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Sens. Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria, left, and Roger Reinert of Duluth talked before a conference committee meeting early Thursday that approved a Vikings stadium bill. (Photo by Don Davis)

Vikings stadium: cheers or jeers?

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Is the breakthrough to build a $975 million Viking stadium a huge victory or a costly boondoggle?

It all depends on how you feel about the Minnesota Vikings, state funding and gambling.

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On Monday, Governor Mark Dayton signed the proposal. Only one hurdle remains - approval from the Minneapolis City Council, a probable, but not guaranteed action.

The House approved the stadium bill 71-60 early Thursday and the Senate followed suit with a 36-30 vote.

The Vikings will pay $477 million toward construction costs for the $975 million stadium, $50 million more than they wanted.

Most of the state's portion of stadium costs will 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.

The compromise bill also allows tipboards, a gambling game based on scores but not the outcomes of sports contests.

Legislators representing Douglas County were split on the issue.

Representative Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, voted against it while Representative Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, and Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria voted for it.

Franson said a stadium will not strengthen Minnesota. The state needs, instead, to lower taxes and invest in schools, she said.

"Minnesota taxpayers will be subsidizing fans," Franson said.

She was especially troubled with the state using gambling proceeds to help pay for the project. She said that electronic pull tabs were tried in Iowa, and were eliminated after 10 months.

"If they fail in Minnesota, then Minnesota taxpayers will be on the hook for stadium payments, as the backup funding source is Minnesota's general fund," she said.

Franson said the general fund should be used to pay for government programs, such as giving nursing home workers a raise or properly funding rural schools - not to pay for a stadium.

"To be clear, I'm not against gambling," Franson added. "In fact, I think the state of Minnesota should compete with the tribes for gambling business. I also support charitable gambling organizations and providing them with tax relief. And I also strongly support keeping the Vikings in Minnesota. But this legislation is a bad deal for Minnesota."

Franson said that Minnesota is "gambling to pay for the stadium with gambling dollars by encouraging people to lose their money."

"It's not that I'm against the Vikings, but I represent the taxpayers, and the taxpayers will ultimately be fleeced in this stadium deal," she said.

Westrom said feedback from Vikings' fans swayed his vote.

"After hundreds and hundreds of e-mails and calls from constituent Viking fans and weighing all the input from my district and across the state who supported the stadium proposal, in the end I voted in favor of helping to ensure the Vikings stay in Minnesota," he said. "By building the publically owned stadium, we voted to keep moving this process forward."

Westrom added that he was disappointed that a fireworks provision to help pay for the stadium was not in the final bill.

Ingebrigtsen was satisfied with how the bill turned out.

"At the end of the day, the Legislature, I think, agreed with most Minnesotans - they want to keep their Vikings here and the vote indicated that," he said.

Ingebrigtsen added that a "good, respectful debate" led up to the final vote on an issue that's been looming at the Capitol for about a decade. He credited bill authors Senator Julie Rosen and Representative Morrie Lanning for their leadership in getting the measure through, which included negotiations with Vikings owners that began more than a year and a half ago.

"[We] put together a pretty good bill that was vetted and vetted and vetted, as we do in the Senate and in the House, and it played out quite well."

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.

Some were upset about the process, as much of the discussion on the final version of the plan was conducted in private.

Senator John Howe, R-Red Wing, said there was not enough opportunity for public and other lawmakers' input.

"Everything was done as best could be done with the timeframe we had here," said Ingebrigtsen, who was part of the joint conference committee.

• • •

Don Davis and Danielle Nordine with Forum Communications Company's State Capitol Bureau contributed to this story.

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Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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