Reporting Pat Kessler
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) – The Minnesota Vikings are facing a daunting deadline at the state Capitol this week, but they are putting on a blitz to pass the stadium bill.
In football terms, this is like high-stakes clock management, and the Vikings can’t afford any miscues in the next four days.
What’s happening now behind the scenes is something you don’t often see: Republicans and Democrats are negotiating over just how many votes each party will provide for the controversial stadium.
At a fan rally on the Capitol steps Monday, Vikings executive Lester Bagley stood alongside the purple faithful. The mood was optimistic, if cautious.
“The odds are long, so we can’t slow down,” Bagley said. “But what’s going to push us over the top is our fans.”
Inside the Capitol, any stadium vote — if it happens– will be close.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas Bakk said the Democrats will be willing to do for the Vikings what the Republicans did for the Twins.
In 2006, Senate Republicans provided only 12 votes to pass the Target Field stadium bill, which just squeaked by. In the House, the Twins stadium bill got 37 Democratic votes and 34 Republican votes.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers insists that any Vikings vote must be very close to that.
“It has to be fair and bipartisan,” Zellers said. “We can’t pass the stadium by ourselves in the republican caucuses.”
But before the bill reaches its final vote, it has to move through some processes.
The Minnesota Senate’s Rules Committee kept the Vikings stadium subsidy moving Monday, while a House committee worked to revive the stadium push in that chamber.
The Rules Committee voted to bypass normal Senate rules, keeping the stadium bill alive past standard legislative deadlines. The Senate’s stadium bill is scheduled for another committee vote on Tuesday. A spokesman for the Senate’s majority Republicans said he expected a debate and full Senate vote as early as Thursday or Friday.
Meanwhile, the House Ways and Means Committee convened Monday night for a hearing on a bill to give tax relief to Minnesota charities that profit from games of chance in bars and restaurants. The proposal would authorize them to offer new electronic versions of some of their games.
The measure has been closely linked to the stadium push, since some of the new tax revenue from the gambling expansion is earmarked to pay the state’s share of the $975 million proposal to replace the Metrodome, which Vikings and NFL say is no longer sufficiently profitable.
Stadium supporters moved to attach the larger stadium proposal to the charities bill, hoping to give the stadium effort a boost after a separate House committee voted to reject it last week. Their hope was to angle the stadium bill toward a House floor vote, arguing that, despite significant pockets of opposition in House and Senate committees, the proposal nonetheless deserves an up or down vote in both chambers.
“People deserve to know where their legislator and senator stands on it,” said Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, the sponsor of the charitable gambling expansion. Kriesel supported attaching the stadium bill to his proposal.
The Senate and House stadium bills recently have gained momentum after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell visited the Capitol last Friday to urge lawmakers to approve a new, downtown Minneapolis home for the Vikings or risk losing the team to another city.
Under the bill, the Vikings would pay $427 million of the construction costs for the new stadium, which would be built on the Metrodome site. City and state taxpayers would be on the hook for the other $548 million, or 56 percent of the total cost.
But some members of the House Ways and Means Committee questioned projections by Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration that the expansion into electronic versions of pull-tab and bingo games would raise more than $50 million a year in new tax revenue. The state is eyeing that money to pay off the stadium’s construction bonds.
“When electronic pull tabs don’t work, it’s going to have to be on the back of the taxpayers of Minnesota,” said Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar. He said he supports providing a state subsidy for a new stadium, but doesn’t think the gambling expansion is the best way to pay for it.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, chief sponsor of the stadium bill, said both the Department of Revenue and the state’s Gambling Control Board were confident in the projections.
“You have to rely on the people you depend upon to give you good advice,” said Lanning, R-Moorhead.
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