Well, that was a surprise.
Just when it seemed as if the Vikings stadium bill was moving toward inevitable passage, a Senate committee on Wednesday tacked on racinos as an “either/or” funding source with charitable gambling to cover the state’s contribution.
The amendment by GOP Sen. Sean Nienow passed comfortably 11 to 3 in the Senate Finance Committee, even though the stadium bill’s author, Sen. Julie Rosen, said that the racino addition virtually guarantees the bill would die in the House.
The racino move, which would allow slot machines at metro-area racetracks, was Rosen’s second unpleasant surprise of the day.
The first came when Sen. Julianne Ortman announced early in the morning that she wanted the Senate Taxes Committee, which she chairs, to hear the bill. Ortman sent out her message at about 8:30 Wednesday morning.
Rosen said she had not been informed in advance of the announcement, and her tone suggested she was not pleased by Ortman’s decision but she refused to say more.
The Senate Taxes Committee, which has long been considered a potential stadium killer, will meet Thursday morning, following the finance committee’s 9-to-5 vote to move the bill along.
Though insiders were saying the bill will survive – barely – in that committee, it has slowed the Vikings’ steamroller down, and it’s clear that more re-writing and maneuvering await.
Given the decision by Ortman, there’s now apparently a movement in the House for its tax committee also to take up the bill.
All of this has slowed down when the bill might make it to the floors of the respective chambers.
The Capitol these days is filled with arm-twisting.
This afternoon, Gov. Mark Dayton was meeting with the St. Paul legislative delegation, apparently in an effort to wrangle a few floor votes from that body. There’s some speculation that there will be efforts to dangle state bonding for a baseball park, which would house the Saints as well as amateur events, for downtown St. Paul.
That has been the city’s top bonding priority of the session.
And it’s appears to be a real necessity after the finance committee stripped out other “killer” language that would have given St. Paul more than $43 million to pay off obligations to its RiverCentre Convention Center.
Additionally, early this afternoon, a number of Vikings players showed up at the Capitol, attracting a horde of television cameras.
The scene horrified Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. Hausman had opted not to attend the meeting with Dayton, saying, “No matter what he says, I’m not supporting the stadium. It’s a terrible bill.”
Instead of going to that meeting, she went to the front steps of the Capitol to enjoy the sunshine and a sandwich.
Just then, the Vikings players arrived and reporters were streaking to the scene.
“Look at that!” she said. “That tells you all you need to know. A few players show up and everyone goes gaga. The same thing is happening inside. As soon as you talk about the Vikings, half the members get all excited.”
The whole political trading game is on in full, but it’s the Vikings’ stadium that is at the center of it all.
There were some efforts to fundamentally change the bill in the finance committee session.
Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, was the most outspoken foe of the bill and the gaming revenues that are to fund it. Hann put up an amendment, which seemed technical in nature, regarding what sort of bonds should be used to pay for the state’s portion of the stadium. His amendment called for general obligation bonds, not appropriation bonds, to be used as the vehicle.
Hann, who is a foe of a public subsidy for the stadium, apparently believed that the general obligation bonds would put the state more squarely on the financial hook if gaming revenues fall short of projections.
His amendment failed, as did an amendment put forward by Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis. Her amendment would have fundamentally changed the financing of the stadium, calling for “a nickel a drink” statewide tax to cover costs.
Revenue collected from that tax, she said, would bring in $125 million a year, enough to cover not only the stadium and rehab of the Target Center but pay for other amenities across the state as well.
But, given the Republicans’ “no new taxes” mantra, the amendment failed.
Assuming the bill passes the Senate Taxes Committee — and again, given the arm-twisting going on, it seems likely that will happen — it’s still not clear when the measure will get to the floors, or how different the provisions will be.
Legislative leaders had talked of hoping to end the session Saturday.