ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) –– The Minnesota Legislature will finally vote Monday on a plan to build a new Vikings stadium, with the expected outcome too close to call.
Top Republicans on Thursday scrapped a last-minute proposal to finance a $975 million stadium through state borrowing and instead announced House and Senate votes on an existing proposal that would expand gambling. House Speaker Kurt Zellers said he opposes that bill and isn’t sure it will pass, while Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton urged Minnesotans to pressure their legislators to back it.
“I will continue to do all I can to convince them that this is a good deal for Minnesota, the best deal available, and much better than the alternative,” Dayton said.
“The fate of the stadium is now in the governor’s hands,” Zellers said.
GOP Senate Majority Leader David Senjem also said he’s not sure if the Vikings bill has sufficient Senate support.
The pending decision puts the focus squarely on rank-and-file lawmakers facing one of the biggest votes of their careers. Passage would require significant backing from minority Democrats in both chambers, with many of the Republicans who control both houses unwilling to commit. The bill needs 68 House votes and 34 in the Senate to pass.
“Free-agent Monday,” said Rep. Kurt Daudt, a Republican from Crown who wouldn’t say how he plans to vote.
Rounding up the votes could be more complicated than just getting enough lawmakers on board. Such high-profile issues often turn into bargaining chips for undeclared lawmakers seeking support for their own priorities. And, the bill itself could morph if it is amended during the floor debate, swinging lawmakers either way.
Organized labor has been pushing for the stadium, citing the project’s potential to employ thousands of idled construction workers. On Thursday, union workers in bright yellow safety vests and hard hats gathered outside the House chamber Thursday chanting, “Build the stadium, save our team.” A few sported purple Vikings jerseys.
The team is alerting Vikings fans to the importance of the pending vote, telling them to press their lawmakers to vote yes.
“Now’s the time to pour it on and let legislators know this has to get done,” Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said.
The Vikings have been in pursuit of a taxpayer-subsidized stadium for more than a decade and no longer have a lease binding them to the Metrodome. Other cities coveting an NFL franchise have paid close attention to the stadium saga.
The team and its public partners want to build on the site of the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, with a 2016 opening the goal. They would have to bring in $427 million in private financing and the rest would come from sales taxes derived in the city of Minneapolis and gambling taxes collected by the state. Bars and restaurants that offer small-scale gambling would be allowed to install new electronic devices that are expected to pump up profits.
Fiscal conservatives who make up a significant share of the GOP caucuses are a tough sell on the stadium. One lawmaker who intends to vote no, Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said opposition to the existing bill is wide-ranging in his caucus and he estimated only 20 to 25 out of 72 House Republicans would vote yes.
“Too many flaws, too many uncertainties,” Drazkowski said. “I really think a lot of members are looking for something that’s more fiscally responsible.”
But Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he was hopeful the stadium would garner 34 GOP supporters in the House, if Democrats deliver the other 34 votes.
“There’s a lot of people that want to get it done,” he said. “This is one that’s time has come.”
House Democrats who support the stadium said they don’t expect to put up more than half the votes for the stadium because of opposition within their own ranks.
“I think it’s important that it’s bipartisan. Personally I think it should be 50-50,” said Rep. Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul, a supporter.
Rep. Susan Allen, DFL-Minneapolis, said she will be keeping her promise to vote against the stadium after winning a January special election in a district where more than half the children are impoverished and money is needed for housing, recreational facilities and youth programs.
“I wouldn’t be able to defend my vote in light of all those circumstances,” Allen said, adding that she was lobbied by labor groups supporting the stadium.
The Vikings stadium saga took its latest twist after Republican leaders reluctantly abandoned their general obligation bonding proposal that came to light only Tuesday. House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, cited “impediments.”
“We took our best shot,” Dean said. “It’s only fair to everyone to vote on the existing plan because that’s the alternative.”
There’s a chance the Vikings plan could require two votes in the House and Senate. If the chambers pass differing plans, they would have to work out a common bill in a conference committee and vote again to send it to Dayton.