Minnesota House panel advances Vikings stadium planA bill to pay for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium limped ahead Monday at the state Capitol with time in the legislative session running short and amid lingering doubts over key financing elements.
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A bill to pay for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium limped ahead Monday at the state Capitol with time in the legislative session running short and amid lingering doubts over key financing elements.
The House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee advanced the bill on a divided voice vote. It has several more House and Senate committees to clear before it reaches final votes and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
The plan relies heavily on expanded gambling in bars and restaurants in the form of electronic pull tabs and bingo. A new wrinkle also would tap into sports-themed betting “tip boards” that, according to Dayton, could run afoul of federal law.
An original proposal was retooled over the weekend to provide additional revenue streams should the gambling proceeds fall short of expectations. Charities, which run the bar gambling games, were promised bigger cuts in the tax rates they pay so they’ll have more money to put to local hockey clubs and other community needs.
The $975 million cost of the stadium planned for Minneapolis would be split among the city, state and private sources.
Supporters placed big stakes of the bill, which end a decade-long stadium push by a franchise no longer bound by a lease to play in the Metrodome.
“I do believe the team will leave if we do not pass this stadium bill,” said Rep. Terry Morrow, a Democrat from St. Peter.
Opponents were just as adamant that the bill represented a public handout to a wealthy team owner.
But the proposal has a long way to go before any dirt gets moved.
Dayton, a strong stadium supporter, said his own negotiators were left out of the weekend talks that produced the new version. He criticized a new feature in the bill, the authorization of sports-themed betting “tip boards” he said are illegal under federal law.
Other backers raised concerns that the National Football League would flinch at stadium financing and sports betting being so closely linked.
Even so, Dayton said he was glad to see the bill finally moving after months of being stalled.
The bill is newly backed by the organization that represents Minnesota charities with gambling operations, whose tax proceeds are proposed to cover the state’s $398 million share. The proposal also now includes several backup plans in case the new gambling offerings don’t generate enough tax revenue in a given year to pay off stadium bonds.
Opposition from charities, and concern about the stability of gambling money, had hung up the bill in the House in recent weeks. House sponsor, Rep. Morrie Lanning, said key House Republicans and members of Speaker Kurt Zellers’ staff were involved in crafting the newest bill.
It gave a glimmer of hope to stadium supporters, who acknowledge they have little room for error given a push to adjourn the Legislature by month’s end. “We can still keep moving. A lot can happen” before adjournment, said GOP Sen. Julie Rosen, the main advocate in that chamber.
The Vikings and the team’s legislative allies have struggled to build support and surmount a series of obstacles, most recently opposition from charitable gambling operators. Under the current proposal, those operators would be authorized to upgrade to electronic versions of their current pull-tab and bingo games as well as add the tip board games.
The state forecasts that would raise about $72 million in new tax revenue per year, with half being used to pay off stadium bonds and the other half going back to charities in the form of tax relief.
“We were able to agree on an approach that works for both of us,” said King Wilson, chief lobbyist for Allied Charities of Minnesota. The bill would change the way charities are taxed, shifting to a tax on net profits rather than gross receipts.
Diverting more money to charities would leave the state with less tax revenue to provide a financial cushion required by issuers of construction bonds. To that end, the latest version of the bill secures four backup funding streams in order to ensure the state treasury is not on the hook if the expanded gambling doesn’t raise as much money as predicted.
The first would be a tax on luxury boxes at the new stadium. That would be followed by a sports-themed lottery game, money from an existing Hennepin County sales tax that helps pay bonds on the Target Field, and a ticket tax at the new stadium. Those provisions are likely to stir backlash: Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat has resisted financial involvement by the county in a new football stadium, and the Vikings have tried to avoid new taxes on stadium-related enterprises.
Opat said Hennepin County leaders were not consulted on the move to tap their sales tax proceeds. He voiced opposition. Lester Bagley, the Vikings’ vice president for stadium development, said the team’s owners negotiated the $427 million share the Vikings have agreed to put up and consider the proposed stadium taxes to be a violation of that agreement.
“Raising the price of our tickets through a tax would impact our relationship with the ticket buyer,” Bagley said. “And it’s basically taking revenue that would otherwise go to the team and put it elsewhere.”