By Mike Kaszuba and Baird Helgeson, Star Tribune, Minneapolis
The Minnesota Vikings won another testy political battle late Tuesday in the Legislature but were left with a project that was much less appealing to the team.
The Senate ended an 11-hour debate by approving plans for a new $1 billion stadium on a 38 to 28 vote amid cheers from Vikings fans who could be heard throughout the state Capitol. The vote came one day after the House also approved the project, but with significant differences.
"The Vikings didn't get everything they wanted," Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the chief Senate stadium author, said before the final vote.
The team agreed.
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said after the vote that the team remains committed to paying $427 million toward a roofed stadium at the Metrodome site. He had said that spending $532 million, as the House wants, is unworkable and did not publicly warm to the Senate's call for $452 million from the team.
But Rosen said she believed the team would have to spend at least the extra $25 million the Senate proposed. "Oh, yes. I do. Yeah," Rosen said.
The midnight vote came when stadium opponents, after a long day of trying to either thwart the project or get the Vikings to pay significantly more, conceded they did not have enough votes to block the plan. "They're great businessmen," Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, said of Vikings ownership, led by Zygi Wilf. "They certainly promised a lot of things here -- except the money." Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said stadium opponents were trying to string the debate out so there wouldn't be enough days left to adopt a public subsidy package for the project before the Legislature legally must adjourn on May 21.
"There are forces at work that are trying to run the clock out on this bill," said Bakk.
In its lengthy session, the Senate tore into the stadium plan and attempted to sew it back together on the fly. The senators adopted a series of user fees to help pay for the $1 billion stadium, pushed more of the stadium's operating costs onto the team and eliminated the Vikings' exclusive rights to a professional soccer team in the stadium.
The changes set up a bruising set of last-minute negotiations among the team, Gov. Mark Dayton and the GOP majority, which could begin Wednesday.
Stadium supporters warned against pushing the team too far. "It seems like we're hanging [the Vikings] upside down and trying to get all the loose change out of their pocket," said a frustrated Rosen. "We just keep smacking them around."
The biggest difference between the House and Senate plans involves how much the team would pay for the new stadium in downtown Minneapolis.
While many had anticipated that the House would be the biggest hurdle, the Senate on Tuesday proved by far to be the bill's most difficult test, with dozens of amendments and close votes on key changes. At one point, the Senate approved an amendment upholding the right of Minneapolis residents to vote on the stadium plan but later reversed itself.
At another point, the Senate voted to use a sweeping set of user fees to pay for the stadium, starting in 2013 with a 9.98 percent fee on, among other things, tickets, concessions, merchandise, stadium signage and the Vikings share of National Football League revenue sharing.
But the Senate, in a close vote, reversed itself and instead settled for a less stringent set of user fees that, while still opposed by the team, would augment the state's desire to use electronic bingo and pull tabs in Minnesota's bars and restaurants to pay the state's stadium share.
The user fees ultimately adopted include a 10 percent fee on the sale or rental of stadium suites, a 10 percent fee on parking within a half mile of the stadium during NFL events and a 6.875 percent fee on team jerseys and other league-licensed products sold at the stadium.
A state revenue analysis, however, said the fees would generate relatively little for the stadium, suggesting the more modest user fees were meant more to gain political support for the project. A 10 percent user fee on stadium suite sales, the analysis said, would raise $1 million a year, and a 10 percent fee on nearby parking would generate roughly $150,000 annually.
User fees have been a sore spot with Vikings officials, who argue that it really shifts the state's contribution to the team and its fans.
Another change adopted Tuesday by the Senate would have the state retain the naming rights for an outdoor plaza at the stadium, which would be located at the Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis. "The naming rights are just for the plaza, not for the stadium," said Rosen, who said the team would retain the stadium's more lucrative namig rights.
A powerful, bipartisan contingent of critics spent hours trying to derail the bill, calling the measure a taxpayer boondoggle crafted by negotiators who did not press hard enough for a larger Vikings contribution. They also objected to the expansion of charitable gambling to help pay the state's share.
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, an ardent opponent of subsidized stadiums, said taxpayers were expected to pay too much and would get too little.
"Why do they [Vikings] get the naming rights to a stadium we built and then use that revenue as their contribution?" Marty asked.
Legislators also rejected proposals to allow video slot machines at horse racing tracks and at a metro-area casinos to pay the state's share of the stadium.
Tax provisions creep in
Mindful that they might or might not get a tax bill passed before session's end, senators used the stadium bill as the vehicle for long-sought tax provisions that didn't gain traction during the session, such as tax breaks for the Mall of America.
One change, which has Dayton's support, would require Internet retailers such as Amazon to collect state taxes when Minnesota customers buy online. Minnesotans are already supposed to pay state taxes for such purchases, but only a tiny fraction do.
The change would bring in just $3.5 million a year, but is a top priority for local retailers such as Target and Best Buy, who argue that existing laws give an unfair advantage to online retailers. Senate Taxes Chairwoman Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, called the change a brazen tax increase that will boost state spending -- two things Republicans have diligently blocked for years.
"This is a terrible breach of faith with residents," Ortman said.
(c)2012 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)