Stadium passes House; Westrom votes yes while Franson votes no
ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Vikings are close to a new stadium after the House early today approved a construction plan 71-60.
Representatives debated the stadium bill an hour and 50 minutes after day-long negotiations produced a compromise bill after the House and Senate passed differing versions.
Soon after passing the stadium bill, the House adjourned for the year before 4 a.m. today.
Senators expect to take up the bill later today before adjourning until 2013. If they pass it, Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign the bill. Before a stadium is fully approved, the Minneapolis City Council must pass it within 30 days.
House bill author Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, shepherded the bill through the Legislature, after working on the issue seven years, to build the largest single project the state ever.
The new stadium will make Minnesota "a better place to live," Lanning said.
He predicted it will serve the state more than 50 years, replacing the outdated Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis.
The final House vote did not fall along party lines, but split both parties. (Douglas County's two Republican representatives were also split, with Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, voting for it and Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, opposing it.)
Those against the Lanning bill delivered strong speeches.
Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said a stadium will not strengthen Minnesota. The state needs, instead, to lower taxes and invest in schools, she said.
Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, complained that a project of nearly $1 billion was in the single bill, while the House could only pass a bill half that size to fund public works projects across the state.
"Minnesota taxpayers will be subsidizing fans," Franson said.
Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, said the funding approved in the bill, using expanded taxes with electronic pulltabs and bingo, never has been used.
"These electronic pulltabs don't exist anywhere," Hackbarth said, and likely will not produce enough revenue to repay stadium construction loans.
However, Vikings fans thanked legislators for keeping the team in Minnesota for another generation. Many in full Vikings outfits were in the House galleries and applauded when the vote was announced.
Lanning said he looks forward to a long stadium life that will serve many needs other than just professional football.
For Lanning, today's vote was the climax of seven years of working on the issue.
Stadium backers worked long hours in recent days as they tried to smooth over differences between the House and Senate and between legislators and the Vikings.
"There was a lot of give and take, a lot of compromise," Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said.
Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, told colleagues that Lanning worked hard to reach a compromise for the good of the entire state.
"We are investing in tradition, we are investing in entertainment," Morrow said.
Private meetings throughout Wednesday yielded a compromise between plans the House and Senate approved earlier in the week. But after a decade, the Vikings needed to wait a few more hours as bill writers fixed "technical" problems with the bill late Wednesday.
The Vikings are to pay $477 million toward construction costs, $50 million more than they wanted. The $975 million Minneapolis stadium, on the site of the Metrodome, would have 65,000 seats, expandable to 72,000.
Even as final details were being worked out, stadium backers were happy.
"This represents a well negotiated final product and we are hopeful that it will be received positively in both bodies of the Legislature," Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said.
While stadium supporters said they were optimistic the plan will pass, doubts remained.
"Passing is anybody's guess," said Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, a member of the House-Senate conference committee that was to approve the bill Wednesday night.
The bill is a compromise, he added. "It is in keeping with substantially the bills in the House and Senate."
Another committee member said public reaction is very strong in favor of a stadium.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said his emails run 10 to one in favor of a stadium. He gets 250 to 300 of them a day.
The compromise bill contains no surprises, but it did offer suspense because the Vikings did not immediately say if they could support it.
Most of the state's portion of stadium construction costs would come from taxes collected on new charitable gambling profits after electronic devices are added to pulltab and bingo games. The state would pay $348 million and Minneapolis $150 million.
Bagley long has said the Vikings would not pay more than $427 million, but the team did not say Wednesday night if it would pay $50 million more.
The public stadium authority would be responsible for any construction cost overruns as well as unexpected operating costs.
The compromise bill requires that amateur sports, community, and other public events have access to the stadium, much like at the three-decade-old Metrodome.
The Vikings would have exclusive rights to own a professional soccer team for the first five years the stadium is in operation.
Using charitable gambling taxes to finance the stadium was one of the most controversial parts of the plan. While the Senate inserted some user fees to supplement the gambling, legislators rejected attempts to switch to all user fee funding.
The compromise bill allows electronic pulltabs and bingo games, as well as tipboards, which is a gambling game based on scores but not the outcomes of sports contests.
Supporters say the gambling would provide enough money to repay the state's construction costs, although many lawmakers oppose that part of the plan.
The bill provides back-up funding in case the gambling revenues fall short of the state's needs. They include a tax on luxury boxes in the stadium, a sports-themed lottery game and other provisions.
The bill heads back to the House and Senate for final votes.
The final compromise was worked out in meetings that took all day Wednesday. Joining bill authors Lanning and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, were legislative leaders, other stadium backers, Vikings officials, business leaders, Dayton aides and others.
The secret meetings drew flak from several legislators.
The Senate approved the original bill 38-28 late Tuesday after about 11 hours of debate. The House moved it forward 73-58 Monday following eight and a half hours of discussion.
The $975 million stadium construction proposal is the last major issue of the 2012 legislative session. If it passes, the Legislature is expected to adjourn for the year, followed by a large number of legislators giving retirement speeches.
The final votes could draw to an end a decade-long saga to build a Vikings stadium. The National Football League team has wanted a new facility that long, saying the Metrodome no longer can produce enough revenue, but the Twins baseball team and University of Minnesota football team took legislative priority for new sports venues.
While the stadium is known as a Vikings stadium, Lanning said the team would use it only a few days a year. Concerts, national sports events, high school games, monster truck rallies and other events would fill the stadium most of the time.
The stadium would be owned by the state and run by a public authority. However, host Minneapolis and the Vikings would pay operating costs.
The bill originally would have required the state to pay $398 million, the Vikings $427 million and Minneapolis $150 million.
Bills the two bodies passed were similar, but had differences.
One major difference was the House required the Vikings to increase their previously promised $427 million contribution limit by $105 million. The Senate sought $25 million more.
In both cases, those amounts would reduce the state portion.