NFL pressure sparks action on Minn. stadium bills

3:09 AM, Apr 20, 2012   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Maneuvers by the NFL's top brass have sparked a flurry of stadium hearings at the State Capitol as clock ticks down on the 2012 legislative session.

Governor Dayton Thursday announced he'd be meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II.   The league has grown inpatient with Minnesota's political process and the uncertainty surrounding it.

"They didn't issue any threats or anything," Gov. Dayton told areporters, in reference to a phone conversation he had Wednesday night with Goodell and Rooney.

"But it was more of a warning, that if it isn't passed this session, the league itself - beyond the Vikings - the league itself has serious concerns about the viability of the franchise here and the future of it here."

The main Vikings bill in the House went down to defeat in the Commerce Committee earlier Tuesday night, leaving the team and stadium supporters deflated and disappointed.

Many lawmakers and political observers have already concluded the bill won't pass until 2013, after the general election. Some were relieved when the bill died in committee, because they didn't want to have to defend their vote in the November election.

But Sen. Tom Bakk, the Senate Minority Leader, predicted it would be even harder to pass a stadium bill in 2013 because it will be a budget year, and the economic forecast already calls for the state to run a $1 billion deficit in Fiscal 2014-2015.

Bakk said that Goodell, in past conversations, has placed a high value on the rivalry between the Vikings, Packers, Bears and Lions.  But, at the same time, other owners want to see the Minnesota franchise pull its weight in league revenue sharing.

"The other owners probably aren't very happy about sending a bunch of money to Minnesota to help prop up the salary structure of our team," Sen. Bakk said.

"And if I was them I wouldn't be very happy about it either. And I don't expect they're going to do it indefinitely, keep sending money to Minnesota to prop up this franchise."

On Thursday Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem announced that three different stadium bills will be taken up in the Senate Local Government Operations committee Friday afternoon.

They include Sen. Julie Rosen's original stadium bill, the one that was tabled by same committee March 14, after an initial hearing. At that hearing several senators questioned the viability of electronic pull-tabs as the main source to repay the state's $400 million share of the $1 billion project.

Sen. Tom Bakk, the Senate Minority Leader, told Capitol reporters Thursday that he had promised Majority Leader Dave Senjem he could deliver at least one more DFL vote in that committee to advance the bill to the next stop on its journey, the Senate Tax Committee.

Rosen, a Fairmont Republican, may add "electronic scratch-off games" as a back-up revenue source to electronic pull-tabs and bingo. Sports-themed tip boards have also been proposed as a back stop in case Minnesotans' gambling habits change over the 30 years it will take to repay the stadium construction bonds.

The second bill is authored by Rosen's fellow Republican Roger Chamberlain of Lino Lakes. It would require private dollars to essentially finance the entire project. The Vikings or other private companies would be required to repay the government construction bonds.

The Vikings organization, which is offering to spend $427 million of the team's money on the Minneapolis stadium, has never endorsed Chamberlain's approach.

The third bill to be heard in the committee is a late entry by Sen. Jim Metzen, a South Saint Paul Democrat. Metzen's bill would kick the stadium back to the Arden Hills, the original site the Vikings selected in partnership with the Ramsey County Commission.

Metzen's bill would permit a casino or racino to help finance the state's share, as an alternative to the electronic pull-tabs. The local share of the project would be derived from a two percent food and beverage tax in suburban Ramsey County.

That tax hike would be subject to referendum. But the proceeds of the tax would foot the bill for highway improvements in the area of the stadium.

That, in theory, would allow construction to proceed almost immediately at the site, the former home of the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant.

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