Senate passes Vikings stadium bill 38-28

Gimse, Chamberlain
Senators Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, and Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, listen during the Vikings stadium debate on the floor of the Senate in St. Paul, Minn. Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The Minnesota Senate has approved a measure to build a $975 million football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings by a 38-28 margin.

The vote came just before midnight Tuesday, after more than 10 hours of debate on dozens of amendments.

The move now means the stadium is one step closer to becoming reality. The Senate bill is different than the version approved by the House on Monday night, so the two bodies will now have to reconcile their differences.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the bill's chief author, said the stadium issue has been a work in progress for 12 years. Rosen said this session's bill is the best plan to date.

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"Is there room for improvement? Absolutely there is," Rosen said. "But it has been the product of a bipartisan working group in play for the last 18 months."

The bill that came into the Senate chamber was quite different from the one that finally emerged. More than 30 amendments were offered by state senators over the course of the day.

Vikings stadium
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, talks with Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, on the floor of the Senate in St. Paul, Minn. Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

An amendment early in the debate by Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, capped the state's contribution at $373 million, and increased the Vikings share by $25 million to $452 million. The state's portion will be funded largely by state taxes on an expansion of charitable gambling that will allow electronic pull-tabs and bingo machines.

Opponents of the bill expressed concern about the negative effects of more gambling in the state. Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, proposed a failed amendment that would have funded the stadium through user fees rather than gambling.

"We're going to build the stadium on the backs of those who can't say no to gambling," Howe said. "This current proposal is taxing the poor."

The bill does make some other funding sources available. Sen. Rosen offered a successful amendment to award plaza naming rights to the state, and to create a sports-themed lottery game that is expected to bring in $2.7 million. She also amended the bill to exempt the stadium's building materials from state sales taxes.

The final measure also includes a fee on NFL memorabilia sold in the stadium, a 10 percent charge on parking within a half mile of the stadium on game days and a 10 percent surcharge on stadium luxury suites.

Vikings stadium
Collin Walsh, 9, of Lonsdale, Minn. waits behind his parents' sign outside the Senate chambers in St. Paul, Minn. Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Much of the rhetoric during the debate questioned whether it makes fiscal sense for the state to spend money on a facility that will be used primarily for a private business.

Opponents, like Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said the state was falling victim to extortion by the NFL and the Vikings' suggestions that the team might leave Minnesota.

Marty added that the public subsidy is too big.

"Even if you feel we have no choice and we've got to play along, I seriously question the wisdom of saying we have to offer the all-time, No. 1 biggest taxpayer subsidy for any professional sports franchise in any sport in history," Marty said.

The Senate added a provision that would prevent the Vikings from blacking out television broadcasts in the Minnesota market for games that don't sell out. Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, also proposed a successful amendment that would encourage a more environmentally friendly building by setting goals for energy conservation.

Sen. John Marty
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, discusses a proposed amendment to the Vikings stadium bill on the floor of the Senate in St. Paul, Minn. Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The Senate version of the bill will join the House version in a conference committee, which will aim to work out the differences between the two measures. The committee report will then return to each body for a final vote.

Under both the Senate and House proposals, the upfront costs of the building would be paid by the state, the city of Minneapolis and the Vikings. The new stadium would have a roof, seat 65,000 fans and cost roughly $20.5 million a year to operate.

However, the bills differ significantly. The House increased the Vikings' contribution to the stadium project by $105 million, while the Senate upped the Vikings share by $25 million. A Vikings spokesman called the $105 million increase "not workable" from the team's perspective.

House members on the conference committee are Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska and Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter. The Senate members are Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria and Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth.

There is no word yet on when the conference committee will begin working.

Gov. Mark Dayton has made the stadium one of his top priorities this session, referring to it as "the people's stadium."