sales," Hornstein said. "Is that under consideration? I'm talking about cumulative private sources. Is there any effort or any sense that you could get up to about 70 percent like some of these other cities have done?"
A Minnesota Senate committee also made several changes to the stadium bill today. The panel took out the tax provisions and lottery game, and then replaced the Minneapolis financing plan with revenue generated by selling fans long-term access to the same seat.
Senators also held a longer and more comprehensive discussion of the bill, allowing plenty of time for public testimony. Vikings fan Scott Asplund told state lawmakers that the local NFL team is a quality of life issue.
"If Green Bay can get this done on their stadium, why can't we?" he said. "Why have all these other cities and states that have pro teams been able to get this done, and we haven't been able to do that yet in Minnesota? We can do this. I know we can. I know that you guys and gals are all smart enough to figure this out."
The Senate panel advanced the bill on a 9-3 vote. After a one-win, one-loss day, Vikings executive Lester Bagley said he remains optimistic about the bill's chances this session.
"These controversial bills stumble. Ask the Twins, they stumbled once or twice. So this is expected, but we'll go back to work," Bagley said. "The good thing is the legislative process is a process, and we do have an opportunity to try to work on the bill, get some things that maybe members would support and comeback and see if we can put it in the shape where a majority of legislators would move it forward."
The bill's Senate author was also optimistic, even after the state supreme court complicated the larger budget picture when it overturned some of Pawlenty's unilateral budget cuts from a year ago. Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he's confident that his stadium bill can move forward separate from the budget.
Bakk said no proposal is ever dead as long as the Legislature is in session. The session ends May 17.