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The Senate Taxes Committee passed the Minnesota Vikings stadium bill 7-6 after an intense hearing that lasted well into Friday evening. The panel removed the racino provision from an earlier committee that was believed to have put the bill in jeopardy. The stadium legislation is now on the floor of both the House and Senate.

Vikings bill passes Taxes committee by a single vote

John Howe (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

The Senate Taxes Committee passed the Minnesota Vikings stadium bill on a 7-6 vote after an intense hearing that lasted well into Friday evening.

The need for at least three votes from the minority DFL caucus was satisfied by Sens. Tom Bakk of Cook, Ann Rest of New Hope and Rod Skoe of Clearbrook. Among committee members from the majority GOP caucus, “yes” votes were cast as expected from Sens. Geoff Michel of Edina, Julie Rosen of Fairmont, the bill’s chief author, and Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem of Rochester. With significant skepticism or downright opposition  from the rest of the panel, the seventh and deciding vote came from freshman Sen. John Howe, a Republican from Red Wing.

The damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t quality of Howe’s decision was evidenced when he bellowed out a sonorous “Yeaaah” when called upon during the bill’s roll-call vote. When asked after the hearing if he was the swing vote, Howe replied: “It appears so. I was certainly getting lobbied on all sides.”

Voting no were GOP Sens. Roger Chamberlain of Lino Lakes, Gretchen Hoffman of Vergas, Warren Limmer of Maple Grove and the committee’s chair, Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen. DFLers dissenting were Sens. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis and John Marty of Roseville.

Judging from the personalities and interests gathered for the hearing in Room 15 of the state Capitol, the pressure was intense. As has been the case throughout the process, the team’s stable of lobbyists, officials from Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak made the pitch for the nearly $1 billion downtown Minneapolis stadium, which involves $398 million in funding from the state financed by allowing electronic pulltabs and bingo. Also looking on in the audience were prominent critics of the stadium bill from the conservative flank of the Senate GOP caucus, including Paul Gazelka of Brainerd, Scott Newman of Hutchinson, Sean Nienow of Cambridge and David Thompson of Lakeville.

The conflict didn’t stop when the committee adjourned. Shortly after 10 p.m., objections were made on the Senate floor to accepting the committee report. When a division was called on whether to accept the committee report, the chamber was so sparsely populated that a quorum couldn’t be assembled to settle the matter. Senjem withdrew the committee report to be settled later and adjourned until 3 p.m. on Saturday.

In the Taxes Committee, the ghost of the bill’s previous hearing in the Senate Finance Committee hovered as Rosen sought to remove what was regarded by the principal backers as a poison pill. The Finance panel changed the terms of the deal between the state, Minneapolis and the team by allowing revenue to pay for the stadium from slot machines at two Minnesota horseracing tracks. The so-called racino provision was stricken in Taxes on a 10-3 vote.

If racino money defined the action of the Finance Committee, the Taxes Committee became consumed by altering the bill to raise money from user fees at the stadium.

Bakk, the Senate minority leader and a Vikings stadium supporter, offered an amendment to impose a 6.87 percent fee on all things sold in and around the stadium, including naming rights. Bakk said the user fees would supplement the primary revenue source of electronic pulltabs and bingo, about which some lawmakers have voiced significant skepticism.

Bakk said the proposal would raise $16 million a year, which would be a sufficient financial cushion if the pulltab revenue ultimately proved to be insufficient to pay debt service on the bonds. But legislative fiscal analysts and state Department of Revenue officials in the room said the assumptions on Bakk’s amendment were based on incomplete information. Additionally, Vikings Chief Financial Officer Steve Poppen said the team regarded some of the information needed to determine the revenue from user fees as “confidential.” The Vikings also opposed Bakk’s fee proposal.

Bakk’s amendment was further complicated when Howe successfully amended it on a vote of 8-5 to make all of the state’s contribution financed by user fees. After Howe prevailed, Bakk withdrew his amendment. But then Marty re-offered the user fee amendment as amended by Howe. The committee broke down over concerns that the information was insufficient for them to act on it and moved to recess. An unseen legislator on the panel was captured on microphone exclaiming “unbelievable” when Ortman ruled the motion to recess passed. The committee immediately reconvened and Hoffman moved to adjourn, which failed 9-4. The committee then narrowly voted down the user fee amendment 7-6.

The bill then went on to pass by the same vote without recommendation to the floor with the main components of the deal intact. The stadium bill is already ready for a vote on the House floor.

Among the other key development in the Taxes Committee, Marty, one of the Legislature’s most longstanding and persistent stadium foes, successfully amended on a narrow vote of 7-6 to take out the exemption on sales taxes for the stadium’s construction. An amendment also offered by Marty to remove the property tax exemption for the stadium, which was estimated at about $25 million a year, was defeated 8-5. Another amendment, offered by Skoe, was approved to allow tax increment financing (TIF) for an expansion at the Mall of America. Rosen said after the Taxes hearing that the sales tax exemption needs to be put back and the Mall of America TIF language needs to be removed.

About Charley Shaw

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