House Committee Rejects Vikings Stadium Plan

Representative Morrie Lanning, the sponsor of the House stadium bill that would use public money to fund a new $975 million Vikings stadium, said after the vote that "somebody will have to pull a rabbit out of a hat for this thing to stay alive."

A House committee on Monday voted 9 to 6 to reject a Vikings stadium funding bill, perhaps ending the $975 million stadium plan's chances of gaining legislative approval this year.

The House Government Operations and Elections Committee rejected the funding plan, with five Democrats and four Republicans voting in opposition of the stadium bill, which calls for the Vikings to cover $427 million of construction costs, while the state and Minneapolis would contribute $398 million and $150 million, respectively.

The nonpartisan House Public Information Services said Monday that “a Hail Mary pass may be about the only chance the Minnesota Vikings have left to get a stadium bill passed this session,” which wraps up in two weeks.

House Public Information Services quoted Representative Morrie Lanning of Moorhead, the sponsor of the stadium bill, as saying, “Somebody will have to pull a rabbit out of a hat for this thing to stay alive.”

Governor Mark Dayton on Tuesday conceded that the deal may not happen until next year, but he said he's confident it will get done, according to a report by the Washington Post. And Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak issued a statement Tuesday saying that the bill remains “the best plan for Minneapolis and the best plan for Minnesota.”

“I am confident that legislators will want to create the jobs and benefits that the bill provides for all Minnesotans,” Rybak added.

Before voting against the bill on Monday, Representative David Hancock, a Republican from Bemidji, expressed concern about the expansion of gambling in the state-a key sticking point in the stadium debate. The plan calls for using electronic pull tabs, electronic bingo, and “tipboard” gambling, games of chance that would reportedly be tied to professional sports, to pay for the state's share of the cost.

Representative Bev Scalze, a Democrat from Little Canada, said that the proposed gambling revenue would be better spent paying off some of the $2.4 billion debt that the state owes to its education system.

Representative Joyce Peppin, the House committee chairwoman and a Republican from Rogers, was among those who voted against the bill. Prior to the final vote on Monday, she also successfully amended the bill to remove language that exempted the stadium project from a Minneapolis charter, which requires a public vote when more than $10 million is spent by the city on a sports facility.

According to a report by the Star Tribune, that move alone may have represented a major setback for the stadium legislation, although with the bill rejected, it is unclear whether the action will ultimately result in a vote.

The Minneapolis newspaper also reported that the House committee approved a second amendment before its final vote, rejecting the plan to divert excess Hennepin County sales tax funds currently being used to pay for Target Field.

The Star Tribune pointed out that only one of the House panel's six Democrats voted in favor of the bill, even though Dayton (a Democrat) has been a proponent of the stadium plan.

The Pioneer Press reported that representatives of labor groups and executives from Target, U.S. Bank, and other corporate organizations testified on behalf of the bill during Monday's hearing.

Vikings Vice President of Public Affairs and Stadium Development Lester Bagley reportedly “spoke with a frustrated tone” following the vote, saying, “This sends a strong message to the Vikings and the NFL.”

According to House Public Information Services, Bagley declined to provide an ultimatum regarding when the Vikings might depart Minnesota. The team has indicated in the past that it might exit the state if a new stadium isn't built.

A Senate panel considered its own stadium bill last month but didn't take action because there weren't enough votes to approve the project. For the stadium plan to regain hope, it likely would need to be revisited by that Senate panel, according to the Star Tribune.