Now the get-real negotiations begin.
After a long day and night of debate and maneuvers in the Minnesota Senate, a conference committee is meeting today to begin hammering out major differences between bills approved by lawmakers in the House and Senate to build a new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis .
And there will be a lot of negotiating to do.
Not only do the bills differ on the team’s total share in costs to build the new stadium, but also on the amount of new gambling revenue that goes to the state to pay for some of those costs. The Senate also took a more taxpayer-friendly turn by preventing broadcast blackouts and preventing the team from having a five-year monopoly on bringing a soccer franchise to the stadium.
It was chaos in the Senate Tuesday, far from the choreographed vote the House took on the $975 million stadium proposal Monday. Debate in the Senate lasted for more than 10 hours and unlikely factions fought vigorously against the bill until the end. It passed the chamber 38 to 28, with Democrats offering 22 votes and Republicans bringing 16.
Republicans and Democrats found each other strange bedfellows in their attempts to make the bill more palatable for those who opposed the gambling funding mechanism or disapproved of a large public subsidy for a private sports team.
The Senate version, even before it was amended nearly 20 times on the floor, differed significantly from its House counterpart. The stadium package, which finally cleared both chambers after months of negotiations, almost died multiple times throughout the process.
Now the House and Senate must meet to iron out their differences, and then the compromise must be passed again in both houses before heading to Gov. Mark Dayton to become law.
As it stands, there are some serious differences between the bills. A House amendment would force the Vikings to pay $105 million more than previously required, while the Senate voted to increase the team’s share by only $25 million.
The original agreement between the team and lawmakers would have used enhanced charitable gambling — electronic pull-tabs and linked bingo — to finance the state’s share, which totaled $398 million. The Vikings would have contributed about $427 million, and Minneapolis would put in $150 million.
The House, which faced strong resistance to the bill, in the end handily passed the measure 73 to 58. Members largely followed chief author Rep. Morrie Lanning’s direction when it came to amending the bill.
But Sen. Julie Rosen, the Senate lead, had her hands full. The most conservative faction of the Republican caucus and the most liberal members of the Senate DFLers found themselves working together to radically redefine the bill. They almost succeeded, but stadium supporters managed to save the plan through a series of re-votes and a deft parliamentary move.
Still, it was remarkable to watch such ideologically opposed lawmakers work together with such ease and efficiency in an attempt to influence the legislation.
“The walls of partisanship have been broken down,” GOP Sen. Ted Lillie declared to the chamber, commenting how diverse partnerships between DFLers and Republicans had been forged in opposition to the stadium proposal that eventually passed.
Despite assurances that everyone wanted to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, lawmakers in the Senate gathered into small clusters of support and dissent over the bill.
Distrust was rampant throughout the long hours of debate, and different members often accused others of trying to tank the plan or jam it through without serious consideration.
A group of supporters was convinced that the most conservative element of the Senate was trying to kill the bill since lawmakers only have days left before they’re constitutionally required to adjourn.
“There are forces at work that do not want to build a stadium,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk told his colleagues. “Clearly there are some other forces at work that are trying to run the clock out on this session.”
MinnPost photo by James Nord
GOP Sen. John Howe proposed a particularly contentious amendment that would have moved the stadium proposal’s funding mechanism from updated electronic charitable gambling to “user fees” on suites, merchandise, tickets and concessions. Howe told his colleagues that gambling was an unfair and untested source of money.
“We can build this stadium, folks. We can build it. And we can do it in a responsible manner,” he said. “We have a way of financing this stadium in a reasonable and appropriate manner.”
Likewise, DFL Sen. John Marty, who supported the user-fee amendment, attempted to amend the Vikings proposal so that it wouldn’t be exempted from the Minneapolis city charter, which requires a referendum on sports projects that cost more than $10 million.
But Rosen (whose bill contained some fees) and others opposed financing the stadium solely through fan-generated funds because it would drive up ticket prices and the Vikings oppose the move. They also said Marty’s amendment would undo the agreement that Minneapolis had secured with its City Council.
Minutes after Marty’s amendment had passed, Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak began criticizing the amendment. After a heated debate, the amendment was overturned.
Howe worked for six hours to craft his user-fee amendment until it fit into the bill. After it passed by a slim majority, the body again reversed the vote.
All of this was enough for the unlikely coalition of ideologically diverse lawmakers to accuse stadium supporters of bending to big business, big government and big labor to jam the bill through.
“We had two votes today where amendments were passed that in good conscience members in there felt the Vikings were overreaching or that we were giving them too much or doing the wrong thing, and after a time, the votes got reconsidered,” Sen. Dave Thompson, an ardent stadium proposal opponent, said after the vote.“What happened in the intervening time? We had lobbyists. We had people who were interested in getting this bill passed twisting arms. It is your classic special interest politics gone wild.”
And while the senators schemed and pointed fingers on the floor, the fans sat in the Senate gallery. Three children waited patiently in the front row of the bleachers. A little girl, who wore a tiny jersey and Vikings pajama pants, just looked bored.
“Can they just vote for it?” she asked her mom.
Before that final vote, though, the Senate had a couple of other non-stadium, business-friendly proposals to add.
With time running out on efforts to revive the GOP’s recently vetoed business tax relief bill, members decided to salvage two key parts of the package and tack them on the stadium bill.
One provision would extend Bloomington’s tax-increment financing districts for the planned Mall of America addition, which advocates say will create thousands of construction jobs. The Senate also added language that would require Internet retailers to collect Minnesota sales tax – a move seen as helping to level the playing field between online retailers and bricks-and-mortar stores in the state.
With the conference committee beginning to meet today to work out differences in the House and Senate bills, Rosen said she’s confident the Vikings will have to pay a larger share than their original $427 million. She also said she would start negotiating at the Senate’s position of $25 million in additional funding. Minneapolis is still on the hook for $150 million under both proposals.
Right now, the House would require the Vikings to pay $532 million and the state to pitch in $293 million. The Senate proposed a more modest $452 million contribution from the team and a $373 million state share.
But Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley had little to offer Monday night on the House deal. He was equally vague Tuesday.
“There are a lot of issues still to be sorted through,” he said, saying the team would stick to the original plan. We have to put everybody together and sort out a deal.”
The Dayton administration had no comment early Wednesday morning.