Lawmakers try a long bomb for Vikings stadiumIt is fourth and long for a new Vikings stadium, and on Monday legislative quarterbacks dropped back for a last-minute hail Mary pass.
By: Don Davis, E/P State Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL -- It is fourth and long for a new Vikings stadium, and on Monday legislative quarterbacks dropped back for a last-minute hail Mary pass.
The defense is strong: The governor does not like new taxes included in a proposal released Monday, the Vikings have serious concerns and time is running out.
But like any Vikings fan watching a tight game knows, anything is possible.
A bill spelling out how to pay for a $791 million Minnesota Vikings football stadium was announced Monday by four lawmakers from outside the Twin Cities. The announcement came three months into the 2010 legislative session and two weeks before it must end.
The bill would allow one of two funding options. One would tax Twin Cities hotels, sports memorabilia sold statewide, Vikings admission, Vikings concessions and Twin Cities rental cars, with a sport-themed lottery game adding to the funds.
If Minneapolis hosts the new stadium, the second plan would require the city to use existing entertainment taxes to help pay off the stadium, with the lottery proposal still attached.
Both plans require the Vikings to sign a 40-year lease, which is opposed by the team, and if the team is sold profits would go to pay off construction debt.
While Minneapolis appears to be the preferred site of a new stadium, the bill to be introduced today does not specify a location. The Vikings are talking to several communities.
The bill faces a tough road in the Legislature, which still must balance the state budget, a task that will include cutting health-care programs for poor Minnesotans. Stadium opponents have said in the past few months that approving a stadium would appear like it takes priority over the poor.
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said bill backers have not talked to him about the bill for weeks. He said it is doubtful the bill can pass in the time lawmakers have left given the large number of committees the bill would need to navigate.
"I don't think the bill will get any special treatment," Pogemiller said.
Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, said he is introducing the bill because "the Vikings contribute a great deal to the state economy." With low construction costs and high unemployment, this is the time to build a stadium, said Solberg, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The Vikings say they will not continue to play in the Metrodome, in downtown Minneapolis, after their lease expires at the end of the 2011 season.
"If we want to maintain this great asset, this team that helps to support the quality of life in Minnesota that so many enjoy, we are going to have to do something now," Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said. "If the team were to leave, Minnesota is going to lose $20 million or more in tax revenues. That is money that would go to support education, human services, local aids, public safety and the like."
Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the plan requires only those who benefit from a new stadium to fund its construction. However, a tax on things such as sports clothing and trading cards would be assessed on items such as sports clothing and trading cards of any team. Also, the hotel tax would not be limited to Vikings fans.
Bakk said that if lawmakers wait until next year to approve a stadium, construction costs would rise $50 million. Also, he said, a state budget deficit projected to top $5 billion will make passing a stadium bill tougher.
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said the proposal is a good start and he is confident something can be worked out by the time lawmakers go home for the year, but he expressed what he called significant concerns about the bill as proposed.
Among Bagley's most serious concerns is the amount the team would have to pay for the stadium, to be owned by a local government hosting the stadium. The Vikings would need to pay $264 million up front, but Bagley said the Vikings are looking at contributing $210 million.
The Vikings would be locked into a 40-year lease, which Bagley said is a problem.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who would need to sign off on any Vikings plan, was not sold on Monday's proposal.
"While the Vikings are an important state asset, the governor believes the Legislature should concentrate on passing a budget and key education reforms..." Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said. "We remain opposed to any stadium plan that includes tax increases, including the hotel tax, jersey tax and rental car tax in one of the plans unveiled today."
Legislative leaders have been cool to the idea of a new stadium, saying the budget situation must be fixed first. Lanning said that the budget plan is well under way, so now is the time to begin stadium discussions.