Senate passes Vikings stadium bill

ST. PAUL, Minn.- The Minnesota Senate approved the Vikings Stadium billTuesday night with four votes to spare. The 38 to 28 vote came after an 11-hour debate and relied heavily on support from Democrats who are in the minority.

"I'm still in a little pinch-me mode because it's not quite real," Sen. JulieRosen, thebill's main author told reporters after the marathon session ended.

A joint House-Senate conference committee must now work out differences between the House's version and the Senate's in ameetingthat could run for hours on Wednesday.Both chambers would have to adopt that panel's compromise version before it goes to Gov. Mark Dayton's desk.

"We've been working on this for a very long time, as you know. And you guys have been very patient!" Sen. Rosen said, with a nod to the Vikings fans who stayed at the Capitol and watched the entire debate.

Joining Rosen on the Conference Committee will be Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria and Sen. Roger Reinert of Duluth. The House conferees will be Rep. Terry Morrow of St. Peter, Rep. Joe Hoppe of Chaska and the chief author of the House stadium plan, Rep. Morrie Lanning of Moorhead.

The House and the Senate differ on how to split the construction cost of the $975 million project, which would be built at the site of the team's current home, the Metrodome.

The Senate's version caps the state's share at $373 million, while the House would ask just $293 million of the state. The Senate would ask the Vikings to pay $452 million, while the House boosted the team's share all the way to $532 million.

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley celebrated a victory at the Capitol but with the caveat that the teamwill try to stand its ground on the funding mix.

"We stand with the term sheet, which was negotiated in good faith, over a period of months. It has us in for $427 million upfront and $13 million a year," Bagley told reporters.

Both versions of the bill ask the City of Minneapolis to pay $150 milliontowards construction costs, plus $180 million in maintenance and operations costs spread over thenext 30 years. The City would utilizelocal hospitality taxes that arenow being used to repay Convention Centerrenovations.

The Senate added some user fees to its version of the measure, including a 10 percent tax on luxury suites, special taxes on merchandise sold inside the stadium on Vikings game days plus a cut of parking revenue within a half-mile radius. The bill also calls for the naming rights to the plaza area adjacent to the stadium to be sold by the State to raise money for the Amateur Sports Commission.

"This took care of all those Super Bowls! Every purple ripped out heart we've ever had," Vikingsfan Larry Spooner proclaimed moments after the Senate tally was official. "Come on people! Now we know we're set for life!"

After Sen. Rosen ended her press conference Spooner and other fans latched onto her and asked that they join them in a rousing chorus of the team's theme song,"Skol, Vikings!"

User Fee Debate

The Senate debated the Vikings stadium bill late into the night, juggling scores of amendments dealing with waysto pay for the sports complex without using new gambling revenue or new general taxes.

Senator John Howe, a Republican from Red Wing, led the charge throughout the nine-hour debate to do away with electronic pull-tabs and electronic bingo as the main means of repaying the State's share of stadium construction costs.

"This is a waythat we build this with as little taxpayer money involved as possible," Howeasserted. "The people who used the stadium should pay for it."

Howe's amendment had already drawn a firmly negative reaction from the Vikings organization before the day began. Team Vice President Lester Bagley said repeatedly in recent days that user fees "will not build a stadium," because it would siphon off revenue the Vikings plan to capture.

But Howe said removing gaming from the bill was thebest hope stadium supporters had of passing the measure in the Senate, which features a strong anti-gambling contingent on both sides of the political divide.

"Now somebody might say the Vikings won't accept this," Howe argued during the floor debate. "Well, I don't believe that!I believe we can work together."

Howe's amendment would take ten percent off the top from activities at the stadium, including ticket sales, luxury suites, concessions, advertising, naming rights and TV contracts. He estimated it would raise between $10 million to $15 million per year.

"I think we can get a better deal for the taxpayers, and for Minnesota," Sen. Howe told KARE after the vote. "And I think we can build a stadium. And I said I was going to vote for it in the end, and then I did."

Many of those who supported Howe's amendment, and many who voted against the stadium, were opposed to the fact that the state's share of construction costs will be repaid with revenue derived from new electronic pull-tab machines.

"For myself and a lot of other members who voted no it was the reliance on an expansion of state-sponsored gambling," Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove told KARE.

"We simply don't think that's the appropriate way to fund ANYTHING in the state of Minnesota, because of the damagegambling can do to individual families."

The members of that joint panel wereselected bySpeaker of the House Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem.

Zellersvoted against the stadium Monday night,but has been personally thanked by Governor Dayton and Bagley fornot erecting barriers to thebill in the House.Sen. Senjem hassupported some versions of the bill.

Minneapolis referendum debate

One amendment would ensure that Minneapolis voters have the right to decide whethersurplus local tax dollars can be used to renovate the Target Center, the home of the Minnesota Timberwolves and a concert venue.

The original bill stated only that it's up the the Minneapolis City Council to spend excess funds on the Target Center. But many lawmakers insisted that the city's charter requires a vote on both the Target Center and the Vikings stadium, because both would exceed $10 million in city funds.

Sen.Rosen said she agrees with Minneapolis city officials that a public vote's not requiredin this casebecause the city's contribution does not include a new local tax.

"We have superseded this charter commission 23 times in 20 years for other projects," Sen. Rosen remarked.

"The State collects these dollars, and gives them back to the City, so I believe there is no reason we need to have a referendum. There is no tax increase."

But several conservative Republicans joined Sen. John Marty, aRoseville Democrat and long-time stadium subsidy opponent, in insisting Minneapolis voters should have a say over the Target Center and Vikings stadium.

"The people of Minneapolis put this in their charter, because they said never again. Don't you do this to us, never again," Sen. Sean Nienow, R - Cambridgetoldhis colleagues.

Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R - Vergas, added, "When the people speak through their vote and they tell us what they don't want done to them we should listen, because if this can happen in Minneapolis it can happen anywhere in the state."

Buttwo Minneapolis Democrats called that concern for Minneapolis voters avehicle forstadium opponents todefeat or delay the project.

"Please don't use this argument," Sen. Patricia Torres Ray said. "It is hypocrisy, and it's not about the city of Minneapolis. And it's not about us."

Sen.Ken Kelash, another member of the Minneapolis delegation, pointed out that the 1997 City Charter amendment was meant to deal with a distinct situation that is no longer pressing.

He said the same Minneapolis voters reelected the Hennepin County Commissioners who imposed a local sales tax to pay for the public's share of Target Field, the home of the Minnesota Twins. He noted that a majority of the City Council voted to support the current stadium bill.

"This (referendum) will drive up the costs of the Vikings stadium. It's just a bad deal all around," Sen. Kelash said. "We should vote it down and quit talking about this high and mighty principal that only matters when it's convenient for the argument."


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