After the final vote had been taken, after most of the reporters and spectators and testifiers had left the room, Rep. Morrie Lanning’s hands still were quivering.
For seven years, Lanning, a Republican from Moorhead, has been carrying Vikings stadium bills. After last night’s vote by the House Government Operations committee, it appears that his work is not any closer to being done.
By a 9-6 vote, the House committee voted against even moving the stadium bill forward without recommendation.
In sports terminology, the contest was closer than the final vote indicated. Lanning said he’d been told by Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, that he’d support moving the bill out of committee. But in the end, Quam opposed the measure. A “yes” vote would have made it 8-7.
Another Republican, Rich Murray of Albert Lea, clearly was struggling with how to vote.
The first time his name was called, he passed. When all others had voted and it was his turn again, he paused, finally voting “no.” Had Quam and Murray voted “yes,” the stadium bill would have survived to limp through another day. Another Republican, David Hancock of Bemidji, also had said he was “torn” before voting “no.”
Only one DFL vote in support
But one thing should be clear. It wasn’t the Republicans who blocked movement of the stadium bill. Just one of the six DFLers on the 15-member committee, Michael Nelson of Brooklyn Park, supported the measure.
Though not surprised by their votes, Lanning was particularly irked that the representatives of “the host region’’ voted “no.’’
Both Reps. Frank Hornstein and Marion Greene of Minneapolis were “no votes,” as were two Hennepin County reps, Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley and Steve Simon of St. Louis Park.
“You had four people from the host city,” said Lanning. “When you don’t get support by the host, which will benefit the most, what can you do?”
Is the stadium dead for this session?
“It will take a miracle to have it come back,” said Lanning.
“Only if leadership really wants to make it happen,” said Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, who had sat with Lanning and urged members to let this issue get to the floor.
At this point, that seems unlikely. House Speaker Kurt Zellers never has wanted to get out front on the Vikings stadium. The vote by this committee would seem to give him cover not to push forward.
No Senate committee has even taken up the bill yet. Given the seeming lack of enthusiasm by that body for dealing with the stadium, it seems like a tall order to expect the Senate to act now that a House committee has said no.
Even though it’s not particularly surprising that the stadium bill again may be nearing the end of the line, there was still a bit of a shocked silence in the wake of the vote.
Is it really over? Could the Vikings move? In many ways, the pressure in the stadium game gets even more intense now. The threats that the team might move will become more explicit.
The Vikings’ Lester Bagley wouldn’t quite play that card last night.
But after the vote, he came close.
“This is a strong message to the Vikings and the NFL,” Bagley said.
Was that a threat?
“It’s a mistake to think the Vikings and the NFL will continue in this situation indefinitely,” he said.
Was that a threat?
“We’ve still got two more weeks [of the session],” he said.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
In trying to sway the committee, chaired by Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, Lanning and Morrow played every card they had.
Morrow pounded home the idea that the bill would help charities (because the bill is tied to electronic pull-tabs), jobs and, ultimately, the state.
Using numbers from Ted Mondale, who heads the stadium commission, Morrow said the state would actually make $150 million over the life of the deal because of income taxes collected from players and Vikings’ front-office personnel.
For his part, Lanning talked of pragmatic politics. If the committee stopped the progress of the bill, he said, the issue would stay alive.
“Two years ago, a stadium bill was stalled in this committee,” he told the committee members as they were about to vote.
By failing to act then, he said, the committee merely kept the issue on the front pages. The only way the stadium issue will stop making “front-page headlines,” he said, is for the full House and Senate to “vote up or down.”
Until that happens, this issue is going to dog every legislator in every race in every district in the state.
Labor and business support not enough
Lanning and Morrow were far from alone in pushing for a “yes” vote.
Labor and business leaders testified in support of the measure, although the business leaders testimony was picked apart by Winkler.
Both Winkler and Hornstein believe that more private money should go into this project. (As the bill exists, the Vikings would pay $427 million, the state $398 million and Minneapolis $150 million.)
Elliot Jaffee of U.S. Bank and John Griffith of Target testified to the importance of the project, which opened the door for Winkler.
“Would you support a corporate income tax to support the stadium?” Winkler asked the two.
“We’re supportive of the bill as it is,” said Jaffee.
“We’re the most philanthropic corporation in America,” said Griffith.
Winkler was not impressed.
“The business community is happy to step up and support this without having to pay for it,” he said.
Neither of the executives responded.
Foes of the project also testified, though typically as individuals.
As it turned out, though, the foes didn’t need large institutional support from unions or chambers of commerce. They had solid backing from the committee, especially Peppin.
Going into last night’s vote, Lanning had hoped there merely would be a voice vote on the measure. That had happened when the bill passed out of the House Regulatory and Reform Committee.
A voice vote, of course, protects legislators from being accountable for how they actually voted.
But Peppin made it clear she was going to have no part of that sort of deal.
“We’re going to be transparent,” she said, forcing a roll call of the committee members.
From the outset, Peppin obviously was not a supporter of the measure.
Minneapolis officials grilled
She was disgusted by the way Minneapolis city officials appear to be sidestepping their city’s charter, which calls for a citywide referendum if more than $10 million is to be spent on a sports facility. She peppered Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson about the meaning of the charter.
“What is the value of the charter?” she asked Johnson. “The language is pretty clear. Don’t you view the charter as a valid document?”
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Johnson and Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal each attempted to answer the questions but could not impress Peppin, who proposed an amendment that seemingly would have been an attempt to open the door to a referendum in Minneapolis.
The amendment “passed easily.” But given that neither Morrow nor Lanning appeared dismayed, there was apparently comfort that down the line the amendment would have been deleted.
Another amendment — proposed by Winkler — dropped Hennepin County’s “excess” ballpark tax as a backup revenue source to the football stadium, if gaming money falls short of projections. That amendment also easily passed.
But even in a weakened form, even though committee members were being asked only to move the bill on without recommendation, it failed.
“What else can you do?” wondered a weary-looking Lanning.