Top lawmakers: Vikings stadium secondary to budget

Published 10:14 pm Friday, April 1, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A plan to build a new Minnesota Vikings stadium has found few cheerleaders at the Capitol, where legislative leaders from both parties said Friday the stadium push must take a backseat to the state’s budget problems.

Republicans who control the Legislature have steadfastly refused to raise state taxes to deal with a $5 billion budget shortfall, and while House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch wouldn’t say whether they thought portions of the stadium plan that emerged Thursday constituted a state tax increase, they didn’t embrace it.

The plan would raise up to $300 million through state sales taxes on sports memorabilia and luxury box purchases, an income tax surcharge on NFL players, naming rights and a lottery game.

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“I don’t think it has anything to do with us,” House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said of the stadium push. “I think it has more to do with the Vikings, the building, the local partner and how to pay for it. Our job is once they present the bill and with those components, then we can act on it.” Neither he nor Koch would promise committee hearings on the bill, although they didn’t rule them out.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen noted what’s likely to be the toughest sell for stadium backers: “If we’re not willing to raise taxes for our schools and for police and firefighters, it’s very hard to see voting to raise taxes to build a Vikings stadium.”

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont and Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, on Thursday night released a letter to colleagues along with a summary of a bill they said would be filed next week. It does not specify a site for the covered stadium to replace the Metrodome, leaving that decision to a stadium authority that would weigh bids from a local partner — likely a Twin Cities-area city, county or regional coalition.

Along with the $250 million to $300 million from the state — which would also include a sales tax on digital video equipment used for satellite downloads — the local partner would raise an unspecified contribution, with a local half-cent sales tax and taxes on entertainment, lodging, liquor, food and beverages or admissions the likeliest sources of money. The Vikings would pay a third of construction costs, plus any cost overruns during construction.

Under the bill, construction of a new stadium could not start until the current NFL labor dispute is resolved.

Lester Bagley, the Vikings’ vice president for stadium affairs, called the bill’s elements “a framework to negotiate a deal.”

Potential local partners have been scarce so far. Only the Ramsey County Board has worked to woo the team, offering a former Army ammunition plant in a suburb north of St. Paul as a potential site. Vikings officials have expressed interest but said they prefer the current Metrodome site on the east side of downtown Minneapolis as the most convenient and cost-effective.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said Friday he was pleased to see progress and that he hopes to be in on conversations with the team and lawmakers. But he noted he would not support any proposal that adds additional tax burden only to Minneapolis and surrounding Hennepin County, where taxpayers in recent years have borne the brunt of the construction cost of the Minnesota Twins’ home at Target Field and other major public venues.

Rybak said he particularly appreciated the suggestion in the bill summary that funds might be raised through a regional sales tax, which he said would be preferable to a sales tax increase in one city or county.

“I think it’s a great start,” Rybak said. “It’s completely clear to me that Minneapolis should be at the table, but Minneapolis cannot lead this effort — especially with the Legislature proposing massive cuts to the city right now.”

The summary of the new stadium bill suggested Minneapolis might shift excess tax revenues currently paying off construction of the convention center toward a new stadium; or that Hennepin County might do likewise with excess baseball stadium revenues.

Rybak said he wouldn’t support that approach and that such funds would be better off going to renovate Target Center, which Minneapolis owns. Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat also dismissed that approach.

Opat, who was instrumental in assembling the deal that led to the construction of the Twins’ ballpark, said he didn’t see the county submitting a bid to be the local partner as envisioned in the new bill. He also was cool to the idea of a regional partnership.

“The notion of a regional sales tax for a stadium that’s not located in Hennepin County is a nonstarter here,” Opat said. “We’re paying for Target Field over here, and no one else is.”

Another provision would allow other jurisdictions that want to participate in financing to levy local taxes, dedicate 40 percent of proceeds to the Vikings stadium and keep 60 percent for their own facilities of regional or state significance.

The Vikings have been seeking state financing for a replacement to the Metrodome for a decade, arguing that a new building would be more profitable for the team. The collapse of the stadium’s inflatable roof after a snow storm last winter and the subsequent cancellation of several games gave their quest a greater sense of urgency. It also reinforced concern among team supporters and fans that failure to build the stadium could result in the Vikings moving to another city seeking an NFL franchise.