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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Amid signs of trouble for a Minnesota Vikings stadium bill finally ready for action, Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday retooled a feature of the public finance plan to try to soothe concerns over who would profit from expanded pull-tab gambling.
The move was meant to placate the Minnesota charities that would run the new electronic gambling, but an executive with an alliance of charitable organizations quickly suggested Dayton’s pledge to turn over more money from the expansion didn’t go far enough to quell their reservations. It would also leave fewer state tax dollars available to pay off stadium debt, raising fresh concerns about financing for the $975 million plan to replace the Metrodome.
The latest developments came on the same day the long-awaited stadium bill was finally available to the public. Its debut sets the stage for what supporters hope will be a rapid entrance into the legislative process, as the proposal must clear at least one legislative committee by the end of next week in order to remain viable.
But the bill’s ascent is far from certain. Even as Dayton scrambled to meet the concerns of charities, House Speaker Kurt Zellers made clear Friday he was not willing to be an advocate for the bill. While he stopped short of saying he’d block the stadium, Zellers’ tepid stance is a blow to the prospects of a bill that’s already viewed skeptically by many lawmakers well aware of public opposition to what critics see as a giveaway to the Vikings’ wealthy owners.
“Personally, I don’t believe in funding for a Vikings stadium,” Zellers said. “It doesn’t mean that it won’t get a fair trial, get a fair hearing in the process.”
Dayton, a strong stadium backer who has said he believes the team could relocate if lawmakers don’t act, said Zeller is “entitled to his position.” He later added, “The speaker either brings it up or puts it down, but it has its own momentum and its own resistance.” Two key lawmakers, including the Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate, have signed on as bill co-sponsors though were tentative Friday when asked how likely it was to pass in the remaining month to six weeks of the legislative session.
The proposed state share of the total stadium tab, $398 million, would come in the form of yearly bond payments backed by tax revenues from the gambling expansion. Right now, bars and restaurants can operate paper pull-tab games of chance, with the profits turned over to charities. The stadium plan would authorize electronic versions of those games.
“The assumption is there will be an attraction to this new form of gambling” that will bump up profits and corresponding tax receipts, said state Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans.
Allied Charities of Minnesota has been seeking the expansion into electronic games for some time, and had hoped the higher tax collections could be used to reform the system by which the games are taxed in a way more favorable to the charities. The initial stadium proposal did not do that, but even after Dayton’s proposal Friday to direct an additional $10 million a year in that direction, Allied Charities executive director King Wilson was not impressed.
“I don’t think it’s going to be enough that it’s going to allow the electronics to work for organizations,” Wilson said, though he added he’s yet to look at the details of what Dayton proposed.
Dayton’s proposed new share for charities would leave the state $62.5 million a year to pay off bonds. That would be more than enough to cover the estimated debt service costs of $38 million a year, but the firms that sell such bonds typically require the bonds be backed by a revenue source that raises as much as twice the amount needed in order to ensure the investment is sound.
The bill has its first scheduled hearing next Thursday in the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. It’s likely to make stops in multiple House and Senate committees; it also faces a vote by a skeptical Minneapolis City Council, with the current proposal calling for the city to put up $150 million with funds from an existing city sales tax. The Vikings are responsible for an additional $425 million, with the NFL likely to bear some of that cost.
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