Minnesota House passes Vikings stadium bill

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

The voice of Minnesota was heard tonight, said Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

The Republican House on Monday (May 7) passed a Vikings stadium bill on a bipartisan 73 to 58 vote — it was a stronger vote than anyone anticipated, said Dayton, speaking shortly after conclusion of the eight-hour House floor debate.

Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, extends a hand to House stadium bill author Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, after Lanning's bill passed the House Monday (May 7) night. Leaning over Lanning is a smiling Senate Vikings stadium bill author Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont. Rosen's bill is expect to be on the Republican Senate floor on Tuesday. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

“That’s a great vote,” said Dayton.

“This is a huge step forward,” said the governor.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, House Vikings stadium author, saw his stadium bill leave the House floor largely intact.

The most significant change was brought by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, who amended the bill to lower the state’s commitment towards stadium construction costs from about $400 million to $300 million.

“It’s not an easy decision,” said Garofalo of pushing the red or green vote button on the stadium bill.

It’s not a black and white issue, explained Garofalo, who voted for the bill.

Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, who also voted for the bill, thought Garofalo’s amendment enticed some undecided lawmakers to support the bill.

Abeler, for one, believes leaving the stadium issue to fester without a resolution eventually would have the Vikings leaving Minnesota.

“It’s always a bad thing to have an unhappy tenant,” he said.

It’s expected that Sen. Julie Rosen’s Vikings stadium bill will heard on the Republican Senate floor today (Tuesday, May 8).

Rosen after the House vote could be seen hugging Lanning and congratulating her stadium colleague in the House.

But the stadium struggle continues, warned Dayton.

“Our work is not done,” he cautioned a group of stadium supporters gathered in Governor’s Reception Room.

“Any one of these is fatal,” he said upcoming stadium votes.

Pro Vikings stadium supporters rallied outside the House chamber to cheer on the stadium bill. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

One amendment in the House that touched the guts of Lanning’s stadium bill was offered by Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, who proposed removing the charitable gaming electronic pull-tabs and bingo provisions from the bill and replacing them with a menu of user fees.

Gambling unfairly exploits people who often are least able to afford losing money, Benson argued.

But Lanning countered by arguing that Benson’s proposed 9.98 percent surcharge provision would means those buying hot dogs or Vikings jerseys at the stadium would be looking at sales taxes as high as 18 percent.

“It creates some real problems,” said Lanning.

Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, was conflicted about Benson’s amendment.

While he isn’t wild about gambling, the Benson’s delete-all amendment would get rid of Garofalo’s amendment, Nelson explained.

Nelson expressed worry that the state would try to get by as cheaply as possible on the stadium.

That tactic helped create the current mess, he argued.

“Because we built it (the Metrodome) 30 years ago on the cheap, we’re looking at replacing it,” said Nelson.

He didn’t want to bequeath to future lawmakers another stadium issue.

But Benson’s amendment failed on a 74-57 vote.

Many of the 40 amendments offered by lawmakers failed on the House floor, but not all.

Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, successfully amended the bill to increase the “claw back” or amount of money the state would reap from the sale of the football team should Vikings ownership choose to sell.

Under Simon’s amendment, the claw back would start at 25 percent, dropping one percent per year thereafter.

Simon, whose father worked as an agent for professional athletes, had a saying that professional sports teams will always plead poverty, his son recalled.

But it’s just hardheaded business, Simon explained.

And increasing the claw back would be a good negotiation tool for House Republicans to bring into conference committee, Simon argued.

“I want to make sure the Vikings have skin in the game permanently,” he said.

But many other attempts at amending the stadium bill came up short.

Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines, tried amending the bill to prevent blackouts of televised Vikings games.

“Hey, what about the average viewer, the average fan?” Runbeck asked.

But her amendment failed.

Rep. Bob Barrett, R-Shafer, proposed an amendment requiring the National Football League (NFL) to host a Super Bowl at the new stadium within three years of completion.

If the NFL failed to do so, Barrett sought to extract a financial penalty.

“This is an unnecessary amendment,” said Lanning.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, smiles to someone watching the House floor debate from the balcony. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton thanked Zellers for allowing the House vote on the stadium. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Building a new stadium would be an inducement to the NFL to host a Super Bowl in Minnesota and the penalty sent the wrong message, he argued.

On a voice vote, Barrett’s amendment was voted down.

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, offered an amendment requiring that stadium contractors must screen potential employees through the federal E-verify check to determine whether they were eligible to work.

“This isn’t a game to me,” said Scott of the provision, saying American workers deserved the first shot at jobs.

But her amendment was rejected.

Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, attempted to amend the stadium bill to exempt contractors from paying the prevailing wage to stadium construction workers.

“I have enough confidence that laborers of Minnesota will offer the highest value,” said Downey.

But Lanning strongly argued against the provision.

“Members, the amendment is a poison pill,” said Lanning.

Downey’s amendment on a voice vote was voted down.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, attempted to amend the bill to fund the stadium through a sales tax on fireworks — he sought to make more powerful fireworks legal in Minnesota.

The amendment failed.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, blasted the electronic pull-tabs and bingo revenue estimates as bogus and as financing for the stadium that will fail to appear. Hackbarth's legislative district includes part of Elk River.(Photo by T.W. Budig)

But Hackbarth later gave a scathing assessment of the electronic pull-tabs and bingo revenue projections on which the state’s debt service payments for stadium bonds would pivot.

Holding aloft a fiscal note, Hackbarth dismissed the estimates as woefully inaccurate.

“That ain’t going to happen,” he said of the projected gambling dollars actually filling state coffers.

A number of lawmakers — Garofalo, for one — urged colleagues to vote for the stadium bill to move the legislation forward in the process.

One Republican lawmaker, Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, explained he intended to do just that.

But Westrom also indicated that he wanted more than a stadium bill.

He also wanted a tax bill, he explained.

Dayton vetoed the Republican tax bill late last week.

“I hope the governor is listening,” Westrom said.

Currently, the House stadium bill does not contain the referendum exemption for the city of Minneapolis that some Republican lawmakers found unacceptable.

The bill contains “blink-on” backup revenue provisions, designed to kick in if charitable gaming revenues fall short.

These include a surcharge on stadium box seats, the possible siphoning of excess Hennepin County Twins’ ballpark revenues — a big enough menu to capture an additional $10 million a year if needed, explained Lanning.

Scores of Vikings stadium supporters and union members rallied at the State Capitol on Monday prior to and during the stadium debate.

For a time colorful array boxed the entrance to the House chamber, renewing their chants and cheers every time the doors would draw back to let people in and out of the chamber.

“There’s so much support and enthusiasm for the stadium,” said Dayton after a brief appearance at pro-stadium rally in the Capitol rotunda.

But Dayton was tight-lipped about the future prospects of the stadium initiative.

“It’s too early for me to say,” he said of the impact of Garofalo’s amendment.

But Dayton was buoyed by the outcome of the House vote, thanking lawmakers who voted for the bill as well as House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, and House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, for allowing the vote to take place.

“The voice of the Minnesota people were heard tonight,” said Dayton of the vote.

Area House members voting for the bill: Abeler, Atkins, Benson, Davids, Dittrich, Fritz, Garofalo, Gottwalt, Hilstrom, Hortman, Knuth, Kriesel, LeMieur, McNamara, Nelson, Sanders, Simon, Tillberry, and Winkler.

Voting against: Anderson, B., Anderson, S., Barrett, Bills, Buesgens, Daudt, Dean, Dettmer, Downey, Erickson, Hackbarth, Hansen, Holberg, Kieffer, Kiffmeyer, Laine, Lenczewski, Loon, Mack, McDonald, Myhra, Peppin, Petersen, B., Runbeck, Scott, Wardlow, and Zellers.