By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press
The Minnesota Vikings’ desperate drive for $548 million in state and local government funding for a new stadium took a couple of big hits during eight hours of debate in the Minnesota House of Representatives Monday, but it passed on a 73-58 vote and moves on to the Senate today.
The team’s $427 million negotiated contribution to the $975 million facility rose by $105 million under an amendment added to the bill, but bill supporters expressed hope that a House-Senate conference committee could deal with that change before final votes in the two chambers later this week.
But first it will have to survive the Senate, which was considered the toughest test for the stadium, according to the consensus at the Capitol. The solid win in the House, however, only adds to the pressure on senators to keep the stadium’s prospects alive.
With the 2012 legislative session down to its final days, the bill’s sponsors were hoping to avoid amendments that would blow up the carefully crafted compromise negotiated over 18 months by lawmakers, the governor and the team.
If the Senate passes the bill, the moment of truth will likely come later this week after the conference committee — with input from the Vikings — hammers out differences between the bills.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, with help from co-sponsor Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, fended off several so-called “poison pills” that stadium opponents attempted to amend to the bill to kill it. But at least two amendments tacked on to the bill during the House debate almost certainly will be deemed deal-breakers by the team and the National Football League.
First was the reduction of the state contribution from $398 million to $293 million. With the city of Minneapolis agreeing to pay $150 million, the reduction in the state contribution would drive the Vikings’ contribution up to $532 million — well above what team officials say they can provide.
Before the vote on the amendment, Lanning warned that it could kill the bill and result in the Vikings leaving Minnesota.
Morrow implored lawmakers to be realistic in how much more they asked the Vikings to pay.
“You might be able to get $20 (million), $30 (million), $40 million from the Vikings,” Morrow said. “But you’re not going to get enough to cover this gap.”
Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, suggested his amendment could be a negotiating point in the conference committee — not a reduction set in stone — and it passed 97-31.
Other more damaging amendments, including one that would have eliminated the expansion of charitable gambling that is the cornerstone of the state financing, were defeated. Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, spoke in favor of replacing the gambling revenue with user fees on people using the stadium.
“Don’t vote to exploit your fellow citizens for the benefit of an NFL team,” Gruenhagen implored.
The user-fee amendment, which the Vikings warned in a letter to lawmakers would “put the team in a worse position than currently exists (playing in the Metrodome),” fell by 20 votes. Three-dozen more amendments came, most of them falling.
All Vikings games must be on free TV? No illegal immigrants on stadium construction crews? Exemption of prevailing-wage laws for stadium construction? Stadium funding with sales tax from expanded fireworks sales? Duplicate the state funding for Vikings “housing” with an equal amount for repairing low-income housing? All failed.
But another likely troublesome amendment for the team — requiring the NFL to cover operating-cost overruns of the stadium — was approved by a single vote.
As the debate went into its eighth hour, it had the drama of a thrilling overtime playoff game — if overtime playoff games had 20-minute-long huddles and plays that involved each team pushing red and green buttons.
When the amendments were all voted on and the speeches nearly completed, Morrow said it was time to be the referee.
“Whether you think it’s a good idea or a bad idea, it’s our responsibility to decide,” he said.
Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, encouraged fellow conservatives to support the bill, saying his constituent contacts are 20-to-one in favor of the bill.
“I’m proud to vote for it to finally get it out of our hair,” Cornish said. “... Vote for the bill. It’s a good bill. It’s a compromise. It took a long time in coming.”
When the vote came at 10:30 p.m., Gruenhagen voted against the bill. All other area House members — Morrow; Cornish; Rep. Kathy Brynaert, DFL-Mankato; Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont; Rep. Kory Kath, DFL-Owatonna; and Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-St. James — voted in favor.