Stadium bill clears another Senate committee

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

The Senate Vikings’ stadium bill cleared another committee today (Tuesday, April 24), edging the stadium initiative closer to anticipated up-or-down votes on the Republican House and Senate floors.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, saw her stadium legislation clear the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee on a voice vote.

Vikings' stadium front man Lester Bagley testifies in the Senate Jobs and Econonic Growth Committee today (April 24) as Senate stadium bill author Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, (right) listens. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

“There were no negative votes,” said Committee Chairman Geoff Michel, R-Edina, heralding the action.

“I think it’s part of our (state) brand,” said Michel in committee of the Minnesota Vikings.

Rosen’s bill has one more stop, the Senate Finance Committee.

From there the bill could go directly to the Senate floor.

Not that all of the actions in the jobs committee pleased Rosen.

In addition to amendment by Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Lake Elmo, to include funding in the bill for the proposed St. Paul Saints ballpark in downtown St. Paul — an amendment the senator withdrew — Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, successfully amended the bill to direct charitable gambling revenues to pay down the City of St. Paul’s debt on the St. Paul Rivercentre.

“Saint Paul should be in the mix,” said Metzen.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said he was only “asking for fairness.”

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak indicated he believed St. Paul should be considered.

“We will not succeed by dividing folks,” said Rybak.

But Rosen indicated in committee the provision wasn’t “doable.”

She only first learned of the St. Paul amendment last night, she later explained.

In committee she spoke of such additional costs as “emasculating” the state’s general fund.

The City of St. Paul will be addressed in the bill, but Metzen’s amendment needs to come out, explained Rosen.

“A lot of this can be sorted out in conference committee,” she said.

Vikings’ stadium front man Lester Bagley said having additional projects added onto the stadium bill was a concern.

“This is a fragile deal,” he said.

But Michel argued the fact others are trying to hook into the bill suggests the legislation is gaining momentum and people sense it.

Other aspects of the Senate stadium bill were discussed.

Labor officials, such as Minnesota State Building & Construction Trades Council President Harry Melander and Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson, testified to the timeliness of the initiative.

Melander, who said unemployment in the building trades hovers around 20 percent, styled proposed stadium construction as “a generational opportunity.”

“The project is a great example of public/private partnership,” said Knutson.

Mortenson Construction spokesman Ken Sorenson spoke of the benefit of stadium construction on minorities, saying as much as 30 percent of the company construction workforce could be minorities.

He suggested constructions crews could be on the site of the new stadium at the Metrodome working on utilities as soon as early next year.

A good deal of committee time focused on the charitable gambling provision at the core of the stadium bill.

Dayton Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans explained the electronic pull-tabs and bingo provisions in the bill as generating some $66 million more in charitable gambling profits and capturing the state an additional $59 million in tax revenue a year.

That would bring the total state charitable gambling revenue take $96 million, Frans explained.

In answers to questions, Frans — asked to judge the financial strength of the electronic pull-tab and bingo provision on a scale of one to ten — graded it as above five.

It’s probably an eight, he said.

Greg Carey, of the bond company Goldman Sachs, also styled the proposal as solid — providing two times the needed bond debt coverage, he explained.

But King Wilson, of Allied Charities of Minnesota, was more tentative.

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said of finding a charitable gambling solution his organization could support.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” he said.

Bagley, speaking after the hearing, indicated that while the recent visit of National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell to the State Capitol was helpful, the momentum the stadium bill has gained was won in the last 48 hours with the committee successes.

That’s all important, he explained.

Bagley indicated the team is working House members for the expected stadium floor vote.

Every time the stadium bill goes into a committee the team assumes it’s starting at zero votes and works from there, he explained.

Bagley suggested the final floor votes will be close.

“It’s going to be a tight vote,” he said.

Rosen’s bill is expected to be taken up by the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday (April 25) morning.

A House committee sent a Vikings’ stadium bill to the House floor last night.

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