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Funding questions quickly sideline Vikings stadium bill

The measure was supposed to receive an up-or-down vote within a two-hour deadline, but that didn’t happen.

Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak, left, testifies on the Vikings stadium, with Sen. Julie Rosen, middle, and Minneapolis Council President Barbara Johnson.

As planned, the bill proposing a new Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis received its first hearing today before the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee.

But then the plan changed.

The measure was supposed to receive an up-or-down vote within a two-hour deadline, but that didn’t happen.

As questions arose about funding, the chair, Sen. Ray Vandeveer, accepted a motion to put the bill over for consideration at another time. When would that be? He didn’t say.

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Sen. Julie Rosen, the proposal’s main sponsor, pointed out that the proposed stadium bill met several widely accepted ground rules: that there could be no new taxes, that no money would come from the state’s general fund and that the team would pay for a sizable chunk of the project.

Rosen at times was flanked by Ted Mondale, who as head of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission helped negotiate the deal, and Myron Frans, Minnesota’s revenue commissioner.

Mondale noted that the state, after fronting its $398 million share, would actually reap a $140 million return from taxes on players’ ginormous salaries and on sales taxes assessed in the stadium. However, assuming the Vikings don’t leave town, the state presumably would collect those taxes with or without a new stadium.

Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley made the case for the proposal partly by grousing that the Metrodome is the smallest stadium in the NFL, that the team’s revenues are at the bottom, and that the league has been subsidizing the team.

The Vikings’ $427 million contribution would be the largest in the NFL, and the annual $8.5 million rent it would be paying would be the highest — all this, he noted, despite the Vikings bringing millions of dollars to the Twin Cities in hotel and restaurant trade that has yielded some $200 million in taxes.

“We’ve been patient. It’s been 10 years. Let the full Legislature vote,” he said in conclusion.

Also appearing among the stadium proponents was a contingent from Minneapolis, Mayor R.T. Rybak, Council President Barbara Johnson and City Attorney Susan Segal.

Senators tried but failed to grapple with the murky financial arrangement that would divert money from an extension of a sales tax to contribute $150 million to the stadium project — and pay off debt on the convention center.

It’s hard to blame them for having a hard time understanding possibly the almost unintelligible section of the bill.

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Tom Goldstein, a private citizen from St. Paul, testified in opposition, claiming that the Vikings were ripping off the public because the bill gives the Vikings naming rights for the stadium, parking fees, hefty fees for boxes and suites and TV revenues, pretty much nullifying their contribution.

“The state would pay all the expenses, and the Vikings would get all the profits,” he said.

 If the business community wanted the stadium so badly, he suggested, let them contribute. “If they contributed, that would be like a tax,” countered Sen. Rosen.

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But, of course, under the plan, funding for the stadium would come from taxes — on new charitable gambling via electronic pull-tabs and bingo.

Two men speaking in opposition, complained that video gambling is “more addictive than crack.”  In effect, the state would be encouraging people to gamble just to raise money for the stadium.

The sufficiency of the funding, rather than its source, seemed more important to legislators.

Sen. Benjamin Kruse asked what would happen if revenues weren’t enough to meet the state’s bond payments. “Money would have to come out of the general fund, right?”

Frans insisted that there would be enough, and Rosen told legislators that they should trust the projections but then finally admitted that “we’re looking at that.” The solution, she said, might be some sort of backup user fee.

Another issue that bothered a couple of legislators: The bill, instead of creating a special authority to build and operate the stadium, should establish a sports facilities commission that would oversee all of the sports facilities — Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Target Field, Target Center, the Metrodome and the new stadium — to coordinate their activities so they don’t wind up cannibalizing each other’s businesses.

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Sen. Roger Reinert proposed an amendment to the bill that would do just that but set it aside after Rosen vowed to work with him to incorporate his idea in the bill.

And that’s where it all ended, with no vote and no action. Doubt hung in the air.

“We all still have questions,” said one legislator as she departed for another meeting.