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Minnesota House approves Vikings stadium plan

Minnesota Vikings fan George Green, of St. Paul, walks with a team flag in front of the State Capitol in Monday, May 7, 2012, in St. Paul as lawmakers in the House were taking up a bill for a new stadium. (Jim Mone / Associated Press)

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota House approved a new Vikings stadium late Monday.

The 73-58 vote sends it to the Senate, where it could be debated Tuesday or Wednesday.

The $975 million proposal funded in part by charitable gambling taxes would be the largest single project the Legislature ever has approved.

If the Senate also passes the measure, it likely would be handed to negotiators to work out differences between the two bills and the House and Senate would vote on the stadium again in a few days.

"The people of Minnesota, fans, they want us to do something," Rep. Morrie Lanning said. "They support us do this."

Lanning, R-Moorhead, said Minnesota has a reputation of quality, and the Vikings' home at the Metrodome does not live up to that.

Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said lawmakers should have voted on a stadium years ago.

"This is your chance to prove you love the Vikings," Kriesel said before the vote.

The football team is important, he added. "Professional sports provide an escape from reality, a much needed distraction from our ordinary lives."

Debate lasted eight and a half hours.

Gov. Mark Dayton said the voices of Minnesotans were heard.

Right after Lanning kicked off discussion on the bill, representatives decided the plan was not quite ready. The House's first amendment increased the Vikings' contribution to a stadium; the team has said it would not agree to that.

Stadium backers, both in the Legislature and those outside the House chambers at times chanting "build it," were thrilled to have the full House discussion after more than a decade of the Vikings saying they need a new home.

"This is our one chance," Kriesel said. "This bill works. It has been fine tuned and it will build a stadium."

Lanning, R-Moorhead, said the bill he authored would provide more than a Vikings stadium to replace the downtown Minneapolis Metrodome.

"Quite simply, the Metrodome will not meet the needs of Minnesota for the next 40 or 50 years," Lanning said.

The Vikings' 10 games in the new facility would be joined by more than 300 other events each year, Lanning said.

Lanning warned fellow representatives that the Vikings most likely will leave if they do not get a new stadium. The team says it cannot make enough money at the Metrodome.

"The time has come for Minnesota to make a decision," Lanning said.

Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, gave a warning to stadium supporters. While he said he would vote for the stadium bill Monday night, he urged Lanning during expected House-Senate negotiations later to insert a provision that failed Monday night: To allow taxes gained from allowing more powerful fireworks to help fund the stadium.

"It's about compromise," Westrom said.

Other lawmakers also indicated they planned to vote for the bill Monday, but wanted the bill to change later during the process.

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, voiced the feeling of several lawmakers who do not like gambling to fund the stadium and worry that not enough money will be available. If the funding falls short, she said, future lawmakers will be forced to cut health and education programs, and maybe raise taxes.

"It becomes the stadium that losers built," Franson said if gambling is the funding source. "In order for the stadium to get paid, people have to lose their money."

Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, urged support of the bill, which he said was good "in this political climate."

"The Minnesota Vikings have been an important part of our social fabric for a third of our history as a state," Marquart said.

In the first hour of debate, representatives decided 97-31 to up the Vikings' contribution to stadium construction costs. The Vikings insist they and other private sources will not pay more than the $427 million in Lanning's original bill.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, offered the amendment to cut public funds going to a stadium $105 million, thus increasing the Vikings' responsibility by that amount.

The amendment "eliminates some of the barriers" preventing lawmakers from backing the stadium funding bill, Garofalo said.

Lanning said he and other stadium negotiators tried to get all the money possible out of the team. The team's fiscal picture "right now is marginal," Lanning said, part of the reason the Vikings want a new stadium.

"If we squeeze too much, we may end up with not having a deal," Lanning said.

In the second hour of debate, the House decided against eliminating gambling taxes as a way to fund the stadium, replacing it with user fees. The Vikings oppose user fees, although many legislators do not like funding a stadium with gambling.

"There is no one out there holding banners or screaming about the social cost of gambling," Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, said, referring to union workers and Vikings fans chanting in favor of a stadium just outside the House chambers.

The user fees would add about 10 percent to the cost of tickets, broadcast rights, parking and other stadium-related issues.

The Lanning bill would fund the stadium by allowing charities that sponsor pull tab and bingo games to use electronic devices. Those devices, charity representatives say, would attract more people to the games and produce more state taxes.

Just outside the House chambers as members began debate, dozens of union members in hard hats and Vikings fans wearing purple jerseys chanted "build it now." Their numbers quickly dwindled as the debate wore on.

"This is first and foremost about jobs, putting Minnesotans back to work," Dayton shouted to those gathered under the dome to support the stadium.

Next to those chanting in favor of a stadium stood a few members of the Welfare Rights Committee, who held signs complaining about spending money to a stadium.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said he does not accept estimates of increases in revenue if electronic charitable gaming devices are allowed. He said charities would have to triple their take to reach that level.

He voted against the bill.

"We're simply extracting money out of the private sector," he said.

Westrom failed in his attempt to switch the type of gambling that fund the stadium. Representatives voted down his amendment to allow the White Earth Nation to open a Twin Cities casino, with the state sharing in profits.

On a 70-60 vote, Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, got an amendment put on the bill requiring 25 percent of the materials used in the stadium, including food sold at concession stands, to be from Minnesota.

Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, said bar owners in his area said the Vikings are important because people go there to watch games. "That makes a difference."

Here is how area representatives voted on the Vikings bill:

Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, yes

Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, yes

Kurt Bills, R-Rosemount, no

Dave Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, yes

Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, no

Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, yes

Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, no

Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, yes

Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, no

Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, yes

Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, yes

Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, yes

Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji, no

Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, yes

Larry Howes, R-Walker, yes

Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, yes

Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, yes

Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, yes

Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, no

John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, yes

Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, yes

Kathy Lohmer, R-Lake Elmo, no

Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, yes

Carolyn McElfatrick, R-Deer River, no

Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, yes

Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, yes

Mark Murdock, R-Ottertail, not voting

Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, yes

Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, yes

John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, yes

Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, yes

Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, yes

Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, yes

Bruce Vogel, R-Willmar, yes

Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, yes

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the News Tribune.

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.