Left for dead in April, the Vikings stadium bill sprinted to passage in the session’s closing days. What happened?
It was the bill signing ceremony that, for better or worse, few Capitol watchers thought they would ever see.
Four days after lawmakers adjourned for the 2012 legislative session, the principal movers in the deal for a new professional football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings gathered once again in the Capitol rotunda: the bill’s chief legislative sponsors, Sen. Julie Rosen and Rep. Morrie Lanning; Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak; Vikings team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf; and Gov. Mark Dayton, the bill’s biggest cheerleader since entering office in January 2011. Stadium supporters filled the marble circle at the center of the Capitol, dressed in team colors and chanting the Vikings’ fight cheer.
Most of the top-line details had been worked out for months. The stadium would be situated near the site of the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The $975 million construction cost would be split three ways among the state, the team and the city, with the state’s share covered by an expansion of electronic bingo and pulltab games in bars and restaurants. With two quick swipes of a black pen, the stadium was signed into law.
Talking to reporters after the bill signing, Dayton admitted that he thought the bill all but dead after its particularly bruising rejection in a House committee.
“I thought it was very, very unlikely,” he said.
But in the three weeks before the signing ceremony, the Vikings stadium bill had roared back to life. Capitol watchers say a late-stage alliance of business and labor groups and growing public support helped in its revival.
But the politics of fear played a big part, too.
Partisan fears drove a couple of key episodes in the bill’s evolution: Behind the scenes, DFL fears that Dayton would sign the Republicans’ second omnibus tax bill in exchange for Republican stadium votes became a crucial factor in amassing Democratic votes for the stadium. And Republican worries that charitable gambling would get amended out of the bill in favor of a statewide tax increase prompted a strange interlude in which the stadium nearly became part of the year’s bonding bill.
A post-Easter resurrection
The moment that many say led to the resurrection of the Vikings stadium bill looked like the final nail in its coffin.
On Monday, April 16, the Legislature’s first day back from Easter/Passover break, the House Government Operations and Elections Committee voted the stadium bill down 9-6 after more than four hours of testimony and debate. When it came time to give the proposal its roll call vote, only one of six DFL members on the committee voted yes. Republican freshman committee members Rich Murray and Duane Quam, who had passed initially, voted against the bill when it became clear it would fail.
No one was surprised by the result. Among even the most seasoned Capitol watchers, the death of the stadium bill had come to seem inevitable by then. Despite months of negotiations over everything from the facility’s location to the funding sources, the Vikings stadium proposal had failed to gain traction with a critical mass of lawmakers, most of whom faced a daunting post-redistricting election with control of the Legislature at stake.
By the time it reached gov ops, the bill had passed only one legislative committee — House Commerce — and had been tabled in its lone Senate hearing. The package never earned unqualified public support from any of the four legislative caucus leaders; only DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk had been on hand at the news conference to announce the bill’s introduction.
After the House committee vote, Lanning, the House chief sponsor, said it would take a “miracle” to revive the bill. Even Dayton seemed to concede defeat in remarks the next morning. “We’ve got to get a stadium next year or the Vikings will leave,” Dayton declared at a news conference. “We’ll get it next session if we can’t get it this session.”
Some Republicans saw political gold in the terms of the bill’s failure. After a session of mixed signals from GOP leaders on the stadium bill — particularly in the House — Republicans could point the finger at Democrats. “If I were the governor I’d be livid,” House Speaker Kurt Zellers said afterward. “Right now, it’s up to the governor and the Democrat leader in the House.” GOP legislators and activists immediately took to Twitter to amplify that theme, deriding DFLers and labor unions for being unable to muster enough votes to save their own governor’s top session priority.
Behind the scenes, the Democrats on the local government committee who voted against the bill — Reps. Ryan Winkler, Steve Simon, Marion Greene, Frank Hornstein and Bev Scalze — were getting pummeled from all sides.
“When it actually failed in committee and there were those five Democrats who voted no, I saw that as a pivotal event,” retiring DFL Rep. Mindy Greiling said. “Those five Democrats got beaten to a bloody pulp. Those five just got pounded, and they were not happy about it, and I think it scared others, too.”
Four days later, on Friday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney flew to St. Paul to meet with stadium bill principals from the executive and legislative branches. Charlie Weaver, head of the Minnesota Business Partnership and a key player in the stadium bill effort, said the stepped-up pressure from Goodell’s visit had an important effect on House Minority Leader Paul Thissen — who, according to Weaver, was smarting at the time over his failure to deliver the needed DFL votes in the government ops committee. “The timing couldn’t have been better,” Weaver said. “It didn’t save the bill, but it was an important moment.”
By most accounts, Goodell’s visit merely capitalized on momentum that was already building for a renewed stadium push after a late-in-the-game marriage between business and labor groups. The joining of the two sides’ lobbying effort was memorialized in a pro-stadium letter sent to all 201 legislators and co-signed by Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President David Olson and Building and Construction Trades Council President Harry Melander.
“We just told folks that we understood that it was a tough vote, but this is an important part of Minnesota and we need to move it forward,” Melander said. “We like to think we had an impact on the process.”
Weaver and AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson also joined in their effort to push on-the-fence legislators. “That was critical,” Weaver said. “When times got tough and they needed some [DFL] votes, they produced them. In committees where they needed some Republican votes, we were able to be helpful. Together that was important.”
On the same day Goodell visited, the bill scored its first Senate committee passage in Chairman Ray Vandeveer’s Local Government and Elections Committee, where it had been heard and tabled a month before. This time it was DFLers who served up the majority of the votes: Five of six Democrats on the panel voted in favor of the bill, joined by three Republicans.
The bill’s pace then quickened immediately. Just one week after the House shot it down in Government Operations and Elections, the House Ways and Means Committee took up charitable gambling legislation sponsored by Rep. John Krieseland promptly attached the stadium bill to it. There was little drama in the proceedings; Ways and Means sent it to the floor without recommendation on a voice vote.
The next day, the Senate passed the bill out of its Jobs Committee in a hearing that saw Chairman Geoff Michel offer a soliloquy on the “air of inevitability” that suddenly attended the stadium. By the end of the week, the bill had prevailed by a single vote in a lengthy Senate Taxes Committee hearing.
The hearings were not without their setbacks. A handful of so-called “poison pills” were inserted into the bill — most notably, the addition of slots in racetracks (aka racino) as a substitute funding source for the state share — and subsequently removed in the bill’s next committee stop.
Meanwhile, public opinion appeared to be shifting. Stadium supporters started flocking to the state Capitol in droves, filling the rotunda and lining the back walls of committee rooms. And the voices of those Minnesotans opposed to public stadium funding began to be drowned out by voices complaining of the paralysis and dysfunction in St. Paul. In the words of one DFL legislator, “Suddenly we weren’t hearing, ‘Vote this way’ or ‘Vote that way,’ we were hearing, ‘Just vote.’”
“The stadium became more than just a stadium,” Weaver said. “It became a symbol of whether the Legislature could do its job.”
Democratic leaders in the Legislature took advantage of an uncharacteristically quiet end-of-session weekend to try to set their own terms for how Session 2012 would end.
On Saturday, April 28, just two days before Republicans’ self-imposed deadline for adjourning the session, Dayton and DFL leaders scheduled an afternoon news conference with one goal in mind: Hector Republicans into taking a vote. Thissen, the House minority leader, took the podium to say he would be willing to put up 34 votes — half the total necessary to pass the bill in the House, and proportionately more DFL votes than Republicans would be asked to deliver. Thissen claimed that Zellers had once called a 34/34 vote split a condition for bringing the bill forward; he charged that Zellers was “holding the bill hostage” by not acting sooner rather than later.
Looking back, Thissen says he was taking a cue from former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. “He was very good at coming up with the end-of-session event that would kind of change the calculus,” Thissen said, pointing to Pawlenty’s proposed cigarette tax during the 2005 budget debate and his use of unallotment in 2009. “Sometimes, to get people off the dime and to get action going, you need to shake things up a bit, and I think calling the speaker’s bluff on that was one of those moments.” (Bakk, the Senate minority leader, was less forthcoming about how many votes he might deliver, noting that in a comparable situation in 2006, the Senate Republican minority had put up 12 votes for the Twins stadium.)
In the view of DFL Rep. Ann Lenczewski, it was at this moment when Thissen turned the tables and made the Democrats the most critical players in the negotiations that occurred in the final two weeks of the session. “I’ve never seen a minority leader have so much influence on a caucus ever,” she said. “[Zellers] was very happy [up until then], because he knew he didn’t have the votes. He was very happy to have it go down in committee and say, ‘See, it went down, but Democrats did it.’
“More than that, he didn’t want his caucus to vote on it. In an election year, leaders don’t like making their members take difficult votes. I think [Thissen’s announcement] moved all the other three caucuses, and it definitely turned up the heat on [Zellers].”
Zellers himself stressed that, for better or worse, Thissen was the figure in the room who seemed to be driving the debate. “If it was Gov. Dayton and I in the room, we probably could work with [Senate Majority Leader Dave] Senjem and Sen. Bakk to get this,” Zellers said at a news conference shortly after Thissen’s challenge. “But it’s very clear that this is a political strategy by the House minority leader.”
According to multiple DFL and GOP lawmakers, Thissen’s suddenly heightened involvement in stadium politics was driven by a fear that Dayton would sign Republicans’ second omnibus tax bill in exchange for GOP votes for a stadium.
Dayton had vetoed the Republican majority’s first tax bill, citing tax cuts and credits that would have increased the budget deficit in the next biennium. In his veto announcement, however, the governor opened the door to a second tax bill from Republicans, intimating that he might accept a smaller amount of GOP spending in a revised tax bill. (Dayton had said previously, and would say again later, that no increase in the next biennium’s deficit was acceptable.)
Thissen had his reasons for being afraid. The 2011 budget deal that ended a historic 20-day government shutdown had excluded the DFL minorities from the bargaining table. And it had yielded a set of terms that both parties hated and neither could sell to its base in the 2012 election. More immediately, the enactment of a Republican tax bill would undermine a key campaign theme that DFLers were already creating for public consumption: Throw out the do-nothing Legislature!
So Thissen got out ahead of Republican majorities on the tax bill, sources say: By offering up an abundance of votes for the stadium, Thissen and DFLers gained more leverage in end-of-session negotiations on everything from taxes to bonding.
For his part, Thissen denies that any deal was cut between Dayton and House DFLers. “There was no agreement that a tax bill would be signed or not signed in exchange for votes on the stadium,” he said. “Our position all along was that it should not be signed, and we strongly signaled to the governor that it should not be signed. But at the end of the day, it was his decision.”
Whether there was any express quid pro quo or not, many legislators and Capitol watchers concluded that in the end, Republicans found themselves unable to make a deal for stadium votes tied to the tax bill because Democrats had already made such a deal themselves.
By early afternoon on May 1, the day after lawmakers had hoped to adjourn for the year, news reports had leaked that Republican legislative leaders were in talks with the Vikings about an alternative plan for a roofless stadium. Under the plan, the state’s portion would be funded using general obligation bonds, not gambling dollars, as part of a broader capital investment package.
The proposal was a bolt from the blue, coming as a shock even to House chief author Lanning, who admitted to being “blindsided” by the move from his own leadership. Vikings lobbyist Lester Bagley said he had been made aware of the new idea only about 24 hours earlier.
The alternate plan was the brainchild of House Majority Leader Matt Dean, who said the new stadium proposal would win over some of the Republican caucus’ most hard-line conservatives, who previously refused to vote for any proposal that raised taxes or expanded gambling. Indeed, some of the most conservative members of the Senate GOP took to Twitter in the hours immediately before and after the Dean plan was unveiled to express relief that stadium talks were, by their account, finally moving in the right direction.
Rosen remembers getting a call from Rybak. “The mayor called me that day and said, ‘What are we going to do?’ I said, ‘I have absolutely no clue,’” Rosen said. “There was a day there where we were just letting things run their due course.” Rybak went to the Capitol the next morning to meet with GOP leaders on their nascent plan, a moment Rosen cites as pivotal. “I realized that people didn’t really understand how the bill was set up,” Rosen said. “The mayor was patient and took the time to really go through the details. My respect for him doubled and tripled in that moment.”
Publicly, Dean’s critics offered a ferocious response. Before Republicans could reveal any details, Dayton called a news conference with DFL leaders and the mayor of Minneapolis to disparage the new pitch. The following day Dayton again came out blasting the move, calling it a “harebrained scheme” and a “fiasco” in an early morning news conference.
But it didn’t take long for Dayton to change his tune. After meeting with GOP leaders following their rollout announcement, the governor emerged saying the proposal was “absolutely worth pursuing.”
Many quickly surmised that Dean’s plan was merely a shrewd political ploy to assure that House GOP leaders would not face the onus of being the last party to say no to a deal.
“It was frustrating. Clearly, they had not reviewed the plan with anyone working on the bill,” said DFL Rep. Terry Morrow, the lead Democratic sponsor of the House bill.
“It looked desperate.”
In reality, Dean was responding to pressures that had not yet come to light publicly. Among House members of both parties, there was growing support for replacing the bill’s expansion of charitable gambling with a 2 cent per-drink wholesale liquor tax. In a strange union, DFL Rep. Phyllis Kahn and GOP freshman Rep. Mike Benson began gathering dozens of signatures for the plan, which they said would have raised $51 million annually.
But the plan had to be run by the House majority leader first, and after that meeting with Dean, Benson said he abandoned the liquor tax.
“He conked out,” Kahn said of Benson. “I went and got 35 [DFL] votes, even some from people who said they would not have supported the bill otherwise, and I brought it back to him. And he said there’s no Republican support.”
By Benson’s account, the move was a means to an end. “We ran on a platform of no new taxes, and the tax on alcohol would have imposed a tax on everyone in the state of Minnesota,” he said. “So ultimately that wasn’t a viable option for the party. I just wanted to prove that there were other options if we just take the time to consider it, and we didn’t have to go down the [gambling] road.”
In that sense, his plan was a success. Benson said his move to propose a liquor tax hurled Dean into action in search of an alternative funding source for the stadium.
After the first frantic day-plus, the bonding idea quickly fizzled. On the morning after Dayton reversed course to suggest the plan was “worth pursuing,” Republican leaders said officials from Minnesota Management & Budget had raised serious questions about using general obligation bonds to pay the state’s portion of a stadium that would not have a fixed roof and would be leased to a private entity for several decades.
But the episode did provoke movement of a kind: Even as they pronounced stadium GO bonds dead, Zellers and Dean pledged to hold a long-awaited floor vote on the main stadium bill on the following Monday.
For the leaders of the Republican caucuses, the list of pros and cons on the stadium vote was long. Passing the stadium bill would please the business community, Republicans’ most generous donors, and their goodwill toward the GOP Legislature would be all the more critical in a campaign year that found the state party hamstrung by debt and effectively sidelined. Conversely, bringing the bill to the floor would force their members, many of them new to the Legislature, to take a potentially dangerous vote in their quest for re-election.
Zellers made it clear he would not be voting for the bill, citing the provision that overrode a Minneapolis city charter requirement that such sports investments get a public vote. He also conceded that Republicans likely could not offer up a majority — or possibly even half — of the votes needed for passage.
It was an issue that GOP legislative leaders had long grappled with in counting votes for the stadium and bonding: Deep ideological divisions within the caucuses — less moderate versus conservative than establishment versus anti-establishment — had left the Republican majorities unable to advance any legislation that included fresh government spending. The rift was publicly evident in the Senate, but it was a palpable factor in the House, too.
Many observers believed that Zellers had more personal reasons for voting against a stadium: He is widely thought to be preparing a run for governor in 2014, and first he would need endorsement from a Republican base that could not brook a pro-stadium vote. For whatever reason, Zellers strived to put the onus for the bill’s passage squarely on the shoulders of Dayton and the Democrats.
“The Vikings and the governor believe the votes are there,” Zellers 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.”
Despite the speaker’s tightrope act, “You have to give Zellers and Dean credit,” Weaver said. “They probably don’t want [the stadium], but they could have killed this anytime along the way and they didn’t.”
After it was announced that the House would vote, Rosen said she saw a sudden spike in public engagement in the stadium debate. “It was a wake-up call,” she said, “for the Vikings fans, for the people that believe in the stadium.”
To the floor
On the morning that the House was scheduled to vote, a boisterous mob of Vikings fans thronged the second floor of the Capitol and packed the gallery outside the chamber. Some brought along small children. Among the lobbyists connected to the stadium push, who found themselves surrounded by the purple masses, there was little anxiety about the vote in the House.
Over the weekend that had just ended, Dayton had been making rounds of personal calls to legislators he deemed on the fence about the bill. One was DFL Rep. Lyndon Carlson, who had given mixed signals about his vote.
“I did have a phone conversation with Dayton,” Carlson said, “and had indicated that my concern was the gaming part of it. I told him if the bill would come back with user fees that I could be supportive. He understood that.” Carlson was one of the DFLers who had agreed to support a liquor tax over expanded gambling in the bill, and a week before the final vote, a group of DFLers met with Dayton’s office to stress their support for user fees.
It was also that weekend when Winkler, one of the House DFL’s most vocal opponents of the bill, flipped from anti-stadium to pro-stadium, saying the decision came down to supporting either “a flawed plan for creating jobs” or no plan at all.
Later Simon switched his vote as well, crediting a slew of floor amendments to the bill for his change of heart. One of them was Simon’s own amendment to enhance clawback provisions in the bill that would give the state a share of the team’s sale price if the Wilfs decided to sell after obtaining a new stadium.
The pressure Winkler and Simon faced was intense. In the final days, they and their colleagues were flooded with mass emails organized by stadium advocates. But even after he filtered out the emails from outside his district, Simon discovered there were 200 to 300 from his own constituents.
“There is no issue that attracts more passion and intensity and even more volume of debates than stadiums,” Simon said. “It’s intensity on both sides. You have people on both sides who tell members that they will never support them or vote for them again because of a stadium vote.
“No one threatened me, but by pressure I mean that a lot of people were really making themselves felt. You have friends who are disappointed in you — political friends, particularly allied groups. And then there’s the governor.”
The House’s biggest change to the bill was a successful amendment from Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo to increase the team’s share of the cost by $105 million. It was the start of a long string of amendments that all hit on a particularly stressing notion for legislators who were not involved in the negotiations on the stadium bill: the insistence of Dayton and the bill’s chief authors that the terms of the stadium deal were set and couldn’t be changed. “It is not anti-Vikings and anti-stadium to drive the hardest bargain possible,” Simon said. “We should insist on things and do what any negotiator does.”
In lieu of offering up a liquor tax, Benson made a move on the House floor to substitute stadium user fees for the bill’s gambling revenues. Specifically, the amendment would have paid for the project with a nearly 10 percent user fee on things like game tickets, concessions and sports memorabilia.
Winkler and Simon weren’t alone in switching their votes. When it came time for the House to take its first full floor vote on the bill, it passed 73-58, with DFLers putting up 40 votes toward its final passage, six more than Thissen had pledged.
The Senate vote
The horde of Vikings fans that gathered for Monday’s House vote was nowhere to be seen when the Senate took up the bill the next day — ironically, perhaps, since many believed the Senate might be where the bill needed all the help it could get.
If nearly everyone attached to the stadium push was privately confident about the vote in the House, some were more circumspect about the bill’s prospects in the Senate, where handicappers noted a distinct shortage of sure yes votes in the 37-member Republican majority. Most close observers were confident that Senate DFL chief Bakk could deliver several more than the dozen votes he’d spoken of previously, but how many more? No one was sure.
When debate got under way in the Senate, it became clear that the user fee amendment that failed in the House the day before would get a fresh hearing in the upper chamber. Freshman GOP Sen. John Howe brought his own user fee amendment, which would have implemented a 10 percent surcharge on ticket sales, concessions, parking, naming rights, the Vikings’ media revenues from the NFL and other stadium-related transactions. The terms of the amendment were enough to persuade a majority of members to support it: Howe’s amendment passed in dramatic fashion on a 34-33 vote that saw Republican Sen. Warren Limmer change from no to yes at literally the last possible second.
But the roll on that vote had barely been closed when South St. Paul Sen. Jim Metzen made a motion to reconsider. After some additional debate, the amendment failed the second time by a 35-30 margin. Four DFL senators — Metzen, Dick Cohen of St. Paul, Rod Skoe of Clearbrook and Chuck Wiger of Maplewood — flipped their votes from yes to no.
During the portion of the floor debate that followed, several senators suggested that the influence of lobbyists on the payroll of the Vikings was responsible for a do-over on the vote. Sen. Sean Nienow made outraged reference to the influence of men in $3,000 suits.
But by Howe’s account, it was the governor’s office that engineered the reversal.
“When my user fee went on and was passed originally, [Dayton Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs] Michelle Kelm-Helgen made calls and got four people to switch their votes if [Dayton] agreed to veto the tax bill,” Howe said.
“Republicans were careful not to tie taxes to the stadium. Dayton made that decision to trade four votes to take down the user fee amendment in exchange for vetoing the tax bill. That was a deal that was made.”
If true, it was hardly the only wired-up deal of the day. From the outset of the Senate debate, it was clear that St. Paul would get a little something out of the stadium deal to offset the dollars it freed up for Minneapolis to spend on a Target Center renovation. As part of an author’s delete-all amendment, Rosen inserted a provision in the bill to give the city $2.7 million per year for the next 20 years to pay off debt on its event facility, RiverCentre/Xcel Energy Center.
In earlier committee hearings, St. Paul senators had argued that Minneapolis should not get money for Target Center without some offsetting considerations for its direct competitor in St. Paul. Knowing that the Target Center provision had to be included in order to win favor with the Minneapolis City Council — the stadium’s final vote before construction can start passed the council 7-6 on Friday — Rosen opted to “essentially buy the St. Paul votes,” as one GOP lobbyist put it.
The proposal eventually cleared the chamber 38-28, earning 22 votes from DFLers and 16 from Republicans. (And one of those 16 GOP votes was cast for parliamentary purposes by stadium foe Nienow, so that he could move to reconsider the vote.)
The bill’s conferees — Reps. Lanning, Morrow and Joe Hoppe, and Sens. Rosen, Roger Reinert and Bill Ingebrigtsen — were named almost immediately after the vote took place. Rosen’s comments at the close of the floor session left some lingering confusion as to whether the committee would immediately convene a hearing; it did not.
The conference committee
What commenced instead was 24 hours of private meetings between the bill’s principals, punctuated by hours of conference calls with the Wilfs, who were in their East Coast offices.
That night, Lanning and other stadium negotiators huddled privately for several hours to try to settle on the bill’s final shape. The versions that passed off both floors were dramatically different, and questions had to be answered: Would the Vikings have to pay more? If so, how much, and what would they want in return?
A group of lawmakers and staffers — but never as many as four members of the conference committee, participants later claimed; that would have constituted a committee quorum and a violation of Minnesota open meeting laws — regrouped the following morning just after 7:30 a.m. on the fourth floor of the State Office Building to start work again, Lanning said.
Up until an hour before the conference committee, Lanning added, lawmakers were trying to persuade the team to accept a higher total cost of the project. When the confereed bill was released, the Vikings were responsible for an additional $50 million — a figure poised between the $105 million in the House bill and the $25 million amendment subsequently passed by the Senate. The Vikings would now pay $477 million, the state $348 million and Minneapolis $150 million of the total construction cost.
“Just hours before we had a final vote on the House floor, we were trying to reach an agreement with the Vikings that would put more money on the table from them and that would address some of their particular concerns about the provisions in the bill,” Lanning said. “That was going on right up until the very end. We got delayed in getting the final conference committee report because we were still in the process.”
“We needed an answer,” Rosen recalled later. “We were running short on time. At one point we just gave them a final deal and put it on the table and we were ready to walk.” Rosen said that she began by pushing for a nearly $70 million cost increase for the team. But, she added, “The Vikings were smart, and they took the final deal.”
In exchange, the Vikings gained a number of concessions that made the deal more palatable:
• all naming rights revenues from the stadium;
• five-year exclusive rights to bring Major League Soccer to the stadium;
• the option to pay for and build a retractable roof on the facility;
• and a near-complete withdrawal of user fee proposals, aside from $3 million worth that would blink on only if electronic gambling receipts are insufficient to meet the state’s debt service.
DFL conferee Morrow said afterward that naming rights became one of the key provisions on the table. “Naming rights were big, from a public perspective; everyone gets that companies pay for the rights to name a stadium,” he said. “My thought, however, was it was better to get a lump sum upfront from the Vikings and let the Vikings and NFL negotiate the naming rights, because they are better at that.”
Another major debate concerned how the state would split its take from expanded gambling with charitable organizations. The House version of the bill, authored by Kriesel, had split the revenues evenly between the two parties — $36 million each for the state and for the charities — but the agreement negotiated behind closed doors hewed closer to the Senate’s initial position: The state is slated to get a nearly $58 million cut of annual charitable gambling revenues from electronic games, while charitable gambling organizations will get about $14 million per year. “We spent several hours trying to come together on our positions there,” Rosen said.
It wasn’t until just after midnight that the bill was printed, and the conference committee that followed was unmistakably celebratory in tone. “This bill has had more public airing and more opportunity for input than any other bill during my 10 years of service,” Lanning proclaimed. “It’s not as if this thing was thrown together.”
The bill passed out unanimously, and the conference report was heard on the House floor less than an hour later. After two-and-a-half hours of debate, the bill passed through the House in the early hours of the morning on a 71-60 vote, but not before a number of members aired their grievances about the conference committee’s deliberations.
Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee and an expert on data privacy laws, pointed out that the final bill required state officials to keep the team’s financial data private, despite the use of public dollars in the proposal. “That’s what happens” when you negotiate behind closed doors, Holberg added. “Will the public ever know [what] the team receives for naming rights?”
Later that afternoon, the Senate gave the bill its final passage with a 36-30 vote without much trouble. By dinnertime, both chambers had adjourned for the year. The stadium bill had been lawmakers’ last major vote before going home.
Days later at the bill signing ceremony in the rotunda, it was hard to hear the smaller group of protesters over the chants of Vikings fans. The voices of the opponents managed to break the governor’s gaze just once as he was putting pen to paper to sign the bill. One protester shouted, “Shame on you, Gov. Dayton!”
But try as they might, the protesters’ voices were effortlessly drowned out by the even louder chants from advocates, who filled the rotunda with the sound of the team’s fight song, “Skol Vikings!”