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Vikings stadium runs into wall with latest Dayton statement, but there appear to be other options

The quest by the Minnesota Vikings to get public support for a new stadium seemed to take a sharp turn into a brick wall Tuesday when Gov. Mark Dayton announced that any funding tied to a sales tax would require a referendum.

But there are always new twists and turns in Minnesota stadium sagas.

First, the governor’s message. Dayton said that following his meeting last Friday with legislative leaders that it was clear there would not be enough support to do a sales tax without a public vote.

Gov. Mark Dayton
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Gov. Mark Dayton

“Given this reality, we are now actively assessing and discussing with the team other financing options,” said Dayton, who apparently has not yet given up on the idea of calling a special session late this month.

This decision – no sales tax without a referendum – does throw a huge obstacle into efforts by the Vikings and Ramsey County commissioners to build the stadium in Arden Hills, the first choice of the Vikings.

Neither the Vikings nor Ramsey County commissioners say they have given up on the Arden Hills location, and both say it remains their top choice.

The success of that whole Arden Hills deal, though, hinged on a sales tax and no referendum.

But does that mean the Vikings, whose lease at the Metrodome expires at the conclusion of this season, will start packing and head to sites unknown?

Of course not.

Stadium wheeling and dealing enters new phase
History makes it clear that stadium wheeling and dealing never really ends in Minnesota.

Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, the mastermind of the sales tax deal (with no referendum) that resulted in the Twins ballpark, said the governor’s statement is a major problem for the Arden Hills site.

But just because one door has closed, doesn’t mean that other doors can’t be opened. 

“Where there’s a will, there’s always a way,” Opat said.

Will Hennepin County become a player, as it was in the Twins’ ballpark?

“I think there’s a scenario in which we could get involved,” Opat said.

But he added he doesn’t know yet what that might be and is waiting to see what might come out of a special session. 

All options on the table carry substantial political problems.

Recall, just last week, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak zipped into the Capitol with a raft of graphs, charts and, most importantly, payment plans for a stadium.

His first choice for covering the “local partner” share of a stadium was a Minneapolis sales tax. But at the time, Rybak said that a sales tax approach would have to mean no referendum.

Option two, in Rybak’s mind, is a casino on Block E in downtown Minneapolis. Revenues from that project, he said, could cover the city portion of the stadium project at any one of three suggested locations. 

Rybak and Barb Johnson, president of the City Council, were quick to come out with a statement regarding Dayton’s Tuesday announcement.

“We thank Governor Dayton and legislative leaders for their hard work on trying to resolve the Vikings stadium issue: If this problem were easy to solve, it would have been solved long ago.

“Their decision today reinforces the fact that Minneapolis remains the best location for the Vikings because it is the least expensive: All three stadium options that we’ve laid out are less expensive to build, less expensive for the team to operate and less expensive for fans than Arden Hills.”

So, in this twist of the Vikings’ stadium plot, Minneapolis would be the local partner, with funds drawn from a Block E casino.

But remember, that’s only the local partner.

The state, to date, has agreed on only one thing: The local partner can’t use a sales tax without a referendum to pay for a stadium. The Legislature, on the surface at least, hasn’t even begun to wrestle with how it would come up with its $300 million share for the stadium.

Gaming revenue back in play
Gaming long has been considered a potential source for the stadium, though it has powerful detractors.

But even if Alatus, the company that purchased the failed project and now wants to turn it into a casino, could get legislative approval to move ahead, could a casino fund both the local and state portions of the project?

According to an analyst familiar with sports facilities funding, a Block E casino could fund both the Minneapolis and state portions of a football stadium. 

It is important to note that the Block E proposal has the support of many of the state’s major unions.

But it also faces fierce opposition from most in the Minneapolis legislative delegation and from religious leaders, right and left, and, of course, Indian tribes that run all of the casinos in Minnesota. 

There are other proposals and ideas being kicked around in the governor’s office, all with political problems.

The one gambling format that might have the best chance of winning legislative approval is a move that would change charitable gambling, including pull tabs and bar bingo. Those games now exist in hundreds of bars in the state. Tax revenues from the games contributed $36 million to the state’s general fund.

Those bar owners — and the charitable organizations that receive support from proceeds — want to be able to use electronic devices to replace the paper now used to play the games. The claim is that revenue to the state likely could double if the change was made.

Proponents of this approach, which has the support of Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, point out that there are several advantages, starting with its previous  approval by a handful of legislative committees.

Beyond that, they argue that moving to electronic devices isn’t an expansion of gambling, merely a change in the way the now-legal games are played.

They point out that charitable gaming “benefits” organizations across the state, unlike  a state-sanctioned casino or proposed racinos, which require patrons to travel to the metro area to participate.

Finally, they point out this change would not face the legal battles that almost certainly will grow out of any effort to put a casino on Block E, or full-blown casinos at the state’s two horse tracks.

But legislative approval of the charitable gaming change would not cover the “local partner” share.

Legacy Fund money seems politically iffy
Outside of gaming and a sales tax, there has been some speculation that the state could turn to using money from the Legacy Fund amendment to pay for the stadium.

Dayton never has embraced the plan, but he hasn’t rejected it out of hand, either.

Still, most around the Capitol think that any effort to use those any of those funds for a football stadium would be hazardous to the political health of any who supported it.

There are other ideas, including some that make sense.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, for example, notes that the Vikings are enjoyed by people throughout the state. Therefore, he has a novel idea: People throughout the state should help fund the project.

Coleman reiterated his stance in the wake of Dayton’s Tuesday announcement.

“I applaud Gov. Dayton’s decision to remove the consideration of a local option sales tax to fund a Vikings stadium,” Coleman said in a statement. “It has always been my position that the Vikings are an asset to all of Minnesota, and the financial burden of building them a new stadium should not fall disproportionately on one region of Minnesota over another. I continue to believe a two-cent-per-drink statewide tax is the best funding mechanism for a new stadium and I look forward to seeing future legislative proposals to move the project forward.”

Of course, a hard core of Republicans in the Legislature have said NO to any tax increases of any sort. No matter how you mix it, a drink tax is a tax increase, meaning it would not go down easy at the Capitol.

Added up, what happened with Dayton’s comments today is that the stadium game changed. But it’s not over.

The governor is expected to come up with his proposal next week.  He has options. There always are options.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (18)

They just don't get it, do they? If there are public funds available for construction and job development, the people of Minnesota don't want it spent on a Vikings stadium, regardless of location. It appears that the only people interested in one are those vying to line their pockets in the process.

It's disgusting to see all these politicians working so hard to build stadiums for the NFL while the peoples business languishes in partisan gridlock.

The Vikings are a very private company. They must be treated like any other private company. We don't build buildings for other companies so there should not be any stadium for the Vikings. A new stadium won't make them play any better it will just allow Wilf's pockets to get fuller. If stadiums are such a good deal why don't the Vikings build their own stadium. It is time to put an end to sports blackmail once and for all. Public money needs to be put to use for all minneasotans, not just the Wilf's

Mr. Opat was the "mastermind"? Give me a break. He and the three other males made an end run around a referendum law. Why do you think he got to throw out the first pitch at the new stadium? Also, why should any revenues froma gambling venue be thrown at a sports stadium? If they actually approve this, why should any Vikings stadium have first dibs on the money? It seems we are way short on other social needs that could use the funds. I say, let's follow the LA solution, where private parties pony up for the new stadium.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers says he won't support a special session to pass a bill that would finance a new Vikings stadium. Good for him and a few of the others that will not force this stadium upon the taxpayer.

"Let's end [corporate] welfare as we know it" and add tax expenditures to my wish list as well.

All I can say is remember that anything based on some kind of gambling revenue is a gamble itself. The tribes will tell you you can't just open a casino anywhere and make a lot of money. They'd better have a plan B if the gambling revenue doesn't add up, and it better not be a plan that puts the taxpayer on the hook to make up the difference.

"The tribes will tell you you can't just open a casino anywhere and make a lot of money."

True, but downtown Minneapolis isn't just anywhere. As far as gaming goes, it's the absolute BEST location. And the Indians will tell you so with their opposition to it.

The government doesn't belong in the business of providing recreation for the public. That includes golf courses, libraries, swimming pools, and playgrounds.

But since they are, the best way to pay for it is through a voluntary tax like a consumption tax or a cut of the earnings from a state-run casino. You can't say you oppose a state-run stadium or casino or horse track but be in favor of golf courses and swimming pools. It's all the same.

Dennis (#7) sez..

...You can't say you oppose a state-run stadium or casino or horse track but be in favor of golf courses and swimming pools. It's all the same...

Really? When could you, as an individual, book a game at the Vikings stadium or have your kids play all day at the stadium?

Publicly funded, publicly owned, public access, public use.

Publicly funded, privately owned, private access, private use.

See a difference now?

Mr. Tester: Should MN taxpayers subsidize a successful business enterprise. Or should MN taxpayers give money to a successful businessman so that he is better able to increase and develop his real estate holdings?

The government doesn't belong in the business of providing recreation for the public?

You may share your opinion, but it is not always valid.

While I don't support gambling of any sort, our state and national parks are extremely successful. So are our libraries. And, economically, have always been vindicated when questioned by anti-democratic persons such as yourself. After all they do provide for the general welfare of the people. But, it is interesting how you confuse "The Commons" with Communism.

Dennis, it's not all the same. Casinos have social and economic costs that you are clearly not aware of. Again, Dennis, your points suffer from being overly simplified. You are comparing apples and elephants. Not all spending is equal.

All this commotion over a 1 billion dollar stadium who's payments will stretch out over many years. I can't imagine what the 2013 legislative session will be like when they have to come up with probably over 2 billion in cuts or tax hikes over 2 years (to make up for the borrowed money from this biennium).

"The Vikings are a very private company" (Tom, #3).

SO private, indeed, that they refuse to open their books to let the state and other interested bodies see whether or not they really need public money. They pleaded hardship to be relieved of paying rent at the Dome for ten years. True? There is no way to know.

Buried in the piece and overlooked by the commenters is Chris Coleman's idea. If two cents a drink across the state will cover the darn thing, let's get this over with. Then we can focus on extracting every dollar we can from the Wilfs for the Arden Hills site.

Even if nothing passes this fall, it won't end sports blackmail. Be realistic. They'll lobby this winter. This spring. Next summer. Every fall, every month until they leave town, then the state will scramble and do anything to get a replacement team. If we're to end sports blackmail, it has to be done on the national level.

Tester, was that you or Swift who yesterday was calling a "progressive" tax immoral? Where is the morality in expanded gambling. They talk about adding 40M a year by making pull tabs electronic. That won't be 40M from new gamblers but 40M from old, compulsive gamblers who find that pushing a button on an ipad-like device is way easier and faster than having to open paper pull tabs. In the world of no-gov, no-taxes, maximum personal freedom, where is the morality? Put a casino downtown, it will have to be open 24 hours a day, serving drinks 24/7. in a couple years it will only be drawing drunks and street punks and compulsive gamblers for the majority of its customers.

To me the state authorizing new gambling streams to keep the Vikings is like the not so popular high school girl who puts out for a date with the captain of the football team; she has her moment of glory but she wakes up the next day full of regret and he's laughing with his buddies about it.

#13, would you buy cigarettes for your underage kids just because they're gonna do it anyway? Yeah, just buy 'em the smokes and you don't have to listen to them complain anymore.

The reason why this keeps getting talked about is no politician wants to be on the hook should the Vikings leave. That will be more politically damaging then by voting for a stadium. The politicians are walking a fine line of trying to keep them but also not supporting financing that is controversial.

Mr. Schletzer, gambling is a voluntary activity. You can choose to avoid it if it offends you. For most of us, earning a living is not and that's why taxing it is immoral.

Tester, concerning taxes being immoral, I would infer from that that you think anything that benefits society as a whole and infringes on the freedom of the individual is immoral. Most of us have to drive to work, so are drivers' licenses immoral? I'm guessing you are childless. Is it immoral for society as a whole to be responsible for providing schools for children? Did you get an immoral public education? Did you go to a college that was immorally funded at least partially by taxes? I thought you were a conservative not an anarchist. Since taxes are immoral, everything they pay for must be immoral. What route do you take to work in order to avoid those immorally built and maintained highways? I assume you are armed at home so you don't have to call those immorally maintained police. Wow!