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New Senate stadium plan includes user fees

Don Davis/State Capitol Bureau Minnesota senators Tuesday debate a proposal to fund a Vikings stadium. In recent weeks, the stadium has become an increasingly hot topic as the Legislature nears the end of this year's session.

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Vikings fans would pay user fees under a revised Senate bill to construct a stadium debated Tuesday.

Many senators, especially conservative Republicans, prefer expanding those fees to all users of a new stadium or finding other funding sources to eliminate the need for gambling to support construction.

Project funding dominated much of Tuesday's Senate stadium debate. That debate continued at press time.

Senators proposed new funding options ranging from building a Twin Cities casino to collecting fees by legalizing fireworks.

Many also tried to increase the amount the team would pay toward the stadium. The Senate voted 39-28 requiring the team to pay increasing operating expenses based on inflation. Senators also opted to increase what the Vikings would pay for a stadium by $25 million over an earlier agreement.

"It seems like we're just hanging them upside down and trying to get all the loose change out of their pockets," bill author Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said.

Several Republicans who said they oppose other stadium financing proposals said they could support one relying on user fees.

"We want to find a way to get this done," Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said of funding a stadium. "There's more than one way to do this."

Fans would support user fees, Howe said.

"They want us to build a stadium," he said. "They're willing to pay for it."

During Tuesday's debate, Howe withdrew the amendment after hearing criticism of it, promising to bring it back with problems fixed.

How to fund a stadium has been the major problem for years. Legislators say Minnesotans want a new stadium, so the Vikings football team will stay in the state, but they do not want taxes to rise.

The stadium issue has been discussed for more than a decade, but legislators have not settled on a plan with just two days left in which they can pass bills this year.

Rosen included a smaller version of user fees in her bill, mixed with using expanded charitable gambling taxes.

The proposal, which differs from a House-passed bill, would charge a 10 percent fee on suites and parking within a half mile of the stadium on game days.

A 6.875 percent fee would be tacked onto National Football League memorabilia sold at the stadium.

Also, the Rosen bill would require the state lottery to conduct a sports-based game to generate at least $2.1 million a year.

The House would fund the entire state portion of stadium construction by allowing charities to use electronic devices to play pull tabs and bingo. That also is in Rosen's bill, with user fees additional revenue.

Howe's user fee plan would apply to all user of the stadium, while the Rosen bill would charge fees only at Vikings games.

The tax on items such as concessions, memorabilia and tickets would be nearly 10 percent for four years and then increase to just more than 11 percent under Howe's plan. It would generate more than $500 million to repay construction costs, Howe said.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, has been a stadium opponent, but said he would vote for the bill if Howe's user fee plan was included.

"If I'm going to take a poison pill, I want it to be a less toxic one," Thompson said. "This is a less toxic one."

The Vikings have said they will not support user fees, but Howe said: "I don't believe that. I think we can work together."

Howe said bill details could be worked out in House-Senate negotiations.

Senate debate went into the night as members discussed dozens of amendments.

Senators voted 47-16 against a proposal to allow the White Earth Nation to build a casino in the Twin Cities, with the tribe and state splitting profits.

Members also rejected a plan 40-26 to establish racinos, which would allow casinos at the state's two horse racing tracks.

The Senate voted 34-32 against a proposal allowing firework sales in Minnesota and directing fees to the stadium.

Members did approve 46-21 the removal of a provision giving five-year exclusive rights to Vikings owners to bring in a professional soccer franchise.

"This is the epitome of a crony corporate kickback," Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, said.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, introduced an amendment stating stadium employees would not be required to join a union, but it failed 45-20 with no discussion.

In the Senate plan is a provision to collect sales taxes on good bought via the Internet. State law already requires the tax to be paid, but few Minnesotans voluntarily do.

Gov. Mark Dayton and other stadium supporters said it is likely the Vikings would be sold and leave Minnesota if no stadium is approved. The team said it cannot make enough money in the Metrodome.

The Rosen bill would fund a 65,000-seat roofed stadium, expandable to 72,000 seats, on the current Metrodome site. The plan would allow the state to collect naming rights of a plaza around the stadium, with profits used for amateur sports.

The Senate bill and one the House passed 73-58 late Monday after an eight-and-a-half-hour debate have their differences.

One of the biggest came in a House amendment offered by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, which upped the Vikings' responsibility for stadium construction costs $105 million.

Rosen amended her bill to increase Vikings money going to the stadium by $25 million beyond the $427 million the team said was as high as it would go for the publically owned stadium.

Davis and Nordine work for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.