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Legislative committee defeats Vikings stadium bill

ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota House committee voted 9-6 Monday night against a bill to build a Minnesota Vikings stadium.

While a bill always can be resurrected, the vote makes it very difficult to approve a new stadium in the final days of the 2012 legislative session. Legislative leaders want the session to end by April 30, and now the bill has lost in a House panel and is stalled in a Senate committee.

Moments before the vote, bill author Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, pleaded for votes to allow the stadium funding measure to continue.

"The only way this issue is going to go away is if we can get it to the (House) floor and either vote it up or down," Lanning said.

If there is no vote in the full House and Senate, he added, "I can guarantee you it will be one of the biggest issues in the fall campaign." It also will be a major issue again next year, he said, when the Legislature faces a budget deficit.

Two years ago, one of the other three Vikings stadium bills stalled in the same committee.

The team has tried for a decade for a new stadium.

"I think this is a good deal for Minnesota," Lanning said about money the state would make from a new stadium.

A legislator who asked the night's toughest question voted for the bill. As Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said, he wanted to "move this through the process,"

Urdahl's question set the stage for a night as tough for the Vikings as any they have experienced on the football field: "Why should the state of Minnesota contribute to a stadium for a billionaire who could pay for it himself?"

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley responded by saying the stadium would be owned by the public, not the team-owning Wilf family. As a state facility, the Vikings would use it for about 10 games a year, he said, but would be available for other activities like the Metrodome is now.

Some committee members wanted to give Minneapolis residents a chance to vote on a stadium.

"Without ... this, we are doing a disservice to the people of Minneapolis," Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji, said.

The referendum proposal, which passed on a voice vote of the House Government Operations Committee, was one of many attacks on a bill to build a $975 million stadium in Minneapolis.

Rep. Ryan Winkler said Bagley "does a very good job of skating around the issues" of whether the team would leave Minnesota without a new stadium and how much more the team would be worth with a new stadium.

Winkler, a Bemidji native and now a Golden Valley Democrat, told the Vikings they were forcing legislators to negotiate a deal without knowing if state money is used well.

Vikings Vice President Steve Poppen and Ted Mondale of the Sports Facilities Commission said the deal is good for the state, but offered no proof.

Bagley said the Metrodome, Vikings' home for three decades, "will not sustain an NFL team."

Poppen said the team is $40 million behind average league revenues.

"The Vikings are not cash-flow positive as we currently stand," Poppen said.

Bagley told the committee that $13 million the Vikings pledge to pay toward operation annually would be the largest "rent payment" in the league.

Committee members considered more than a dozen changes to the bill, which would have provided $398 million in state funds. The team and other private sources would contribute $427 million, with Minneapolis chipping in $150 million.

Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said other teams have done well in privately funded stadiums.

Business leaders testified they support a new stadium, but in answer to questions said they would not commit to helping finance construction. Union leaders also offered support.

The new stadium would go on the eastern part of the Metrodome site. During the last part of construction, the team would play one year at the University of Minnesota.

Mondale said that without the Vikings -- and he said they would leave if no stadium is built -- the Metrodome could last a year financially after the team leaves.

Lanning's bill would provide the state's portion of the funds by allowing charities to expand to electronic pulltabs and bingo from paper-only games they host now.

Supporters say the electronic option would increase profits for charities and taxes the state collects, enough to repay bonds the state would sell to build a stadium.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.