The Vikings stadium issue is the case of the living dead.
Just hours after a House committee rejected the bill for the $1 billion stadium on the Metrodome site, Gov. Mark Dayton was talking of “next year.”
“We’ve got to get a stadium next year or the Vikings will leave,” Dayton said at a morning news conference. “If we don’t get it this session, we will get it next session.”
Dayton didn’t totally rule out trying somehow to resurrect the bill this session. But, for a number of reasons, that doesn’t seem likely.
What last night’s vote does do is give life to more esoteric solutions to the stadium dilemma.
For example, the White Earth Nation, which has proposed paying the entire public portion of the stadium in exchange for the right to build a casino in the metro area, was quick to release a statement.
“The House committee’s 9-6 vote against the Vikings stadium proposal on Monday night brings MinnesotaWins (the tribe’s moniker for its plan) to the forefront as the only solution that works,” the tribe said.
The vote also brings Hennepin County back into the picture as a stadium player.
“I think, in the end, there were too many questions about this bill,” said Mike Opat, the Hennepin County commissioner who came up with the Twins’ stadium solution. “Right now, it’s just time for a breather.”
Alternate sites, new possibilities
All possibilities — including a different site in downtown Minneapolis — are back on the table, Opat said.
Unlike Dayton, who constantly expresses urgency about resolving the issue, Opat says that there still is ample time to come up with a solution.
“We have a year – probably more,” said Opat.
The politics of last night’s committee session are intriguing.
For Republicans, the 9-6 vote in the House government operations committee is proving to be great cover for not pushing the hugely controversial issue this session. Only one DFLer supported the plan.
“We can’t pass the stadium by ourselves in the Republican caucus,” Zellers told reporters. “This is going to have to have a bipartisan approach. … If I was the governor, if I was big labor, I’d really be livid.”
Dayton didn’t say he was livid but indicated that he thought he had the support of another DFLer on the committee besides Brooklyn Park’s Michael Nelson to at least move the bill out of committee without recommendation. He wouldn’t say who that DFLer was. Another DFL member of the committee, the governor said, didn’t return a phone call.
It was the DFL makeup of the government ops committee that doomed its chances. All were either Minneapolis, or metro area, representatives from districts where there’s likely little support for public subsidy of a Vikings stadium. In other words, these were safe, predictable votes, even with labor leaders looking on.
Opponents had different reasons
Each of the DFLers seemed to have his or her own reason for not supporting the bill. Rep. Bev Scalze of Little Canada, for example, bemoaned aspects of the bill that would have supported Minneapolis efforts to upgrade the Target. That, she said, would hurt St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
She lamented that Minneapolis seems to get all the public projects, putting St. Paul at a competitive disadvantage.
Had there been one or two DFLers from outstate regions on the committee, the outcome likely would have been different, a reality noted by Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, who along with chief author Rep. Morrie Lanning of Moorhead, testified for the bill.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Knowing the anti-subsidy sentiments of the DFLers on the committee, Morrow knew going into the committee hearing that the task of getting a “yes” was going to be difficult.
That’s why, by the way, at the very opening of the hearing, Nelson moved to pass the bill “without recommendation.” That move was supposed to make it easier for legislators with doubts to approve the measure and move it on to the tax committee.
Even labor can’t get the total unity that might be necessary to swing metro DFLers. Yes, the trade unions and the AFL-CIO have pushed hard for the stadium. But public employee unions and the teachers union mostly have been out of sight on the issue.
That strategy almost worked.
After Rep. David Hancock, R-Bemidji, spoke to the committee of how he was “torn” as to whether he should vote “yes” to give the full House a chance to vote “up” or “down” on the measure, Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, responded. He told Hancock it is the responsibility of committee members “to take the hard vote.”
Hancock ended up voting “no” to moving the measure on.
Dayton did make it clear that the lack of support from Minneapolis and Hennepin County legislators — and the tepid support of the Minneapolis City Council — means that in his mind a location for the stadium is again open.
“If Minneapolis doesn’t want it — most of their legislators don’t want it, half of the city council, almost half, is opposed to it — then somewhere else,” Dayton said. “Arden Hills, some other site in Minnesota.”
Minneapolis mum on vote
Mayor R.T. Rybak had been silent on the matter.
“We’re waiting to see what’s going to happen next,” said the mayor’s spokesman, John Stiles. “Nothing is ever dead until the final gavel. We’re probably not going to say anything until then.”
But just moments ago, the mayor’s office issued a statement saying:
“The stadium issue is the most complex one that Minnesotans have had to consider in some time, and if it were easy to resolve, it would have been resolved long ago. We have always known that there would be highs and lows along the way, and there will be more in the future.
“This stadium bill is the best plan for Minneapolis and the best plan for Minnesota. I am confident that legislators will want to create the jobs and benefits that the bill provides for all Minnesotans.”
Opat does agree that getting Minneapolis council members and legislators “to have an open mind on this” is difficult. But Opat did credit Rybak “with showing a lot of energy” in an effort to get the stadium built on the Metrodome site.
“At the end of the day, there were just too many questions in this bill,” said Opat. “Charitable gambling doesn’t get anybody excited. It was so poorly forecast, they had to come up with a backup plan.”
Opat himself had written a letter to members of the committee opposing one of the blink-on revenue sources that was to be used if charitable gaming didn’t create enough money to cover the state’s portion of the financing deal. The bill listed “excess” funds from the baseball stadium sales tax to be used as one of the back-up measures.
“Absent any consultation with members of the Hennepin County Board, the House bill would take the unprecedented step of effectively hijacking county revenue should charitable gaming revenue fall short,” Opat wrote.
An amendment easily passed the committee, eliminating Hennepin County as part of a backup plan.
And still the measure failed. But as Minnesotans know so well, stadium bills fail until they somehow pass, if not this session, next session or the session after that.
Opat still has not stepped forward with a plan; he doesn’t even indicate if he has one. But he’s been a crucial player in the past and has been watching this year’s stadium bill closely.
If there’s any clarity to last night’s vote, it would be that other proposals now have time to be marketed to the public and to legislators.
The White Earth proposal, for example, came only a few weeks ago and was almost based on the premise that the current bill would fail, if not in committees, then, on the floor of either the House or the Senate.
Other plans resurfacing
In their statement this morning, tribal leaders again were quick to move in on the opportunity.
“Many of the legislators are rightfully worried about the budget shortfall, the education shift and that funds from e-pulltabs would not be a sufficient revenue source,’’ the statement read. “Funding from a metro-area casino run by White Earth Nation in partnership with the state of Minnesota would fund the state’s $400 million share of the Vikings stadium outright and provide continued revenue for the state that could be used to pay back the education shift and balance the budget. The ball is on the goal line. It’s time for the legislature to dive into the endzone.”
After last night’s session, Wade Luneburg, an officer with UNITE HERE, the union which represents hotel and restaurant workers, was walking away from the Capitol.
“Why not Block E?” Luneburg asked.
That’s the project proposed by Alatus, which would turn the near-empty Block E site into a multimillion-dollar casino.
All of this means that only one proposal is near death, while others are coming back to life.
As Lanning said to government ops committee members, until the Legislature votes up or down on a stadium, “the issue is not going to go away.”