The Minnesota Vikings appear to be gaining ground again in their effort to get a $975 million stadium in downtown Minneapolis, now that the House Ways and Means committee has grafted a dead stadium bill from last week onto a new plan to legalize electronic pull tabs and bingo.
That plan nearly triples the size of the state's charitable gambling to fund the project. And it sets the stadium up for a long-awaited floor vote in the House.
Bill sponsor Morrie Lanning, a Republican from Moorhead, said he expects that vote will take place in the next few days.
"I expect it will be close," he said. "We think we have a fair chance of getting a majority of the House in support, but we won't know for sure until it happens."
Both Republicans and DFLers have taken issue with a state pledge of $400 million to help build the stadium because the financing plan depends on revenue from taxes on new electronic pull tabs, electronic bingo and sports-themed tipboards. The financial stability of that approach has drawn doubts, despite assurances from state officials and the charitable gambling industry.
Republican Rep. Tom Hackbarth, of Cedar, said the potential success of the new gambling revenue doesn't have a track record anywhere in the country, and that back-up funding plans cover only a small portion of the debt service on the $550 million the state is borrowing for the project.
"The taxpayer is on the hook," he said. "Just so we know, and that's very, very clear."
Hackbarth is a supporter of legalizing casino games at the state's two horse tracks, and said they would be a better funding option.
In the end, the 33-member commitee passed the plan on a voice vote, with no major changes.
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley welcomed the bill's passage in committee, but said there is plenty of work left.
"This is always hard. Now we have to get 68 votes on the House floor. And we still have to sort out the Senate," he said. "But a good day today. Good progress in both the Senate and the House and appreciative of the committee for moving it forward."
In the Senate, the Rules committee waived a long-passed committee deadline and gave the plan a formal go-ahead. Now the bill is scheduled to be heard in the Jobs commitee Tuesday morning.
Senate Republican caucus spokesman Steve Sviggum said the proposal likely will have to clear at least one more committee after that, and could get a floor vote by the end of the week.
There are still several more hurdles ahead for the bill.
The Senate stripped out a key provision last week aimed at winning support from the Minneapolis City Council. Originally, the Senate's version of the stadium bill allowed some of the money from the deal to be diverted to pay for rehab and retire debt of the city-owned Target Center.
Mayor R.T. Rybak said he felt sure it would be part of the final package -- and that it had to be in the deal to win constitutionally mandated approval from the city.
DFL Minority leader Tom Bakk also said the bill may have yet another committee to pass because of the Target Center funding proposal and a proposed tax break on construction materials.
"Redirecting the Minneapolis sales tax money to another purpose is kind of a another klinker that the tax commitee should probably look at," he said.
Supporters of the bill also fear the Senate tax committee would kill or table the bill for this year.