Legislation to finance a new Minnesota Vikings stadium will be heard Tuesday in a House committee, as supporters race to find votes for the bill with just two weeks remaining in the 2010 legislative session.
Supporters of the stadium bill, which would raise tax revenue from hotels, jerseys and rental cars, hope to put the legislation on a fast track to passage.
TOP LAWMAKERS STILL SKEPTICAL
Minnesota Legislature's two leading Democrats are downplaying the chances for the bill to win approval this year. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller say they won't give the bill special treatment to move it along in the session's final two weeks.
Neither Kelliher nor Pogemiller has committed their own support. Kelliher says the bill has "a lot of problems."
"No one wants the Vikings to leave. But it's awfully late in this game to be able to push this bill," she said.
Pogemiller called it "a tall order" at this stage in the Legislature's year.
The House Local Government Division scheduled a hearing on the bill for Tuesday afternoon, and an initial Senate hearing is also expected this week.
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty told reporters in Washington that he won't agree to raise state taxes to pay for a stadium.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer said he isn't taking a position yet on this stadium proposal, but he opposes using public money for stadiums in general.
"We want to see all existing businesses flourish and grow, and we want to attract new business to this state," Emmer said. "I don't believe that taxpayer funds should be used to fund stadiums. If you do that, then there are a lot of businesses in this state that would be asking for the same type of treatment."
SUPPORTERS DEFEND PLAN'S FUNDING
The bill outlined Monday would raise tax revenue from several activities supporters say are related to the NFL team. But the discussion could be derailed because the larger state budget puzzle is still not solved.
"No one wants the Vikings to leave. But it's awfully late in this game to be able to push this bill."
The bill would finance a $721 million, fixed-roof, multi-purpose stadium. Supporters insist their plan will not come at the cost of schools, roads or health care.
They say only those who would benefit from the stadium would pay for it -- through new taxes on metro area hotels and rental cars, sports memorabilia and a sports-themed lottery scratch-off game. Those sources would provide $527 million over 40 years, with the team contributing $264 million.
An alternative plan would use the lottery game and an extension of taxes now being used to pay for the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, one of several stadium boosters, says there are a lot of things to like in the bill.
"It gives people all across the state an opportunity to participate in the financing of a stadium, because certainly football jerseys, baseball caps are sold in communities all across the state. It allows all Minnesotans to make a contribution," Bakk said.
The bill includes a site-neutral option, as well as a specific site next to the current Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis.
The team would be required to form a partnership with a host city or county. That local government would finance the bonds to construct the stadium and related infrastructure.
Hennepin County partnered with the Minnesota Twins to build Target Field, and Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, says a similar arrangement is needed for a new Vikings stadium.
"We need to make it very clear that unless there is some local government partner that is willing to step forward and partner with the state of Minnesota and with the team to make this happen, it's not going to happen," Lanning said.
VIKINGS FIND FLAWS IN BILL
Several labor and business groups participated in the news conference to unveil the bill, but the Minnesota Vikings did not. Team executive Lester Bagley told reporters afterward that the proposed legislation is a great start to the conversation, but he stopped short of endorsing the plan.
Bagley says the team is concerned about the 40-year lease lawmakers want signed, as well as the amount of the team contribution. Bagley says the Vikings' share should be based on the cost of an open-air stadium.
"A roof, while very important for the state and the community, does not benefit the Vikings. It benefits the state and the community," Bagley said. "I think there needs to be a good discussion as to how we pay for the roof and what the owner contribution is. So we will have a chance to talk about that as we go through the process here."
Lawmakers say they waited until now because they didn't want a stadium bill getting in the way of larger state budget decisions. With several bills taking shape to erase the remaining budget deficit, they said the time was right to introduce their bill.
But stadium critics say the budget work is far from resolved. Phil Krinkie of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota notes House and Senate budget bills don't match up, $408 million in anticipated federal health care money hasn't arrived, and the state Supreme Court could soon strike down part of last year's budget solution.
"To stand up here and say that the budget has been resolved, and we've got nothing to do for two weeks except talk about a Vikings stadium, is just absurdity," Krinkie said.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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