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A stadium bill (of sorts) emerges from a Senate committee

Sen. Roger Chamberlain’s stadium “loan” bill advances — but is more likely to become a vehicle that can be amended with a “cleaned-up” version of the earlier measure.

A tiny ray of sunshine for backers of the Vikings stadium bill now stuck in a Senate committee came at this morning’s legislative press briefings.

“A Vikings bill did come out of committee this morning,” reported Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook.

True, it’s not the measure that everybody’s been talking about, which has the backing of Gov. Mark Dayton and the Vikings. That one calls for the state and city to pick up $548 million of the facility’s $975 million upfront cost (not counting interest) using tax revenue generated by electronic charitable gambling.

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Julie Rosen R, Fairmont, failed to move forward earlier this week after its first hearing before the Committee on Local Government and Elections. Members insisted that the bill needed much more discussion and vetting. So far, however, the committee has scheduled no new hearings, even though today marked an arbitrary, self-imposed deadline for bills coming out of committee in the Senate. 

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The bill that did survive a hearing, in this case by the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection, is much more modest.

Introduced in February by Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, it offers the Vikings a $300 million state-backed loan for a new NFL stadium. To repay it, the state would assess a 10 percent tax on tickets, concessions, personal seat and box rentals, naming rights, TV revenue — well, the list goes on and on.

The plan also grandly includes a repeal of the state’s business property tax that Chamberlain asserts would free up private business money to buy advertising, sponsorships and other items. All of that would help the Vikings pay their share. Already, however, the team has said that the Chamberlin plan is not economically workable, and the governor objects to repeal of the business property tax.

Presumably it’s going nowhere.

So why bother even thinking about it?

Well, as Bakk pointed out, bills can be — and usually are — amended.  Very rarely does any controversial measure make it through the legislative process without drastic changes.

“The number of the bill is the only thing that mattered,” he said.

While he refrained from mentioning any specifics, one could infer that portions of the Rosen bill could be smushed into Chamberlain’s at some point and proceed through the next committees and eventually go to the floor.

Meanwhile, GOP leaders seemed to have only passing interest in the stadium.

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House Speaker Kurt Zellers said that he and other legislators were uncomfortable with the Rosen bill’s funding plan.

If there aren’t enough revenues from electronic pull-tabs, then money from the General Fund would have to go to repay bonds, and, as far as he’s concerned, that’s a no-no.

“I don’t think [the bill] would pass if it was backed up to the general fund,” he said.

Still, he didn’t count the Rosen bill out completely. The Senate deadline could easily be waived, and he added that while the Legislature generally moves at the speed of a glacier, it can also move “at NASCAR pace.”

Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, denied accusations that Republican leaders were holding up the bill.

“That’s absolutely untrue,” he said.

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Rather, he said, legislators need more time to understand the measure: “I’d like to know what appetite there is for electronic pull-tabs in the state. I’d like to hear what gaming managers have to say about this.”

When would this fact-finding occur?

That’s information is off in the ozone.

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Both DFL and Republican leaders said they had no plans to get together to discuss the stadium bill. And although Senjem disclosed that he would be meeting with the governor today, he didn’t say whether the stadium would come up in the conversation. 

Despite all the uncertainty, the bill may still have a future.

Said Bakk, “Nothing’s ever dead around here.”