Days after its surprise defeat in a Minnesota House committee, more plans for a Vikings stadium finance package are emerging at the state Capitol. Most of the details aren't new, but the urgency is, with a warning from the NFL and the Legislative clock ticking down.
Tim Nelson follows the stadium debate for MPR and discussed the latest stadium news on Morning Edition with Phil Picardi. Here's an edited transcript of the conversation:
Phil Picardi: The House local government committee turned down a plan on Monday that would have built a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis and would have paid for it with an expansion of charitable gambling. What's plan B?
Tim Nelson: I think we may actually be on plan G. Or maybe plan M at this point, Phil. There have been many, many iterations of these ideas.
First there's what you might call the Atkins plan. DFL Representative Joe Atkins, of South St. Paul, says there are still a lot questions about whether the state can pay for a stadium and reluctance to subsidize the Vikings. So he's talking about blinking on just the financing part -- to legalize the electronic pull tabs for charitable gambling operations. That would let the money come in for a year, and state leaders could test out if it was enough to pay stadium bonds without actually building the stadium.
Picardi: And is that getting any takers?
Nelson: Well, the author of the charitable gambling bill, John Kriesel, managed to get a tax committee hearing on the bill later today, and he initially said he was amenable to this test. But he's changed his mind. Here's what Kriesel told me on the House floor last night:
"Right now, the stadium situation looks dire. And the last thing I want to do is to kill this charities bill because we attached a bleeding-to-death Vikings bill on there, and that's the bottom line. Until we get our ducks in a row in a stadium, and figure out how we can get more than one Democrat vote in a committee, then we can reevaluate the situation. And I'm as pro stadium as they come," Kriesel said.
The Vikings have also nixed the idea. The fear there is that if the state starts collecting money from a charitable gambling expansion, and there's a big budget deficit next year, the next Legislature won't be interested in spending it on a stadium and it'll be even harder to find the money.
“Right now, the stadium situation looks dire.”Rep. John Kriesel
Picardi: What about in the Senate? We've had some news that the stadium might be moving over there again.
Nelson: That's right. Minority leader Tom Bakk said the DFL is now willing to put up the votes in the Local Government committee to get the stadium going again. The bill stalled in March, in part because of doubts about whether it could win bi-partisan support. Bakk told Twin Cities Public Television last night that his caucus was now ready to move it to the tax committee. And majority leader Dave Senjem responded that the GOP will probably agree to hold at least one more hearing. But neither one was making any guarantees.
Picardi: And an Arden Hills proposal made another appearance at the Capitol yesterday?
Nelson: DFLer Tim Mahoney held a press conference to remind the Vikings that they still had options in the East Metro. He has proposed a 3 percent food and beverage tax, like the original Arden Hills plan -- but only in the suburbs, and he says it would have to get voter approval. Opposition from the city of St. Paul and a referendum controversy doomed the deal the Vikings made in Arden Hills last year. The Vikings yesterday didn't show any support for this new version, but Mahoney says he's ready if the current plan for a billion dollar deal on the Metrodome site fails.
Picardi: So what's next?
Nelson: Well, Gov. Mark Dayton is talking with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell again this morning. The governor's staff said Goodell told Dayton last night the NFL is very concerned that the stadium deal is faltering yet again. They could start discussing a sale or a relocation of the team, and we've seen this repeatedly in stadium debates. Baseball threatened to disband the Twins in 2001, and the Timberwolves were initially sold to New Orleans at one point in the 1990s, before Minnesota's Glen Taylor bought them and the city bailed out the arena.
And I should add that stadium opponents at the Capitol and outside are as insistent as ever that Minnesota shouldn't give in, and that this is the time to say no to subsidize professional sports.
Picardi: Thanks for the update.