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Minnesota Senate approves Vikings stadium plan

Greg Hanson, who goes by the name Sir Odin, looks into the state Senate chamber, emptied for a two-hour recess, before the Senate came back to debate the Minnesota Vikings stadium bill Tuesday in St. Paul. (Glen Stubbe / Star Tribune)

ST. PAUL - The Minnesota Senate approved a Vikings stadium construction bill 38-28 late Tuesday night.

Bill author Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said the bill was a compromise among the parties involved, but "there's a lot of win-win in it."

A joint committee of House and Senate members will have to work to combine the two versions of the plan before final approval.

User fees dominated the Minnesota Senate's Vikings stadium construction debate Tuesday, which lasted nearly 11 hours.

Senators rejected a plan 35-30 to replace stadium construction funding with user fees. They had voted 34-33 to accept the amendment, but rejected it after a member asked for senators to vote again.

Rosen included a limited version of user fees in her bill, mixed with using expanded charitable gambling taxes.

Many senators, especially conservative Republicans, prefer fees to all users of a new stadium to eliminate the need for gambling to support construction. Some stadium opponents said they would have supported the plan if it included user fees instead of gaming.

"This sends the message that people who are going to use this facility are going to share in the cost of construction and operation," said Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, who proposed the fees.

Howe said he wants to see a stadium built, but discussions have not been open for new ideas.

"There's more than one way to do this," Howe said. "All I've heard today is no, no, no."

Rosen said such a significant change would kill the bill.

Rosen's inclusion of a smaller version of user fees in her bill also is mixed with using expanded charitable gambling taxes.

The proposal, which differs from a House-passed bill, would charge a 10 percent fee on suites and parking within a half mile of the stadium on game days. A 6.875 percent fee would be tacked onto National Football League memorabilia sold at the stadium.

Also, the Rosen bill would require the state lottery to conduct a sports-based game to generate at least $2.1 million a year.

Howe said the funding change would have sent a message even though the bill likely would not come back from House and Senate negotiations fully funded by user fees.

Howe's user fee plan would apply to all user of the stadium, while the Rosen bill would have charged fees only at Vikings games.

Fans would support user fees, Howe said.

"They want us to build a stadium," he said. "They're willing to pay for it."

The Vikings have said they will not support user fees, but Howe said: "I don't believe that. I think we can work together."

Howe returned with the user fee amendment after withdrawing it earlier to rework it.

Howe also tried a more "scaled-back" user fee plan that replaces the gambling with some user fees and a new lottery game, but it lost on a voice vote.

The House bill approved this week would fund the entire state portion of stadium construction by allowing charities to use electronic devices to play pull tabs and bingo.

Senators proposed other new funding options ranging from building a Twin Cities casino to collecting fees by legalizing fireworks.

Many also tried to increase the amount the team would pay toward the stadium. The Senate voted 39-28 requiring the team to pay increasing operating expenses based on inflation. Senators also opted to increase what the Vikings would pay for a stadium by $25 million over an earlier agreement.

"It seems like we're just hanging them upside down and trying to get all the loose change out of their pockets," Rosen said.

How to fund a stadium has been the major problem for years. Legislators say Minnesotans want a new stadium, so the Vikings football team will stay in the state, but they do not want taxes to rise.

The stadium issue has been discussed for more than a decade, but legislators have not settled on a plan with just two days left in which they can pass bills this year.

The House plans to meet today and will only have one working day remaining.

"Clearly there are other forces at work that are trying to run the clock out on this session," Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said, indicating he believes some are trying to "burn" another legislative day to avoid a stadium deal.

Legislators plan to resurrect an overall tax bill Wednesday when a House-Senate committee meets.

Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a GOP-backed tax plan last week, and lawmakers had indicated that could affect stadium votes.

Senate debate went into the night as members discussed dozens of amendments.

Senators voted 47-16 against a proposal to allow the White Earth Nation to build a casino in the Twin Cities, with the tribe and state splitting profits.

Members also rejected a plan 40-26 to establish racinos, which would allow casinos at the state's two horse racing tracks.

The Senate voted 34-32 against a proposal allowing firework sales in Minnesota and directing fees to the stadium.

Members did approve 46-21 the removal of a provision giving five-year exclusive rights to Vikings owners to bring in a professional soccer franchise.

"This is the epitome of a crony corporate kickback," Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, said.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, introduced an amendment stating stadium employees would not be required to join a union, but it failed 45-20 with no discussion.

In the Senate plan is a provision to collect sales taxes on good bought via the Internet. State law already requires the tax to be paid, but few Minnesotans voluntarily do.

Dayton and other stadium supporters say it is likely the Vikings would be sold and leave Minnesota if no stadium is approved. The team says it cannot make enough money in the Metrodome.

The House bill passed 73-58 late Monday after an eight-and-a-half-hour debate.

One of its biggest amendments came from Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington. It upped the Vikings' responsibility for stadium construction costs $105 million.

Rosen amended her bill to increase Vikings money going to the stadium by $25 million beyond the $427 million the team said was as high as it would go for the publically owned stadium.

Don Davis and Danielle Nordine report for Forum Communications Co.