Republican leaders propose last minute retooling of Vikings’ stadium legislation

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

It’s just another day at the State Capitol, said Vikings stadium front man Lester Bagley.

House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, speaks to the media about a Republican Vikings stadium proposal that relies on general obligation bonding instead of gaming as a means of state funding for the Vikings stadium. Listening in the background is House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Republican legislative leaders on Monday (May 1) proposed a dramatic shift away from the Vikings stadium legislation methodically crafted over past months and now awaiting action on Republican House and Senate floors.

Instead of the charitable gambling revenue engine under the hoods of Republican Sen. Julie Rosen’s and Rep. Morrie Lanning’s stadium bills, Republican leaders — in an initiative heavily involving House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, an architect by profession — are proposing to entirely abandon gaming as a revenue source and instead use general obligation bonds to pay infrastructure costs for the stadium.

“We’re trying to find solutions,” said Dean, speaking at an afternoon press conference.

By using general obligation bonds, the Republican proposal would make it tougher to pass the stadium legislation because passing a bonding bill requires a super majority of votes.

Additionally, Republican leaders themselves indicated the use of general obligation bonding, which offers somewhat lower interest rates than the appropriation bonding being considered, impacts the state’s general fund.

One of the great taboos of the stadium debate has been the avoidance of using general fund tax dollars to build a stadium.

But Senate Tax Committee Chairman Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said the charitable gambling proposal also carries general fund implications.

Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, dubbed the State Capitol the “home of ideas.”

Their stadium idea is still in its embryonic stage, Senjem explained.

“We’ll get him in the light,” said Senjem of bringing Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton up to speed on the idea.

The light will shine pretty quickly, he said.

But it wasn’t quick enough for the governor.

At a hastily called press conference earlier yesterday, Dayton, DFL legislative leaders and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak denounced the Republican move to retool the stadium bill so late in the session.

“It’s a gimmick,” said Dayton. “This is not a serious proposal.”

It “pretty much destroys” the concept of “The People’s Stadium,” said Dayton.

Dayton, like other Democrats, indicated the Republican proposal came out of the blue.

He first heard about it third-hand, explained Dayton.

Moreover, Dayton criticized the Republican proposal as envisioning a roofless Vikings stadium.

That would absolutely limit the public’s use of the facility, he argued.

“This is some kind of end-game gimmick,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.

Rybak said if the Republican proposal envisions lowering the cost of the stadium for the Minnesota Vikings and not for the city of Minneapolis, it was a “dead end.”

“I think Minnesotans have really gotten tired of this debate,” said Rybak.

Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, who has been one of the Democrats working on Lanning’s stadium bill, also slammed the Republicans.

“This is a doodle. It’s not a plan,” Morrow said, suggesting Republican leaders were simply out to kill the bill.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton blasted the Republican bonding proposal as a gimmick. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, stands behind the governor. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Bagley indicated the Vikings remain committed to the stadium proposal negotiated over the past months with city of Minneapolis and state officials.

There was nothing secret or unusual in the team supplying information to Dean when Dean requested it, Bagley explained.

It’s part of doing business, he said.

“This is nothing out of the ordinary,” said Bagley. “There was no secret meeting.”

Bagley indicated he believed Monday’s flare-up did not jeopardize the prospects of funding a stadium this session.

“It’s just another day at the Capitol,” said Bagley.

Dayton, for one, indicated a degree of concern over the team’s motives.

But Bagley insisted the Vikings have tried to stay out of State Capitol disputes.

Lanning, speaking off the House floor, suggested the Dayton was overreacting.

“It’s not surprising,” said Lanning.

As session nears its end, people become sensitive to changes, he said.

Different ideas are percolating on the stadium, Lanning explained.

Lanning still believes his bill is the operative stadium bill of the session.

Not that the future was certain.

“At this point, anything could happen,” Lanning said.

For their part, the Republican leaders styled the Vikings stadium bonding as fitting into an overall concept of bonding for infrastructure.

Although not citing the exact amount they’re intending to bond, Dean suggested project infrastructure costs typically run from 20 percent to 25 percent.

The Republicans indicated they’re fine tuning their bonding proposal.

House Health and Human Services Finance Committee Chairman Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, also suggested Dayton was overreacting to the bonding proposal.

“Welcome to my world,” Abeler quipped, smiling.

Having new ideas suddenly emerge is typical of the State Capitol, he explained.

Minnesota Vikings stadium front man Lester Bagley indicated the team remains committed to the stadium bill worked over past months and awaiting action in the House and Senate. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

“It’s no gimmick,” said Abeler of the Republican bonding proposal.

Abeler questions whether the other stadium bills actually have the votes to pass House and Senate.

Committee votes  have been squeakers, voice votes, the bills moving ahead without recommendations, he noted.

“That tells you something,” Abeler said.

The Republican bonding proposal is an acceptable means of lowering the cost of the stadium and funding it with a reliable source, he explained.

Beyond this, the economy, the public, argue against spending a lot of money.

“There’s no appetite for paying a lot of money,” he said.

Abeler believes the House Republican bonding bill will come close to the size of Dayton’s bonding bill, about $775 million.

Dayton Administration Spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci late afternoon indicated the governor is unlikely to change his mind about the Republican bonding proposal.

“It’s been vetted. It’s a plan,” she said of stadium bills awaiting action on the Republican House and Senate floors.

Dayton is urging the public to contact their lawmakers and demand a vote on the Vikings stadium.

“Vote on the proposal that’s been worked on for the last eight months. That’s before the House and the Senate. That’s been vetted by seven legislative committees – and that is a sound package, has been worked out, has support of the Minneapolis City Council and the mayor, and is a go,” said Dayton in a statement.

“So I would ask Minnesotans to call your legislators and say quit fooling around, this is not about politics for November and it’s not about your jobs for November. It’s about our jobs, our future, our team. Get it done. Bring it up – up or down vote,” he said.

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