by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
Opinions differ among area lawmakers in regard to the proposed special legislative stadium session, but a few themes recently emerged.
In general, the lawmakers are not keen on Gov. Mark Dayton’s idea of calling a special session in November to address the Vikings’ stadium.
Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, sees no reason to call a special session.
“Without question this should wait until the regular session,” she said.
“The state doesn’t have $300 million sitting around in a slush fund for use for anything,” said Kiffmeyer, referring to the amount of state contribution the various stadium proposals anticipate.
The National Football League is big business, Kiffmeyer argued, questioning whether the state should get involved at all in a private business.
“By the way, we’re talking about millionaires and billionaires here,” she said of the big money people involved in the NFL.
Kiffmeyer views Vikings’ owner Zygi Wilf as not yet putting up enough of his own money for a new stadium.
As for proposed local tax increases, Kiffmeyer wants voter referendums included in any legislative package.
Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, said special sessions are for emergencies, like floods or tornadoes. A Vikings’ stadium is no emergency, he said.
“He better have his number (vote) count,” said House Tax Committee Chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston, warning against Dayton calling a special session without knowing whether a stadium bill could even pass.
Several lawmakers insisted that to discuss a stadium there has be a proposal on the table.
“That’s just asking for a disaster,” said Rep. Tim Sanders, R-Blaine, of going into special session with three, four, five stadium proposals floating through the State Capitol.
But in general, too, area lawmakers indicated a willingness to listen.
Dettmer wants to do a great deal of listening. “We need public hearings,” he said.
Dettmer, speaking on the proposed Vikings/Ramsey County Arden Hills’ stadium proposal, believes Ramsey County voters should be allowed to vote on a proposed county-wide sales tax increase.
Although speaking of his unwillingness to raise taxes in order to fund a stadium, Dettmer drew a distinction between user fees — such a sales tax on sports memorabilia — and other taxes.
User fees could be “something more palatable,” he said.
Davids, unlike the other area lawmakers, views the stadium issue as “pressing” and a legitimate reason for a special session.
“We’re going to have to be very creative,” said Davids of finding a stadium solution.
He indicated that the Twins’ ballpark funding model — a model that includes a county-wide sales tax increase — could serve as a model for a new Vikings’ stadium.
Davids does not view a referendum as necessary if local officials are willing to increase taxes.
A stadium solution can be found, Davids believes. “I really do,” he said.
House K-12 Finance Committee Chairman Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, views the state budget as taking priority over stadiums and indicated the latter could wait to be addressed until lawmakers return to the State Capitol in January.
“I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said of legislators handling both issues.
Garofalo looks to gambling as a possible source of state funding for a stadium. “I think racino is the best way to go,” he said. “It would be so good for rural Minnesota.”
Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, labelled calling a special session “premature.” “I think we have to see a proposal,” he said.
The state has a legitimate role looking at questions of infrastructure in terms of stadium development, Vandeveer indicated.
“I’m not going to say ‘Never,’” he said of ruling out all state support for a stadium.
Though not saying he supported the Arden Hills’ proposal at this point, Vandeveer called it a “logical location.” “I wouldn’t be unhappy to see it at Arden Hills,” he said.
Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, also questions the need for a special session.
“I don’t see the votes out there, and I don’t see the public support out there,” she said.
Goodwin, who supports a recent legislative proposal to give the Metrodome to the Vikings, views talk of the team leaving the state as another scare tactic.
(NFL officials recently suggested the possibility was real.)
Indeed, Goodwin, who served in the House when the Vikings and Anoka County jointly sought to build a stadium in Blaine a few years ago, views the team as continuing a hardheaded business practice.
“They still seem to be playing one county against the other,” she said.
For lawmakers, facing reelection next year, the stadium issue is a vexing one, Goodwin said.
“To let the Vikings leave — that could kill them (at the polls),” she said. “To raise taxes, that could kill them.”
Goodwin views the urgency some see in finding a stadium solution as artificial. The Vikings could renew their lease at the Metrodome on a yearly basis, she said.
Rep. Bob Barrett, R-Shafer, also questions immediately addressing the stadium issue.
“I don’t know if the timing of a Vikings’ stadium (vote) will make much difference,” he said. “If the votes aren’t there, they’re not there.”
It would be “extremely difficult” to convince him to vote for spending state money for a stadium, Barrett indicated. But he was willing to listen, he explained.
Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, like a number of the area lawmakers willing to speak on the stadium issue, is uncomfortable with the idea of the state spending millions of dollars to assist private business.
“If we start doing that, where does it stop?” she asked.