Vikings stadium clears hurdle; more to come in Legislature

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said at a press conference at the State Capitol on Monday, March 26, 2012 that a majority of his City Council had finally signed on to a stadium financing plan. The deal would divert city sales taxes to a new stadium and a renovation of the Target Center.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

When it comes to the Vikings stadium debate, the focus is back on the Minnesota Legislature this morning.

Minneapolis officials announced Monday that they had a majority of the votes to approve the plan for a new stadium at the Metrodome site. That means the spotlight is now back on lawmakers who had previously said they wanted to see city support before they acted at the State Capitol.

However, Vikings fans shouldn't plan any tailgate parties just yet.

For weeks, it appeared that the Vikings stadium bill was stalled within the corridors of the Minneapolis City Hall. A majority of the city council indicated that they didn't like the financing plan. They were also disinclined to back legislation that sidestepped voter approval to direct a portion of the city sales tax toward the cost of the stadium. But yesterday, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said he had gained the support of a majority of the council.

"This is a strong financial package that gives some good common sense approaches to the city of Minneapolis and the majority of the city council supports that," Rybak said.

The announcement is a big step for Minneapolis and Gov. Mark Dayton, who has spent a lot of political capital on the Vikings stadium this legislative session. Dayton said the Minneapolis agreement now puts pressure on the Legislature to pass the plan.

"It's going to take bipartisan support on both sides to get this thing done. But where there's a will there's a way," Dayton said. "Now we got the way so all we need is the will."

"Now we got the way so all we need is the will."

However, that will is not present on one important front: the state's share of the new stadium's costs hinges on electronic pull-tabs. The charities are not fully on board with a plan that authorizes electronic pull-tabs in the state's bars and restaurants. Officials at Allied Charities of Minnesota said they have not supported the plan because the charities are not getting a large enough tax break.

Dayton revised the plan earlier this month to give the charities a $10 million annual tax cut. But King Wilson of Allied Charities said they are still working with the stadium bill authors and the Dayton administration on a deal. He warned they aren't close to an agreement yet.

"We're not going to do something that doesn't work for the folks that we represent," King said.

Reaching an agreement with the charities is critical to getting a stadium bill moving through the House, said Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead. He said his colleagues are unwilling to back a plan until the charities sign off on it.

"From the House standpoint, the charity agreement is more important because we're going to commerce, and the commerce's main issue relates to the electronic pull-tabs and the charities and all of that," Lanning said.

Lanning refers to the House Commerce Committee which is expected to hold the first committee hearing for the stadium bill in the Minnesota House.

Commerce Committee Chair Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, hopes to call a hearing on the bill as early as this week. He also said he wants an agreement with the charities and a backup plan in case the revenue from electronic pull-tab does not meet expectations.

"If people aren't buying pull-tabs for whatever reason and we fall $1 million or $2 million or $3 million short, we want to have a good backstop for that other than the general fund," Hoppe said.

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

The governor and his revenue commissioner both argue that there is more than enough money projected to cover the state's costs.

Sen Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said she has not looked to put a backup in the bill. She suggested lawmakers are putting unrealistic expectations on the financing of the stadium.

"There will be no general fund backup and we made that very clear. At what point do you stop believing the Department of Revenue's figures? That's what we rely on everyday around here," Rosen said. "At some point we have to say 'These numbers are real, let's get this moving.' "

Rosen said she is pleased the Minneapolis City Council signaled its support for the plan but said it may be too late for this session. Her version of the stadium bill is currently stalled in the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee. The committee chair said he is willing to hold another hearing at Rosen's request.

The big question is whether there's enough momentum to get the stadium bill passed this session or if lawmakers take a knee and go home.