House committee votes down Vikings’ stadium bill

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, (right) House Vikings' stadium bill author, surveys the House committee prior to the start of the hearing. Lanning noted that a Vikings' stadium bill failed in the same committee two years ago. (Photo by T.W. Budig)


by T.W. Budig

ECM Capitol reporter

Vikings’ stadium supporters might need something miraculous.

The House Government Operations and Elections Committee Monday (April 16) voted down the Vikings’ stadium bill on a 6 to 9 vote.

“This is the end of the line at this point,” said Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, House Vikings’ stadium bill author, after the hearing.

“Someone would have to perform a miracle for this to be resurrected at this point,” he said, speaking in the emptying committee room.

Lanning styled his bill “clearly the best (stadium) proposal” seen to this point.

Vikings’ stadium front man Lester Bagley said team officials were “very disappointed” with the committee vote.

“We’ve done everything we’ve been asked,” said Bagley, speaking after the hearing.

“What else do you expect us to do?” he rhetorically asked.

There’s still about two weeks left in the legislative session and people are working on behalf of the stadium bill, said Bagley.

He indicated the push for a stadium is not over for the session.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, Senate stadium bill author, currently has her bill hung up in the Senate.

It failed to clear the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee, chaired by Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, and has not progressed since.

House Local Government and Elections Committee Chairwoman Joyce Peppin (right), R-Rogers, talks to committee staff during the hearing. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

House Government Operations and Elections Committee Chairwoman Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, indicated she was surprised by the House committee vote.

“A little bit — yes,” she said.

She thought Democrats on the committee would support legislation that was so important to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Dayton has repeatedly called for an up or down House and Senate floor on “The People’s Stadium.”

Still, Peppin noted the stadium bill is alive in the Senate.

She suggested the House committee vote did not mean the initiative had collapsed for the session.

“Not necessarily,” she said.

Although Peppin successfully amended the stadium bill, she voted against it.

So did three other Republicans on the committee.

Republican representative Michael Beard of Shakopee, Carol McFarlane of White Bear Lake, Tim Sanders of Blaine, and other Republicans voted in support.

So did Democratic Rep. Michael Nelson of Brooklyn Park.

“I do support the bill,” said Nelson.

He viewed the bill as a net win for construction workers idling on the union hall bench and wondering how they’ll pay their bills.

“We need to move this forward,” said Nelson.

But other Democrats on the committee felt otherwise.

Two of them, representatives Steve Simon of St. Louis Park and Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley, voted against the bill.

Winkler sharply questioned Vikings’ team officials during the committee hearing.

He fired a series of pointed questions at Bagley and Vikings Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer Steve Poppen.

Lawmakers can’t be sure they’re getting the best deal for taxpayers on the stadium, Winkler argued, because they don’t have access to team financial information.

“Right now, we’re kind of negotiating in the dark with you,” said Winkler to the two Vikings’ officials.

“How do we know we’re getting a good deal?” Winkler asked.

Poppen indicated the team had shared confidential financial information with some officials.

The team is not cash-flow positive, Poppen said.

But Winkler deemed it “unfortunate” team officials were willing to share financial information with stadium proponents but not with the Legislature.

Other Democrats asked sharp questions.

Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, asked whether stadium advocates weren’t asking for a “Cadillac model” stadium instead of a more affordable one.

But Dayton Administration stadium point man Ted Mondale argued the stadium proposal was sound.

“We do believe it’s a fair deal,” he said.

Peppin successfully removed from the stadium bill a City of Minneapolis home rule charter exemption provision city officials argued was legitimate.

“I think they (Minneapolis voters) deserve on vote on this,” said Peppin.

Seventy percent of Minneapolis voters in 1997 passed a proposed charter amendment requiring a citywide vote on stadium expenditures of $10 million or more.

But Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson argued that the city sales taxes slated to be used for stadium funding predate the passage of the charter provision and anyway are under the control of the state, not the city.

Further, Johnson argued the state granting the city exemptions to charter provisions was common.

Indeed, since 1980, exemptions have been granted 20 times, she said.

But Peppin argued the fact the Legislature had exempted city charter provisions in the past didn’t make it right.

Or doesn’t the city charter mean anything? she asked.

“Maybe it should just be thrown away,” said Peppin, expressing regret that Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was not at the hearing.

Vikings' team officials Lester Bagley (left) and Steve Poppen received tough questioning during a House committee hearing Monday (April 16) before witnessing the Vikings' stadium bill getting voted down. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Lanning, a former mayor, styled city charters as “a sacred document.”

But he backed Johnson’s assertions.

Union officials urged the committee to pass the stadium bill.

“This does not need to stop tonight,” said Minnesota Building Trades President Harry Melander.

Voting down the stadium bill meant the debate would linger on into the election and next session, argued Lanning.

“I have often said I want to get this issue off the Front Page (of the newspaper),” he said.

There’s better things to focus on, he explained.

The Vikings have given ground in negotiations, argued Lanning.

The team is willing to kick in some $200 million more now then when talks first began, he said.

But the stadium bill went down to defeat.

Had it passed, two more House committees awaited the legislation.