ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The National Football League's top executives did something for the Vikings stadium plan Friday that its supporters at the Capitol had been unable to do in months, namely create a sense of urgency.
A stadium bill cleared its first committee in the Senate Friday night, seven hours after legislative leaders and Governor Mark Dayton met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II.
The Local Government Operations committee voted 8 to 6 to send the Minneapolis stadium plan down the road to the Jobs and Economic Development Committee. Any committee defeat along the way could kill the bill's prospects, with the 2012 session winding down.
It's the same committee that tabled the bill March 14th a couple of hours into its first hearing of the session. But legislative leaders vowed to the visiting NFL delegation they'd do their best to get the stadium to a floor vote before time runs out.
"I think in the end, hopefully, we can get it to the floor and vote this thing up or down," Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem told reporters. "And hopefully in a manner that keeps the Vikings in Minnesota."
The $1 billion project would be built on the site of current Metrodome in the eastern part of downtown Minneapolis, but off-set slightly so that the team can continue playing in the Dome during the first two years of construction.
"Going forward it will be fair for the supporters, but also for the team," House Speaker Kurt Zellers added."Ithas to be a good deal for the State of Minnesota, but it also has to be a good deal for the people who use it."
The team has proposed picking up $427 million of the cost upfront, while $398 million would be finance by the State of Minnesota over a 30-year period using government bonds. The plan calls for those bonds to be repaid with revenue derived from new gambling, in the form of electronic pull-tabs, electronic scratch-off and sports-themed tip boards.
The bill, authored by Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont, would require $150 million from the City of Minneapolis initially. The city would also pledge to spend $180 million in upkeep and operations costs over the first 30 years of the stadium's life.
Much of the discussion during Friday's hearing centered around the mechanics of the financial package, and specifically what would back up the bonds if gambling proceeds didn't flow as expected through the year 2044 when the bonds wouldbe repaid.
Before Rosen's bill came up for a vote, the panel tabled an alternative stadium bill that would've reverted to the Vikings' original preferred site in Arden Hills. The bill's author, Sen. Jim Metzen of South St. Paul, received a gentlyhint from Committee Chair Ray Vandeveer that a roll-call vote would not go in his favor.
"So you're telling me the count's not in my favor?" Metzen asked, referring to an informal head count of the committee's 14 members.
"I think you understand what I'm saying senator," Vandeveer responded.
Ramsey County Commissioners, who announced a partnership with the Vikings last May, continued to argue that it's best location from thetailgating perspective and in terms of the potential for peripheral development.
The latest Arden Hills stadium bill also features a public referendum for the local revenue source, a two percent food and beverage tax in suburban Ramsey County.
Straight from the Commissioner
"We believe that after many, many years that the time has come to pass the legislation, to move forward," Goodell told a huge contingent of reporters, photographers, lobbyists and fans who gathered outside the governor's office at the Capitol Friday.
He said he didn't want to characterize the visit as a threat, but more of a punctuation mark on what Gov. Dayton and the team's principal owner Zygi Wilf have been saying about the financial structure of the league.
"The Wilfs are frustrated, but they are committed to this community. They want to be here," Goodellremarked. "But they recognize for them to continue to operate here successfully and to field a competitive team, they need to get the new stadium."
He said the league does not want to see the stadium plan, which has suffered a string of defeats at the Capitol dating to 2002, pushed off until the year 2013.
That will be a budget year, and by then the legislature will include many new faces, including some who've been elected with a pledge of opposing a Vikings stadium. A stadium subsidy in any form has never gained traction with Minnesotans in public opinion polls, which is why backers resist adding referenda to the bills.
"It seems like there has been an agreement in place that all the parties have worked out, and that it's very close to the goal line," Rooneytold the crowd of onlookers at the Capitol.
"So, we just came to see what we could do to encourage the legislature to move the ball across the goal line."
A significant number of lawmakers are against the because they oppose expanding gambling, while others are dead set against any government involvement in building professional sports venues.
Some Democrats, who would be inclined to support a stadium under some circumstances, are opposed because the gambling has been classified as "non-tax revenue" by the bill's Republican authors as part of a commitment not to use taxpayer money.
Critics say that is effectively a form of taxation, because money is being raised through a new gaming system authorized by the state. Part of the proceeds of the pull-tabs would be used to augment charitable gaming enterprises that currently rely on standard paper pull-tabs.
The most recent stadium built in Minnesota, Target Field, was approved by the legislature by the State did not provide any direct funding. The state did, however, enable Hennepin County Commissioners to impose a 0.315 percent local sales tax for 30 years, to repay the costs.