Last-minute lobbying aims to sway Vikings vote

Pro-stadium rally
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation President Bill McCathy, State Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, and Harry Melander of the Minnesota State Building & Construction Trades Council, listened to Gov. Mark Dayton speak to a labor rally in Minneapolis on Sunday. He asked attendees to contact their legislators and express support for a new Vikings stadium.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

A vote on the future of a new billion-dollar Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis will be put to a vote in the Minnesota House Monday. Supporters say a three-day lobbying effort by the team, Gov. Mark Dayton, labor groups and fans may have pushed the deal to the verge of approval.

The Vikings think they may be within striking distance of winning their decade-long push for a stadium to replace the Metrodome.

Team vice president Lester Bagley said a weekend lobbying campaign seems to have shifted the momentum their way, and perhaps won over a few new legislative votes.

"What's happened in the last couple of weeks -- and especially in the last few days -- is the mood and the push by the public," Bagley said. "It's no longer that if you're a freshman in a tough district you shouldn't vote for it, just to stay out of the fray. Now it's if you're in a tough district and you're a freshman, you need to vote for it. Because everybody's pushing -- let's get this done."

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But it's not clear how the votes will fall when the House takes up the bill later Monday. Language on the actual proposal wasn't finalized and posted on the House website until over the weekend. It has the public paying about 56 percent of the up-front costs, mostly with taxes on new electronic pull tabs.

There are some signs the plan is gaining momentum.

Vikings fans rally at MOA
Enthusiastic fans of the Minnesota Vikings showed their support during a rally at the Mall of America on Saturday, May 5, 2012, for a new publicly funded stadium in downtown Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/TIm Nelson

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, a long-time stadium critic, now says he plans to vote in favor of the stadium bill.

In a statement Sunday, he complained the bill gives too much money to the Vikings and steps ahead of more important priorities. But he called it the only viable job and economic growth initiative to come out of this legislative session.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, showed up at a union rally in Minneapolis Sunday night, and said the bill may pass with votes to spare.

"I think we're going to have a strong showing," he said. "We said all along, the Democrats have to put up half the votes, and the Republicans have to put up half the votes. I think the support's going to be stronger than that, is my personal opinion."

But there are still plenty of doubters, including the Legislature's highest-ranking Republican, House Speaker Kurt Zellers. Zellers reiterated his opposition to the plan on Friday, after Gov. Dayton vetoed a tax bill favored by many Republicans.

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

Others say the team and fans ought to pay for a new stadium -- not taxpayers and gamblers.

Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, leads a bipartisan group of lawmakers that wants to replace the gambling and tax financing for the stadium. He asked state finance officials to estimate how much of a charge on all business at the stadium, would cover the state's share.

"It shows that a less than 10 percent user fee for the first four years, rising to 11.25 percent after, would generate $500 million for a new stadium," said Howe.

The Vikings have rejected the user fee idea, saying the levy would cut too deeply into the team's take from the stadium.

Stadium opponents outside the Capitol concede the team and its political clout have been difficult to counter. Susan Woehrle, an organizer of No Vikings Tax, a Minneapolis group, said opponents of a publicly funded stadium struggle to get beyond a Facebook page and Twitter messages.

"They don't have paid lobbyists. I would call the stadium supporters, the people who support a huge public subsidy for the stadium, a noisy, well-funded minority," she said.

Public opinion polls have shown mixed support for the stadium over time.

Gov. Mark Dayton called on Minnesotans to rally to the idea at the labor gathering in Minneapolis Sunday night. He said he'd talked to nearly a dozen House members over the weekend to seek their support, but he still wasn't sure of the vote.

"It's a coin flipping in the air. Fifty-fifty is what I've always said, and it's probably still that way," said Dayton. "It's for 133 House members to decide. That's what they're elected to do, to speak for their constituents, the people of Minnesota."

The House is expected to take up the bill late Monday afternoon, and the debate may go well into the night. If the House approves the measure, it will go to the state Senate.