Republican leaders in the Minnesota House and Senate say it will take strong, bipartisan support to pass a Vikings stadium bill this session — but they won't be seeing many "yes" votes from Minneapolis Democrats.
Most of the lawmakers who represent the proposed host city for the nearly $1 billion, publicly subsidized stadium are firmly against the bill, as it currently stands. They also offer a wide variety of reasons for their opposition.
Democrats likely to vote against the bill include state Rep. Susan Allen, the newest member of the Minnesota House. She won a special election in District 61B in January and was sworn in just a few days before the start of the 2012 session.
Allen said she hasn't spent much time following the stadium debate and doesn't need to. She said she heard the message from voters during last winter's campaign.
"People in our district are adamant about that — there should no public funds to build a Vikings stadium, any sports stadium," Allen said. "Our district has been more vocal on this issue for a long time. So, it's never been a question for me. I will vote no regardless of what the bill looks like, as long as it has public funding."
Most of the public funding in the stadium bill, or 27 percent, would come from the state. But the city of Minneapolis is also picking up a 23 percent share of the total tab.
State Rep. Joe Mullery, an eight-term veteran of the Legislature, said he hasn't decided which way he'll vote. He's been asking his constituents this week for advice. But Mullery said he already knows that there are a lot of concerns in the district about what he views as a bad deal for Minnesota and for Minneapolis.
"I personally believe that the Vikings are really taking us on this, that it wasn't a very good negotiation on behalf of government," Mullery said.
State Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, also has concerns about the stadium funding. Hayden said he's hearing from many angry Minneapolis residents and some city council members who firmly believe the city charter requires a referendum on the stadium project.
"When you come to St. Paul to represent your constituents, you need to listen to them," Hayden said. "And the folks that I'm listening to and my local government colleagues clearly say that they think A: that we can get a better deal, and B: they think this really runs very close to an end run around the city charter."
The state share of the stadium financing would come from the revenue generated though one or more new gambling activities. Electronic pull tabs, sport-themed tip boards and Racino slot machines are currently under consideration.
State Rep. Jim Davnie, who has served in the House since 2001, said that the gambling component is reason enough for him to vote against the bill.
"In the number of terms that I've been here, I've always opposed gambling, for a host of reasons," said Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis. "And I'm one of those, I think, many legislators who isn't at all confident that the gambling revenues proposed in the bill will actually pay for the stadium."
A rare position among Minneapolis legislators appears to be "undecided." But another Democrat, state Rep. Bobby Joe Champion, said he's in that category.
"My thinking is that it's very fluid, and there's a lot going on, and to reach a conclusion right now, for or against, would be premature," Champion said.
An even rarer position might be solid support. State Sen. Ken Kelash said he thinks he's one of only a few DFL lawmakers from Minneapolis who is strongly in favor of the stadium. Kelash said it's all about jobs.
"I'm very supportive of the jobs," Kelash said. "I'm out of the construction industry, and I know those guys are hurting. And even it's going to be probably a year before they get back to work on the stadium, it's jobs that we need to have going, and it's time to get it done."
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen of Minneapolis pledged this week that he too would be a "yes" vote on the stadium. Thissen acknowledged that there are deeply divided feelings among Democrats on the issue. But he predicted there will still be enough DFL votes to pass a stadium bill in the House, provided Republicans in the majority also do their share of the lifting.