The Minnesota House is set to vote on a Vikings stadium bill on Monday.
That decision comes after GOP legislative leaders announced Thursday they were scrapping their alternate plan to borrow $250 million to pay for a stadium. The scheduled vote sets off an intense lobbying effort on both sides of the issue.
Republicans spent the better part of the week working on an alternate stadium plan that they eventually realized could not work. On Thursday, Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers announced he was scrapping the plan and scheduling a vote on the original stadium proposal.
That bill plans to build a $975 million stadium on the site of the Metrodome in Minneapolis. It relies on revenue from electronic pull-tabs to finance the state's $400 million share.
Zellers said he opposes the bill, even though he now wants the House to vote.
"The fate of the stadium is now in the governor's hands. This is his top priority," Zellers said. "This is his number one priority for the session."
It's rare for a major piece of legislation to pass without the speaker's support. The last time it happened in Minnesota was in 2005 when the House passed a transportation funding bill without then-Speaker Steve Sviggum's vote.
As Zellers attempted to deflect criticism, he defended himself on sports radio from critics who accused him of trying to kill the bill. Zellers told KFAN-FM radio that he wants to see the bill pass even though he is not going to vote for it. He also said he hopes to be there when the Gov. Mark Dayton signs it.
"If the governor is the guy at the 50-yard line with the new stadium open, flipping the coin, I'll be right there cheering for him the whole way," Zellers said.
Zellers is facing the same dilemma as many lawmakers — spending public money on a stadium is unpopular, but the public likes the Vikings.
Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, said he will back the stadium and he is telling his colleagues to vote for the bill.
"This is one of the few issues that people will remember all the way until November when the ballot box opens up," Gunther said. "They will remember who voted for it and who voted against it."
Several lawmakers suggest they would be more inclined to support the bill if the Vikings spend more than their $427 million pledge. Vikings officials have said they won't spend more, but even key stadium backers say the team may have to up the ante. Most say it is impossible to predict whether the bill will pass. Democratic leaders have said they will put up half the votes needed to pass it. Speaker Zellers said he is unsure the Republican votes are there, but Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said he feels more confident.
"This isn't going to go away until the team does. They don't want the team to leave. Nobody does," Kriesel said. "This is not something that's going to kill anyone politically unless we just don't do it or let the team leave."
But there are also plenty of stadium critics. DFL Rep. Jim Davnie of is one of the many members of the Minneapolis delegation who will not vote for the bill. He said the expansion of gambling is a problem.
"I'm not confident that the numbers that are out there are dependable. I don't like where they're coming from and I don't think we're looking sufficiently at what the downside of what is a significant expansion of gambling will be for Minnesota."
While most of the attention will be on the House, there appears to be an even deeper divide in the Senate. Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville said the opposition in his caucus is "large."
"From the perspective of Republicans getting in the business of subsidizing and favoring certain businesses like this is not something we should be doing," Thompson said.
GOP Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem is unsure there is enough support in the Senate to pass the bill. It may not matter if the House does not pass it. Two key Republicans say the governor could win Republican votes if he signs a bill that cuts business taxes. The Senate sent the bill to Dayton yesterday.
Dayton said he has concerns about the cost of the bill, but Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said his signature matters.
"The business property tax relief and tax relief for all Minnesotans has to come first before we provide tax relief for one business venture. I think that's really important," Ortman said. "That sets the stage for success for a Vikings stadium vote."
Dayton has until Monday night to act on the tax bill, right around the time the House may take its vote on the stadium.