Vikings’ stadium bill heads to Republican House floor

Local lawmaker questions projected gambling revenue figures

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

The Vikings’ stadium bill is moving to the House floor for the first time.

The House Ways and Means Committee Monday, April 23, blew a breath of life into the stalled Vikings’ stadium initiative in the Republican House through two key votes.

The committee Monday evening amended a Vikings’ stadium provision onto a charitable gambling bill.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, frowns during an exchange on the soundness of gambling revenue estimates. Hackbarth argues the electronic pull-tab and bingo revenue estimates relied on in the stadium bill are basically pretend. Hackbarth's legislative district includes much of Elk River. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

The move is significant, because House Vikings’ stadium bill author Rep. Morrie Lanning’s bill failed in the House Government Operations and Elections Committee a week ago.

Indeed, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, last week styled the bill as “essentially dead.” But he also noted that there are ways of reviving dead bills.

But today’s resuscitation of the stadium bill in Ways and Means was done only after lengthy debate.

Several committee members questioned the legislation in fundamental ways.

Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, in an exchange with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak over the city’s contribution towards the construction of the $975 million Vikings’ stadium in Minneapolis, suggested a hole existed in the mayor’s logic.

Rybak, as he has in the past, argued that since the state controlled the various Minneapolis local sales taxes that would be used in stadium financing, Minneapolis City Charter language concerning a required city referendum for stadium expenditures in excess of $10 million was not applicable.

That’s because the state, not the city, controls the local sales tax revenue streams, Rybak argued.

But Downey countered by arguing that if the state controls these sales taxes as Rybak says, why does the city count them as part of its $150 million contribution towards the stadium?

Isn’t that really a state, not city, contribution? Downey argued.

“It seems like you kind of want it both ways,” he said.

Minneapolis has the same attitude towards local sales taxes collect in Minneapolis that the City of Edina would have towards local sales taxes collected in that city, Rybak answered back.

Because Lanning, R-Moorhead, retained changes made to his stadium bill last week in the House House Government Operations and Elections Committee, a Minneapolis City Charter exemption, which was removed in that committee, is still out of the bill.

But Rybak argued the provision wasn’t needed in the first place.

Another sharp questioner of the bill was Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, who argued the projected electronic charitable gambling revenues the state looks to to cover its $38 million a year stadium bonding debt service were essentially fictitious.

“It’s (debt service) going to be back on the state of Minnesota,” said Hackbarth, arguing there’s no real history of electronic charitable gambling on which estimates can be made.

A week ago Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, after witnessing his Vikings' stadium bill get voted down in one House committee spoke of the need for miracle. A week later his stadium bill is heading to the House floor. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

The same hyper-skepticism that Hackbarth took towards electronic pull-tabs and bingo, Lanning argued, could be leveled against any form of gambling.

But Hackbarth, a racino advocate, argued that wasn’t true at all.

Racino has a well-documented revenue history, he argued.

“I just want to make it crystal clear what you’re voting for in this bill,” said Hackbarth of the perceived flabbiness of the electronic pull-tab and bingo projected revenues.

But Dayton Administration officials backed the estimates.

“The methodology was very careful,” said Commissioner of Revenue Myron Frans of crafting the estimates.

Similar expressions of confidence were voiced by others.

“What’s being proposed in Minnesota is a different apple,” said Minnesota Gambling Control Board Executive Director Tom Barrett to the experience with electronic charitable gambling experienced in the State of Iowa.

Beyond this, Lanning noted  that five “blink-on” provisions exist in his bill that could kick in extra revenue should projected gambling dollars fall short.

Several attempts were made in Ways and Means to amend the stadium bill.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, attempted to amend a community ownership provision to the bill.

But Minnesota Vikings’ stadium front man Lester Bagley said National Football League bylaws prohibit community ownership.

“The Green Bay Packer situation has been grand fathered into the league,” he said of the community ownership of that team.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, successfully amended the stadium bill to require that to the greatest extent possible American steel made from Minnesota mined iron ore be used in stadium construction.

“Everybody’s a friend when you need the votes,” said Rukavina of Lanning’s acceptance of the amendment.

The two stadium votes in the House Ways and Means Committee on the stadium bill were voice votes.

No roll calls were taken.

The committee moved the stadium bill to the House floor without recommendation.

Lanning, in thanking the committee, spoke of having the up or down House floor vote on the legislation many people desire.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has been calling for such a vote for months.

The Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee is scheduled to hear Sen. Julie Rosen’s Vikings stadium legislation Tuesday morning.

That bill broke free of a Senate committee on Friday after being snared by a lack of votes for weeks.