The legislative session hadn’t even begun today when the issue state legislators hate to deal with began overshadowing everything else at the Capitol.
Gov. Mark Dayton surprised observers with Monday’s announcement that the Metrodome is the only viable site for approving a Vikings’ stadium project this year.
The immediate reaction seems to mean that legislators actually may deal with the stadium issue this session. Whether that means an up or down vote on a problem that creates so many passions remains to be seen.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who has not taken a position on the project, indicated this morning that focusing on “one site” is a step forward.
Big step toward a bill
“Once you get it to a site, then you have a funding source, then you can get it to a bill,” Zellers said. “That’s the way you get it to the floor.”
Meantime, the Senate’s new majority leader, Dave Senjem was saying there is only one possible funding source — gaming, be it electronic pull tabs (the easiest to pass), racino (Senjem’s favored approach) or the Block E casino in downtown Minneapolis (the long shot).
“Getting a bill is easier said than done,” Senjem said. But, he added, constituents are sending mixed signals.
Every Sunday in the fall, Senjem noted, vast numbers of Minnesota television sets are tuned into the Vikings game, which he believes means that people will be furious if the team is lost.
“But they don’t want taxpayer money in the stadium,” Senjem said. “That’s why I’ve backed racino. … If we can’t make gaming work, we can’t make a stadium work.”
Dayton, Vikings to meet Wednesday
Dayton reiterated this afternoon that the Dome site is the one viable site if a stadium bill is to move through the process this session. He is to meet with Vikings owners Wednesday to go over what he believes are the political realities.
How do the Vikings feel about the Metrodome site?
In recent months, of course, they have opposed it, complaining that it will force them to play games in the University of Minnesota’s stadium for three seasons — at great cost to the team — while the new stadium is constructed.
But Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, downplayed the notion that the Vikings don’t want the Metrodome location.
“That once was their first choice,” she said.
That was true a couple of years ago, when the team was on the verge of purchasing Star Tribune property to add to the Dome site and use for future developing.
Leading up to the opening of this session, most speculation has been that the controversial project would be pushed to next year, after the Novemeber elections when all 201 lawmakers face re-election. That still is the prevailing attitude of many legislators who reason: Why deal with a controversial issue in an election year?
The Dayton announcement, which eliminated what appeared to be the preferred Linden Avenue site from consideration, may help force action now.
Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, has been a member of the stadium working group, a committee of legislators and governor’s representatives. All along, Kriesel, a huge Vikings’ fan, has been pushing his colleagues to deal with the issue this session.
“I hope this [the governor’s recommendation for the Metrodome site] means we’re not going to push this off for another year,” Kriesel said an hour before the session began at noon. “The issue is not going to go away.”
He did admit that he was caught by surprise by the governor’s sudden recommendation for the Metrodome site.
“It’s sort of like Pin the Tail on the Donkey,” Kriesel said of how the process has unfolded from site to site.
But this might be the most salable location to legislators, based on the fact that projects show it would be the least expensive location for a new stadium.
Gambling revenues seen key in funding
Kriesel believes there is a funding source: revenues from gambling.
He’s been pushing both the Block E Casino project in downtown Minneapolis and also supports a bill that would allow Minnesota bars to have electronic pull tab devices. Those devices, supporters said, would create enough new revenue to fund the state’s portion of a stadium.
Kriesel believes pull tab measures can — and probably will — pass this session.
But he also said it’s very difficult to attach gambling proposals to a stadium bill.
“Each of them, by themselves, is not popular to talk about,” Kriesel said. “So you don’t want to attach them together just yet,” he said, noting that it just makes it easier to pass any part of them.
Assuming a bill can be written, both Zellers and Senjem caution that the committee process would be slow in a session that most legislators hope will be fast.