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At first it was a “hare-brained scheme,” and then it was “absolutely worth considering.” At first it was roofless, and then it couldn’t be built without a roof.

Strange turns precede looming stadium vote

Gov. Mark Dayton emphasized last week that he wanted “to find a solution” on the stadium issue. “I’m not going to let my personal feelings for how other people conduct themselves get in the way of trying to get a resolution that’s going to be beneficial to Minnesota,” he said. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Bonding-based stadium plan rose and fell in 48 hours

At first it was a “hare-brained scheme,” and then it was “absolutely worth considering.” At first it was roofless, and then it couldn’t be built without a roof. At first it seemed like the only plan to end the 2012 Minnesota legislative session with at least some action, and then it was dead.

A day after lawmakers had hoped to adjourn for the year, Republican leaders put forth a new plan for a Minnesota Vikings stadium that not only eliminated the facility’s roof but funded the state’s portion of the project using general obligation bonds as part of a broader capital investment package.

To hear GOP leaders tell it, the new plan eliminated the contentious expansion of charitable gambling to pay the state’s portion, a deal breaker in the bill currently working its way through the Legislature for many members in both the House and Senate Republican caucuses. It would also cut the state’s total contribution to the project by nearly $150 million. Others thought it merely a political ploy from Republicans to put forth a plan that Gov. Mark Dayton, the city of Minneapolis and the Vikings could only refuse, thereby lifting from legislative Republicans the onus of being the last to say no.

But Republican leaders’ quickly hatched plan — reportedly masterminded by House Majority Leader Matt Dean — ignored the legal and logistical realities of using general obligation bonds to fund any project, and within 48 hours, they pulled the plug.

“We took our best shot,” Dean said on Thursday. Despite the alternative proposal’s short life span, the sudden move from Republicans put a jolt into what had become sleepy end-of-session negotiations. Republican lawmakers then moved on to what seemed to be their only other option: Cast an up-or-down vote on the current stadium bill. “It’s only fair to everyone to vote on the existing plan,” Dean said, “because that’s the alternative.”

Here’s how the events shook out.

1:30 P.M. TUESDAY, MAY 1: By early afternoon, news reports had leaked that Republican legislative leaders were in talks with the Vikings over a possible alternate plan for a roofless stadium. But before Republicans could announce the details of their new proposal, Dayton, DFL legislative leaders and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak called a news conference to tear it down. “It’s just really hard to take this seriously,” Dayton said, adding that the sudden move flew in the face of months of negotiations. Rybak drove the point home, saying the new proposal was a nonstarter with the Minneapolis City Council. “That is a dead deal,” he proclaimed, “because this partner is not going to be part of that.” But what really seemed to dig at the governor was the fact that the new plan was created and discussed in “secrecy.” “It’s hard to believe that this is a serious attempt to make a resolution,” he said, “when we haven’t been told anything about it.”

4:15 P.M. TUESDAY, MAY 1: Just moments after he was spotted behind a staircase on the ground floor of the Capitol engaged in a heated phone conversation, chief Vikings lobbyist Lester Bagley spoke to reporters to give the team’s official position on the GOP roofless stadium plan. Bagley started in earnest by trying to defuse the escalating situation. “What happened in the last 24 hours is no different from any other day at the Capitol,” he said, adding that he was asked by Dean merely to consider the plan. He also made it clear that the team would not support it. “The time to consider the site or the design has passed,” Bagley said. “Make no mistake: The Vikings stand with the agreement we negotiated.”

5 P.M. TUESDAY, MAY 1: That did not seem to faze Republican leaders. In a Capitol news conference, Dean, Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, Deputy Majority Leader Julianne Ortman and House Speaker Kurt Zellers said they planned to move full-speed ahead with the new proposal. They also revealed a previously unknown facet of the plan: The state’s portion would be funded using general obligation bonds as part of a broader capital investment package.

Dean emphasized that the new plan enjoyed much broader support from both the House and Senate GOP caucuses. “We’re trying to simplify the entire discussion,” he said. “We’re basically saying everything from the turf down is infrastructure, and that would be what would be considered bondable for this particular project. It’s infrastructure only.”

10:30 A.M. WEDNESDAY, MAY 2: Dayton began the day by once again blasting the Republican plan. In an early morning news conference, Dayton called the proposal a “hare-brained scheme” and a “fiasco.” “Republican leaders are playing poker with thousands of Minnesota jobs … while trying to save their own,” Dayton said. “I think it’s fundamentally wrong, and I hope the people of Minnesota will see it for what it is.”
DFL Minority Leaders Paul Thissen and Tom Bakk were more guarded in their comments, questioning the legality of using general obligation bonds for the project and the viability of appending the stadium to a broader bonding bill that would require a 60 percent supermajority to pass. When asked if a bonding bill with the stadium attached would get any DFL support, Thissen said it would be “impossible” to say without any concrete details. Dayton and GOP leaders planned to meet later in the day.

2:30 P.M. WEDNESDAY, MAY 2: Dayton emerged from a meeting with GOP leaders to say that their proposal was “absolutely worth pursuing.” While he still preferred to move forward with the current bill that was negotiated between himself, legislators, the city of Minneapolis and the team, Dayton said, he most of all wanted “to find a solution.” “I don’t recant anything I said before. I meant every word of it,” he continued. But, he added, “I’m not going to let my personal feelings for how other people conduct themselves get in the way of trying to get a resolution that’s going to be beneficial to Minnesota.”

The biggest revelation in the meeting was that the roofless stadium would likely need a roof. Minnesota Management & Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter told lawmakers that in order to meet the requirements to use general obligation bonds for the project, the stadium would probably need a roof to make it usable on a year-round basis.

11:30 A.M. THURSDAY, MAY 3: After meeting with the city of Minneapolis, the team and officials from the Minnesota Management & Budget office, Republican leaders held a news conference to announce that they were dropping their new approach. During those discussions, serious questions emerged about using general obligation bonds to pay the state’s portion of a new stadium, including the duration of the bonds in contrast to the length of the Vikings lease and questions over who could hire contractors for the project. “Because of those impediments, we will not be bringing it forward,” Dean told reporters.

But GOP leaders also pledged a Monday vote on the main Vikings stadium bill. Zellers declared the whole matter up to Dayton and stadium advocates. “The Vikings and the governor believe the votes are there,” he said. “At this point it’s going to be up to them to gain votes …. I don’t know if there are the votes in the Republican caucus.”

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