by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Sen. Julie Rosen stepped outside of the Senate Tax Committee late Friday evening, April 27 after witnessing her Vikings stadium bill sent to the Senate floor.
Rosen, for just clearing likely the last committee hurdle her high-profile bill needs to clear, was less than exultant.
“I’m tired,” said Rosen, R-Fairmont.
That was understandable.
As Rosen anticipated, her stadium bill had a good going over in the high-spirited tax committee.
Some of the most liberal and conservative senators in the Senate formed blocs of opposition to bill, challenging its provisions, sources of funding.
Indeed, longtime foe of public dollars for stadiums Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, at one point styled calling the stadium a public facility a “scam.”
Rather than a public facility, the stadium actually was a taxpayer-subsidize revenue engine for an already lucrative industry, the National Football League, to make more money, Marty argued.
“The Vikings aren’t a nonprofit — they’re extremely profitable,” said Marty.
Much of the more than five hours of committee time was spent debating the means of financing the state’s stadium funding obligations.
An amendment offered by Rosen striking a provision in the bill that could have placed thousands of slot machines at Canterbury Park in Shakopee and Running Aces Harness in the City of Columbus — racino — was passed on a 10 to 3 vote.
Charitable gaming electronic pull-tabs and bingo provisions in the bill remain intact.
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, successfully amended racino onto the stadium bill during a previous committee.
“I’m working what magic I have, but I don’t serve on the (tax) committee,” Nienow said prior to the committee hearing.
Many of the arguments Nienow voiced in defending racino in committee were echoed by Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, in tax committee.
Chamberlain styled charitable gaming revenues as regressive and volatile.
In terms of containing the growth of gambling, Chamberlain argued that racino was far superior to charitable gambling as it would place slot machines at two locations while electronic pull-tabs and bingo would scatter additional gambling across the state.
“This is going to change how the state looks,” Chamberlain warned of the charitable gaming provision.
But other senators warned keeping racino in the stadium bill would wreck it.
“A racino is a deal breaker,” said Rosen, who otherwise expressed a general support for racino.
Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, who carried racino legislation, struck the same tone.
“This (racino) puts the entire bill in jeopardy — plain and simple,” said Senjem.
In a flurry of amendments, the racino provision was stripped from the bill, though an Internet nexus sales tax provision was added.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, attempted to amend a “user fee” or stadium sales tax provision onto the bill, arguing that Vikings stadium supporters were a passionate lot and would not object to paying a little more to support a new stadium.
Beyond this, this additional funding — perhaps $16 million a year, Bakk estimated — would make state stadium revenues “rock solid,” he said.
Minnesota Vikings stadium front man Lester Bagley called the idea “extremely problematic.”
But an amendment to his sales tax amendment that he did not like cause Bakk to withdraw his amendment.
But other senators on the tax committee attempted to remove the charitable gaming provisions from the bill and replace them with a list of “user fees,” surcharges on tickets, concessions, license, others.
Rosen warned against revamping funding mechanisms in the bill, painfully worked out over many months of negotiations, she explained.
“We may not have a third partner,” she said, suggesting the Vikings would walk.
But Sen. John Howes, R-Red Wing, argued Rosen was overreacting.
“This shouldn’t be a deal-killer,” he said.
“I want this to go to the Senate floor,” Howes said.
But user fee amendment opponents, such as Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, argued the tax committee should not be making major alterations to a bill without knowing the fiscal impact.
“It pretty clear they’re (amendment supporters) not comfortable with expanding gaming in any form,” said Michel.
While Dayton Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans explained his department could obtain some fiscal estimates on the user fees, he indicated they could not speedily get them all.
Marty argued a ballpark estimate existed, citing Bakk’s back of the envelop estimate.
“I’m not comfortable,” said Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, the perceived lack of solid numbers.
Senate Tax Committee Chairwoman Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, suggested Rosen and bill supporters pull together financial information concerning the user fees, arguing committee debate had sent her a strong message.
Debate flared, and in quick succession the committee recess, reconvened, debated, before finally sending Rosen’s bill to the Senate floor without recommendations on a 7 to 6 vote.
“I knew that was a tough committee,” said Rosen, speaking in the Capitol corridor.
But they managed to fight back a lot of “lousy” amendments, she explained.
Rosen expects a long debate, perhaps 12 hours, when the stadium bill hits the Senate floor.
She thinks she’s got the votes to pass her bill.
“Yes, I do,” she said.
The House has not yet debated its Vikings stadium bill on the floor.
House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said the House Republican Caucus has no formal position on the stadium.
But to pass there has to be bipartisan support, he said.
He didn’t know whether the stadium has enough votes in the House to pass. Dean explained.
Dean thought the State Capitol bonding bill, which lost by a single vote, was going to pass, he said, smiling.
Personally, Dean considers restoring the State Capitol a higher priority than building a new stadium.
Ortman said the Minnesota Vikings are an asset to the State of Minnesota.
“But they’re asking us to do extraordinary things on their behalf,” she said.
Ortman voted against the Senate stadium bill in tax committee.
So did senators Chamberlain and Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.
Michel and Rest voted to send the stadium bill to the Senate floor.