Vikings stadium plan faces tough road in Legislature

Vikings stadium proposal
Gov. Mark Dayton is all smiles as he announces a Vikings stadium deal with Mayor R.T. Rybak, left, and Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Thursday, March 1, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

State lawmakers are now waiting for more specifics of the Vikings stadium plan that was announced Thursday by Gov. Mark Dayton and other stadium supporters.

The public would fund about half of the cost of the stadium through sales taxes in Minneapolis and electronic pull-tabs in bars and restaurants. Supporters say this is the best deal they can reach, but it may not be enough to win the approval of state lawmakers.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, warned that getting supporters to agree on a deal is only a small step in getting the Vikings a new stadium.

"The time has come for Minnesota to make a decision," Lanning said. "Minnesota needs to decide whether or not we want to keep this team in Minnesota."

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Lanning will have to take his case directly to his colleagues; already, several lawmakers are reluctant to embrace the plan.

Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, was on the stadium working group that came up with the plan. He spoke briefly at the news conference, and said after the event that even he wasn't sure whether he would support the final bill.

"I'm not 100 percent sold on the plan that's here," Morrow said. "I'm 100 percent sold on the idea that we need to do everything we can reasonably do to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, but I need to know the details of the plan before I push a green or a red button."

Others also said they want to see what the final bill looks like, but it's not clear when that will happen. Once that bill is drafted and introduced, it will be sent through the legislative meat grinder of committee hearings, behind the scenes lobbying and horse trading for votes.

In fact, it isn't even certain the House and Senate will vote on the bill. Dayton called on lawmakers to vote the plan up or down. But Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers wouldn't make that commitment. Zellers won't say whether he supports or opposes the plan. He said there are still outstanding questions.

"I wouldn't want to say yes or no that it has a path out of here because it wouldn't be fair to the advocates," Zellers said.

There are plenty of lawmakers who say the stadium plan is not a good deal for the state. DFL Sen. John Marty of Roseville takes issue with supporters who say the plan doesn't use any general fund money to pay for the stadium. Marty said the money from electronic pull-tabs and a Minneapolis sales tax could be spent for lots of things other than a stadium.

"I don't care whether it comes from pull-tabs or income taxes or sales taxes or what," Marty said. "It's still a question of whether we're going to spent that $400 million of public money on this or are we going to spend it on other issues."

Other lawmakers aren't necessarily as opposed to the stadium plan but still say they don't know how they'll vote. Republican Sen. John Howe of Red Wing said his constituents are split 50/50 on the issue. Still, Howe said he's not sure this is the year it gets done.

"I think it's going to be an uphill battle," Howe said. "I think it's going to be very difficult to try and get it done this legislative session."

Part of the problem is that lawmakers are looking to wrap up the session quickly. It's an election year and every member of the Legislature is on the ballot. The new political boundaries have many lawmakers focused on meeting new voters and getting ready for endorsing conventions.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, is the stadium bill author in the Senate and said she'll tell lawmakers to act quickly.

"There is always something. If there are not endorsement conventions then it's a budget deficits or a budget surplus or an election," Rosen said. "There is always something that we have to deal with so we'll just have to stand up and say OK, are we taking a vote? Let's go."

For his part, the governor said he wants to see the matter resolved this year. But he said he'll continue to push it next session if the Legislature doesn't pass the bill this year.

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