After more than eight hours of debate on the House floor Monday evening, a bill to construct a new professional football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings passed through the chamber with more support than most Capitol watchers anticipated.
The $975 million package, which would construct a new stadium for the team near the Metrodome site in Minneapolis, passed on a 73-58 vote, with more DFLers voting for the package than Republicans. All told, 40 DFL votes were cast in favor of the bill, along with 33 from Republicans. Many expected there to be 68 votes total for the bill — the exact number needed to pass — with the GOP and DFL caucuses evenly splitting the total.
“Quite simply, the Metrodome will not meet the needs of Minnesota for the next 40 or 50 years,” Moorhead Republican Rep. Morrie Lanning, the chief sponsor of the proposal, said ahead of the debate. “The time has come for Minnesota to make a decision.”
The bill now faces what is likely to be a tougher vote in the Minnesota Senate, where political observers say the right-wing contingent in the caucus is more organized and openly hostile toward the stadium proposal. If the bill succeeds in the upper chamber, it will then head to a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate proposals.
Of the nearly 40 amendments thrown at the bill during the debate, the biggest change came in an amendment offered by GOP Rep. Pat Garofalo to cut the state’s share of the project from $398 million to $293 million. The amendment would also increase the Vikings share to $532 million, putting the proposal in direct conflict with the express wishes of the Vikings franchise, which has pledged to spend no more than $427 million on the stadium. The amendment passed on a 97-31 vote.
DFL Rep. Steve Simon also successfully passed a so-called “clawback” amendment, which would give the state up to 25 percent of the sale price if team owner Zygi Wilf decides to sell the franchise. That’s an increase from the provision contained in the original bill, which stipulated that the state would receive a maximum of 18 percent of the profit on the sale of the team. Another successful amendment, authored by DFL Rep. Mike Nelson, would require the Vikings to sign a 40-year lease instead of the proposed 30-year lease.
Dozens of other amendments quickly surfaced and died on the House floor. Rochester Republican Rep. Mike Benson — harboring concerns about the social costs associated with expanded charitable gambling used to pay the state’s portion of the project in the current bill — offered an amendment to pay for the project with a 9.98 percent user fee on things like game tickets, concessions and sports memorabilia.
“My definition of fun is certainly not seeing somebody lose their house, kids going without something to eat, daddy coming home and beating mommy because she complained that he lost the paycheck again because he bought the whole box of pull tabs,” Benson said.
His proposal earned a swift retort from DFL Rep. Tom Anzelc. “Minnesotans have a generous appetite and interest in games of chances,” he said. “Get over it!” While the user fee amendment ultimately failed 74-54, Benson later successfully amended the bill to request the legislative auditor do a study on the social effects of lawful gambling.
Among other amendments that failed on the floor:
- Rep. Keith Downey proposed an amendment to exempt the project’s contractors from paying the prevailing wage.
- Rep. Linda Runbeck proposed a change that would require Vikings games to be aired on local, free television.
- Rep. Torrey Westrom offered an amendment to pay for the state’s share of the stadium project by authorizing a White Earth state-tribal casino partnership in the metro area.
- Rep. Tom Hackbarth offered an amendment to revive a recently vetoed bill to expand the use and sale of fireworks in the state.
- Rep. Doug Wardlow offered an amendment to the stadium bill to make Minnesota a so-called “right-to-work” state. A similar constitutional amendment, which would allow workers to opt out of joining a union and paying dues, has stalled in committees in both chambers.
While House members entered into the chamber on Monday, construction workers and union members filled the Capitol halls chanting “Build it now, build it now!” Gov. Mark Dayton, one of the stadium’s biggest supporters and fresh off a weekend of stadium rallies in Minneapolis and at the Mall of America, met with Vikings fans and union workers in the Capitol rotunda. “This is first and foremost about jobs, putting Minnesotans back to work!” Dayton shouted to the workers.
In a crowded news conference immediately after the floor vote, Dayton thanked the chief sponsors and players on the bill, but noted that there are several more hurdles for the proposal, and each one “could be fatal.” Vikings fans dressed in the team’s colors filled the governor’s reception room, cheering after his comments.
“The voices of the people of Minnesotans were heard tonight,” Dayton said, adding that, “we got more positive votes than anyone expected.”
The Senate could take up the Vikings bill as early as Tuesday.