After a pair of marathon floor debates, the House and Senate passed legislation this week authorizing construction of a $975 million stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. That development sets up a frenetic push to finalize and repass a stadium bill in the dying days of the 2012 legislative session.
Passage of stadium legislation, however, remains anything but assured. The bills contain significant differences that could make reaching compromise on a final bill difficult. Most notably, the House bill relies on a $532 million contribution from the Vikings, while the Senate proposal has the franchise on the hook for $452 million. The Vikings have so far agreed to pay $427 million.
In addition, the Republican majorities in the House and Senate remain deeply divided on the stadium proposal. In both bodies, in fact, DFLers delivered the majority of votes in favor of passage: 40 of 73 in the House, 22 of 38 in the Senate.
“It’s doable,” said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, chief sponsor of the bill, shortly after it cleared the Senate on Tuesday evening. “There are some issues with the bill, and we’ll try to iron them out.”
After Tuesday evening’s Senate vote, significant differences in the bills still needed to be reconciled in conference committee. The House conferees are Reps. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, and Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter; their Senate counterparts are Sens. Rosen, Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, and Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth.
As this issue of Capitol Report went to press, no formal meeting of the bipartisan six-member panel had been called, though accounts on Twitter indicated that chief sponsors Rosen and Lanning were holding a Wednesday meeting with Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Chairman Ted Mondale and Dayton administration Commissioners Jim Schowalter of Management & Budget and Myron Frans of Revenue.
But the process will need to transpire extremely rapidly. Wednesday’s floor session was the 118th of the session, meaning that just one additional day remains in which the House and Senate can pass bills. (By constitutional mandate, neither chamber can pass legislation on the 120th and final day of session.)
Lester Bagley, the Vikings top lobbyist, expressed optimism that a deal will be worked out. “We need to sit down and roll up our sleeves and hammer out a proposal that works for all parties,” Bagley said.
House: surprisingly little drama
After more than a year of negotiations on the bill and weeks of ramped-up
rhetoric and committee activity, there was little tension outside the House chamber directly preceding the stadium’s first full floor vote, even as construction workers, union members and Vikings fans in team regalia massed outside House doors shouting, “Build it now, build it now!”
After debate and passage of a package of bonding projects, House Speaker Kurt Zellers jumped right into the Vikings stadium debate late Monday afternoon with no break to caucus. House members wandered around the floor and outside the chamber during the fairly low-key debate, many of them predicting the eventual outcome: The bill would pass, and it would get more votes than initially anticipated.
Of the nearly 40 amendments thrown at the bill, a theme emerged quickly as a particular point of tension for members from both parties: the team’s strict terms for the deal. That point crystallized in an early amendment brought by GOP Rep. Pat Garofalo to reduce the state’s share of the cost by $105 million and transfer the burden directly to the Vikings.
By the numbers, the amendment would cut the state’s share of the project from $398 million to $293 million while increasing the team’s share to $532 million. Despite repeated pledges from Vikings lobbyists to spend no more than $427 million on the new stadium and opposition to the amendment from chief sponsor Lanning, Garofalo’s change was easily adopted on a 97-31 vote.
A handful of other fairly significant changes were made to the terms of the deal struck between the bill’s sponsors, the city of Minneapolis and the Vikings franchise. They included a successful amendment to tie the team to a 40-year lease on the facility (up from a proposed 30-year lease).
Clawback provision toughened
DFL Rep. Steve Simon also received support for a proposal to expand a so-called clawback provision if owner Zygi Wilf sells the franchise. “This team can give more,” Simon said, noting that his father was a sports agent who dealt with similar negotiations. “[It] really can.” Under the change, the state would get up to 25 percent of the total sale price of the team; the earlier provision would have given the state up to 18 percent of the profit on any sale. The bill was also changed to make construction and operating cost overruns the responsibility of the team.
Other amendments struck a similar note but failed in the chamber. GOP Rep. Linda Runbeck tried to change the bill to require that all Vikings games be broadcast on free and local television, and DFL Rep. Andrew Falk tried to give the public ownership of the team. Not everyone was happy with the on-the-fly attempts from both parties to change the terms of the NFL- and team-sanctioned agreement. “I hope you all realize that Minnesota is watching,” DFL Rep. Tom Huntley said after the Falk motion. “And I hope you realize how stupid we look.”
GOP Rep. King Banaian, a freshman lawmaker from St. Cloud and an economics professor at St. Cloud State University, spoke the most vehemently against what he said is a sweet deal for the Minnesota Vikings. “[The Vikings] came and said, ‘Nice team you got here. Shame if something happens to it,’” Banaian said. “And they’re able to take advantage of a monopoly situation.”
Dozens of other amendments quickly surfaced and died on the House floor during the eight-and-a-half-hour debate. Rochester Republican Rep. Mike Benson — citing concerns about the social costs associated with expanded charitable gambling 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 pulltabs,” Benson said. In the face of opposition from Lanning, the user fee amendment failed 74-54.
A handful of amendments also emerged from the caucus’ fiscal conservative faction. Rep. Keith Downey proposed an amendment to exempt the project’s contractors from paying the prevailing wage. The amendment predictably earned the ire of DFLers but also drew the tersest response from Lanning of the night: “This amendment is a poison pill,” Lanning said, adding that regardless of the amendment’s fate, Downey would vote “no” on the bill.
GOP freshman Rep. Doug Wardlow also offered an amendment to the stadium bill to make Minnesota a so-called “right-to-work” state. A proposed right-to-work constitutional amendment, which would allow workers to opt out of joining unions and paying dues, has stalled in committees in both chambers despite multiple procedural efforts to bring it back to life. Both amendments easily failed in the chamber.
In the end, the $975 million package easily passed with 40 DFLers casting “yes” votes alongside 33 Republicans. The final 73-58 vote tally was much higher than the bare 68 votes needed to pass the bill off the floor.
Senate: Deliberations marked by reversals
On Tuesday the Senate GOP caucus huddled behind closed doors for most of the morning arguing about the stadium bill. The prolonged discussion suggested that the proposal would face a tricky path on the floor. In fact, before commencing the stadium debate, Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem predicted that it would be decided — pass or fail — by a single vote.
Rosen made some changes to the proposal at the outset designed to entice additional votes. She added user fees on stadium parking and other Vikings-related expenditures — a funding mechanism favored by many conservative members of her own caucus. In addition, Rosen included $2.7 million per year for St. Paul over the next two decades to pay for the operating costs of its sports facilities. That move seemed designed to placate members of the Ramsey County delegation, potentially key stadium allies.
During the Senate’s contentious 10-hour-plus debate, nearly 40 amendments were considered. Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, offered a proposal to boost the team’s share of the stadium by $25 million. It passed unanimously. But that kind of unity proved the exception rather than the rule.
Several amendments put forth alternative financing proposals for the stadium. Two senators offered proposals to use proceeds from permitting the state’s horse racing tracks to operate full-fledged casinos to pay for the facility. Sen. Mike Jungbauer, R-East Bethel, offered an amendment to allow the White Earth tribe to operate a casino in the Twin Cities. In return for that authorization, the tribe would put up $400 million to help pay for the stadium. Both the racino and White Earth gambling proposals failed.
Another amendment, offered by DFL Sen. John Marty, stated that any city charter provision related to sports stadium financing could not be “pre-empted, overridden or waived.” The measure was aimed at a Minneapolis charter rule capping any local contribution toward the construction of a professional sports facility at $10 million — unless voters explicitly give their approval. Minneapolis officials have argued that the city’s $150 million contribution would not trigger a referendum because the state would authorize the spending. But the amendment sparked concerns that it would limit the city’s ability to use public funds to renovate the Target Center.
The Marty amendment passed, 36-30. But a subsequent amendment, offered by GOP Sen. Carla Nelson, proposed limiting the charter exception solely to National Football League facilities.
The Nelson proposal unleashed some of the most heated rhetoric of the debate. Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, charged that eliminating the need for a referendum would set a dangerous precedent. “Make no mistake,” he said, “if you vote for this amendment you are telling the voters, the citizens, the residents of Minneapolis, that their voice is quite literally irrelevant. That’s terrible.”
Despite his warnings, Nelson’s amendment advanced.
The most contentious debate of the day focused on a proposal by GOP Sen. John Howe that would have altered the funding mechanism for the stadium. Instead of relying primarily on electronic pulltabs to pay for it, Howe’s proposal would have implemented a 9.98 percent user fee on ticket sales, concessions, parking, naming rights and other stadium-related expenditures. (After four years, the user fee would have increased to 11.25 percent.) Howe indicated that the proposal would raise roughly $33 million per year and reduce the team’s share of the cost to $325 million.
“It’s very common sense,” Howe said. “The people who use the stadium will pay.”
The amendment initially passed on a 34-33 vote. But it was quickly brought up for reconsideration on a motion from DFL Sen. James Metzen. During the ensuing debate, several senators suggested that the influence of lobbyists on the payroll of the Vikings was responsible for a do-over on the vote. “This body should not succumb to those special interests,” said Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen. “Be strong; trust your judgment.”
But the user fee amendment failed, 35-30, on the second vote. Four DFL senators — Dick Cohen of St. Paul, James Metzen of South St. Paul, Rod Skoe of Clearbrook, and Charles Wiger of Maplewood — flipped their votes from yes to no.
That cleared the way for final passage, 38-28.