Senate panel vote on Vikings stadium delayed indefinitely

Vikings stadium bill
Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Chairman Ted Mondale addresses legislators as the Vikings stadium bill received its first committee hearing at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., Wednesday, March 14, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Supporters of a bill that would finance a new $975 million football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings suffered a setback Wednesday.

The chairman of the Senate Local Governments Committee said the bill needed more work and postponed a vote on it indefinitely. It wasn't clear if the bill would have had enough votes to win approval if the committee had voted.

Dayton and other stadium supporters admitted that the plan is in serious trouble. Flanked by the bill authors in the House and Senate, Dayton said the bill has little chance of succeeding without support from GOP legislative leaders. He criticized an unnamed force that he says is working to kill the bill.

"Let's just be honest about this. If you don't want it, if you're opposed to it, if there is not majority in support of it, then say so and we'll move on," Dayton said. "But to try to dismantle the foundation of the proposal in an underhanded way is really irresponsible."

The Senate committee unexpectedly tabling the bill jeopardizes its chances to pass this year.

"There are ways to kill a bill without taking responsibility for it. One is to set further impossible conditions or unworkable conditions that have to be met that undermine the basic integrity of the proposal," Dayton said. "Another is you get surrogates to get your hatchet work for you and that's part of what's going on."

Though he named no names, the math strongly suggests Dayton was directing his ire at GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers.

Vikings stadium rendering
This artist rendering provided by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission shows how a new Vikings stadium might be situated on the exiting Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis.
Courtesy Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission

Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate have both signed on to the bill and DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen has offered soft support. Zellers is the only leader to not indicate whether he supports the bill or not.

GAMBLING REVENUES QUESTIONED

Several lawmakers expressed concern during the hearing that the proposal to use electronic pull-tabs to finance the state's $400 million portion of the stadium might not work.

"I think gambling is an unstable revenue stream," said Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park. "I think right now the way the legislation is written if that revenue doesn't come in, that we will be subsidizing it through the general fund because there's no connection between the revenue coming in and the dollars going out."

Vikings stadium bill
Copies of the Vikings stadium bill were stacked during its first committee hearing at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., Wednesday, March 14, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The sponsor of the stadium bill in the Senate, Republican Julie Rosen, said she'll push to hold another hearing on it this week.

"You never work on a bill for it to fail," Rosen said. "You work on a bill for it to passed. There are a tremendous amount of people standing behind me who have worked very hard on this bill and worked on this bill to make sure that it gets passed this year. And that's what we plan on doing."

The bill must move through at least one committee in the House and Senate by the end of the day Friday to meet a self-imposed legislative deadline. If that doesn't happen, the bill can still become law but the process becomes more difficult.

ZELLERS SIDESTEPS

Vikings stadium bill
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Sen. Julie Rosen and Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson address legislators during the Vikings stadium bill's first committee hearing at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., Wednesday, March 14, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

It's tough for a major piece of legislation to become law without the support from the Speaker of the House. There is little incentive for lawmakers to stick their necks out on any highly charged issue if it looks like the speaker could use his leverage against it.

Zellers has repeatedly sidestepped questions as to whether he backs the stadium plan. He also declined to indicate whether he would use his position to help the bill along.

"It's too premature to say just because a bill is laid on the table, It doesn't mean it's dead. It doesn't mean it was voted down. It was laid over," Zellers said. "It can be brought back up tomorrow or brought back up on Friday and voted out of the committee. If it doesn't at that point then we'll address it."

The bill will miss committee deadlines if action isn't taken in the House or Senate by Friday. The bill could still become law but would need support from GOP legislative leaders.

Zellers also won't say whether he will give a stadium financing bill any special consideration if it fails to meet self-imposed committee deadlines.

"My commitment to the Vikings, to the advocates, to the authors on a fair process in the House and a fair process on the House floor has not wavered, has not changed," Zellers said, "and is not in any way different than it was a week ago, six months ago, a year ago."

STRENGTH OF SUPPORT UNCLEAR

In the Senate, Majority Leader Dave Senjem said he was willing to bend the rules to give the bill another shot.

But even if the committee had voted, it is unclear if the bill would have had the votes to win approval.

Doubts over the stadium bill's prospects came just hours after the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee tabled the bill. The bill was expected to get a smooth hearing but several members expressed concern over the state's $398 million share of the cost.

Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park was one committee member who expressed concern.

"I think gambling is an unstable revenue stream," Kruse said. "I think right now the way the legislation is written, if that revenue doesn't come in, that we will be subsidizing it through the general fund, because there's no connection between the revenue coming in and the dollars going out."

Kruse isn't the only one to worry. A bipartisan group of lawmakers and charitable gambling interests expressed doubts that the estimates from the Department of Revenue are reliable.

Dayton and Sen. Rosen repeatedly voiced their confidence that gambling revenues will be more than enough to finance the stadium. However, Rosen told the committee she is willing to consider other options if the money doesn't come through.

"We are prepared and we have been working on a blink-on revenue source, whether it's a scratch-off game or a sports memorabilia tax," Rosen said. "Something that if you use the stadium or something that deals with the NFL, you would be held to pay for it but it would only happen if the revenue runs short."

Rosen said hopes committee chair Ray Vandeveer will call another hearing on the bill. Vandeveer said he may do that but only if the bill is "ready." Without that hearing, the bill will miss committee deadlines. That means it will take even more heavy lifting to bring it back with very few willing to shoulder it."

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