Minnesota Vikings stadium bill clears state Senate

Fans cheer for stadium bill sponsor Julie Rosen
Vikings fans cheered for stadium bill sponsor Julie Rosen after the measure passed in the Senate 38-28.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

The Minnesota House and Senate will start negotiating their differences Wednesday on a bill that would finance a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings after the Senate passed its version of the bill late Tuesday night.

The Senate bill, approved after a a marathon debate, is dramatically different from the House version passed late Monday, and the two legislative bodies will have to put the final bill together quickly as time in the session fades away.

The normally reserved Senate took the gloves off during the stadium debate. There was talk of unseen forces trying to kill the bill, powerful special interest groups and claims of lobbyists in $3,000 suits. At the end of the day - or night -- 34 amendments were debated and most were rejected.

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• News Cut: Amendments approved and rejected
• Capitol View: How your senator voted
• Previously: Stadium bill wins House approval
• Photos: Vikings fans invade Capitol
• Commentary: Expanded gambling imperils families

The amendment that garnered the most debate would replace electronic pull-tab gambling with user fees as the main state financing mechanism for the stadium. Republican Sen. John Howe of Red Wing proposed the amendment because he opposes an expansion of gambling. He said fees on the sale of NFL merchandise, on the media and on stadium naming rights were better options because they would come from the team's share of stadium profits.

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

"Last year at the end of session we heard 'Tax the rich. Tax the rich.' The owner of the Minnesota Vikings is a billionaire," Howe said.

The Senate approved Howe's amendment, a move that put a carefully crafted deal with the team in jeopardy. But minutes later, several DFL lawmakers asked to reconsider and voted down the amendment.

Sen. Julie Rosen said her bill already included user fees. The Fairmont Republican said the bill puts fees on stadium parking, on memorabilia sold at the stadium and on executive suites in the new stadium. And Rosen took issue with lawmakers who continued to try to force Vikings owners to pay more.

"Everybody wants a stadium, but members, how do you have a stadium when you don't have a partner?" she asked.

"You're bringing these amendments up knowing full well that this kills the stadium bill."

The Senate did vote in favor of making the Vikings owners kick in more cash, a total of $452 million on the stadium, which represents $25 million more than the team's initial contribution, but roughly $75 million less than what the House wants the Vikings to spend.

Another lawmaker wanted to give Minneapolis voters a chance to weigh in on the $150 million the city is required to spend on the stadium deal.

DFL Sen. John Marty of Roseville said the Legislature should not waive the city's charter referendum requirement, which ordinarily requires voter approval for tax increases related to sports facilities. The Vikings don't want a referendum, and Marty said lawmakers should ignore threats that the team might leave the state it doesn't have its way.

"I understand that you have to play along because other communities do. That's the line I keep hearing. But even if you feel that we have no choice and we have to play along, I seriously question the wisdom of saying we have to offer the all-time, number one biggest taxpayer subsidy for any professional franchise for any sport in professional history," he said.

As Marty, a self-professed liberal Democrat, joined forces with a group of conservative Republicans trying to change the financing deal at the heart of the bill, a frustrated DFL Sen. Ken Kelash of Minneapolis said the group was more focused on killing the bill than improving it.

"You're bringing these amendments up knowing full well that this kills the stadium bill," he said. "This kills the ability for this body and the House and the governor to pass a bill that's acceptable to the Vikings and can get done in a timely fashion and we can get on with this."

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

Marty's amendment was initially adopted then reconsidered and rejected.

In the end, the Senate passed the stadium bill by a vote of 38-28 and the House and Senate quickly appointed conference committee members to start negotiating the differences in the bills.

Key among those differences is how much more the Vikings should pay for the stadium. The House wants an additional $105 million while the Senate wants $25 million. Vikings lobbyist Lester Bagley said the team prefers to stick to its initial $427 million offer but suggested there's room for negotiation.

"That's our position, but we have a negotiation, so rather than speculate, we will let the discussion move forward. Our position is $427 million and $13 million a year in operating revenue," he said.

The conference committee will have to work quickly. The House and Senate have only two working days left to wrap up the session, and they both will have to vote on whatever the conference committee comes up with.