The tax committee in the Minnesota Senate has narrowly approved a Viking stadium bill, clearing the way for a final vote in the Legislature -- a move that could come as early as Sunday.
The 13-member committee took apart the plan to build a new, nearly $1 billion NFL stadium, then put it back together during a six hour debate.
"This was brutal," said bill sponsor Julie Rosen, a Republican from Fairmont.
Her colleagues fought over a controversial plan to fund the stadium with slot machines at the state's two horse tracks. They weighed whether to forgo gambling at all, and let fans pay the mortgage on a stadium. They debated whether or not Minneapolis voters should weigh in on the matter and whether St. Paul should get a consolation prize if Minneapolis keeps the Vikings.
In the end, freshman Republican John Howe, of Red Wing, proved to be the swing vote. And he defended the committee's right to change the deal struck with the team, Minneapolis and the Dayton administration in March.
"Our job here is to put something on the table that the taxpayers of Minnesota are willing to step out, willing to pay for," he said. "I don't think that even the bill we pass on the floor necessarily has to be the deal that the Vikings have set."
Some of the most contentious debate was over a proposal to add race track, or racino, gambling to the funding. The Senate finance committee added the provision earlier this week. But Rosen, who has carried the stadium bill for the last two years, said it had to go.
"As we all know, racino is a deal breaker, so it cannot be in this bill," she said.
She got her way, after word that Canterbury Park was dropping its push for slot machines for this year. The track struck what spokesman Ron Rosenbaum called a first-of-its-kind deal with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, with the tribe agreeing not to oppose expansion of the track's card room operations.
"We are offering legislation that will increase the number of poker tables from 50 to 80, raise the limit on poker, regular poker, in addition to having no limit on the number of poker tournaments and the number of tables at thos touraments, and and maybe most importantly, there would be an agreement to have simulcast horse racing, parimutuel horse racing, at tribal casinos in Minnesota," he said.
It was a rare moment of amity, albeit away from the committee debate itself.
Senators also battled to add tax increment financing and pay back the money borrowed from the state's schools onto the bill. Opponents even tried a last-minute parlaimentary maneuver to derail the bill after some senators had gone home. Those efforts failed.
DFL minority leader Tom Bakk offered an illustration of how contentious the issue has become.
"There was one night, when I shut my phone off to plug it in to the charger, and when I got up at 6 o'clock in the morning I had 987 emails," he said.
And while the stadium bill is getting most of the public attention, lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton are still trying to wrap up the rest of the session's business.
Republicans and Democrats have been trading offers on a public works construction bill and on a tax bill. Republican Rep. Morrie Lanning said his stadium bill could hinge on whether an agreement is reached on those other issues.
"There has to be a resolution in sight," Lanning said. "Not that we have to have something passed, I don't think that's doable, but at least an agreement among the three major players here."
Lanning also said he doubts the Legislature will finish its work by Monday's self-imposed deadline.
Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem said he hopes to put the Vikings bill to a vote before the full Senate yet this weekend.
"We'll bring it forward. I think, by and large the idea of a vote on the Minnesota Vikings this year is something we've talked about for a long time," he said. And that vote will take place regardless regardless of whether it has enough votes to pass.
"By and large, the idea of a vote on the Minnesota Vikings this year is something we talked about for a long time," Senjem said. "Up or down, whatever people decide in terms of their views, their faith in the bill, their districts, their personal convictions."
Sen. Rosen says she believes it has enough votes to pass. Stadium opponents, meanwhile, will push for changes to how the stadium is funded, and aren't willing to sign off on the deal Rosen and Gov. Dayton reached with the Vikings.
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said he believes stadium users, not gamblers, diners or drinkers, should pay for the stadium. He backed a measure to pay for the stadium's mortgage with on-site fees. "To me, that's a lot fairer way to do it," Marty said. "Everybody who 's using the stadium would pay for it."
Marty's effort to amend the bill in the Tax Committee failed. He and several other stadium opponents are expected to work every angle to defeat the bill on Senate floor.
House leaders still haven't said when -- or if -- they'll give the stadium an up or down vote.