Woodbury-area lawmakers explain opposition to Vikings stadium packageA new Minnesota Vikings stadium got the green light at the Capitol, despite a lack of support from Woodbury’s three lawmakers.
By: Mike Longaecker, Woodbury Bulletin
A new Minnesota Vikings stadium got the green light at the Capitol, despite a lack of support from Woodbury’s three lawmakers.
The bill, which was signed Monday by Gov. Mark Dayton after being passed last week by legislators, calls for the state to contribute $348 million toward the new stadium – which is to be built in the approximate footprint of the Metrodome – while the city of Minneapolis will pay $150 million. The Vikings will pay $477 million of the $975 million total project cost.
Most of the state’s portion of stadium costs will come from taxes collected on new charitable gambling profits after electronic devices are added to pull-tab and bingo games.
The reliance on those funding mechanisms turned off Woodbury’s local lawmakers – all three of whom voted against the bill.
That included Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, who said she would have supported other funding means, including the racino option – which would have allowed slot machines at Minnesota horse tracks and diverted their profits toward stadium coffers – or even the White Earth tribe’s proposal to open a Minneapolis casino and allow the state to collect stadium funds through that source.
“There were some other ways that cash could have come in a more reliable way,” Kieffer said.
Like other lawmakers, Kieffer said she is pleased the Vikings will remain in Minnesota – just not thanks to the process lawmakers chose.
“I want the Vikings to stay,” she said. “But I don’t like the way this came through.”
Rep. Kathy Lohmer, R-Lake Elmo, drafted a more than 1,600-word memo to supporters after the vote, explaining in detail her opposition to the bill.
“Ultimately, deciding how to vote came down to standing up for District 56A schools and taxpayers,” Lohmer wrote in her weekly update. “We are in need of prioritizing our funding to schools in the area, as well as tax relief for our businesses and families.”
She and Kieffer railed against the use of appropriation bonds that will be used to borrow funds until they are paid off.
“For the next 30 years the state will cut a check for these appropriation bonds first, before filling budget reserves, before filling rainy day funds, before paying back education shifts, before paying for health and human services, and before providing funding equity for our schools,” Lohmer said in the update.
Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Woodbury, said he opposed the bill because of its reliance on expanded gambling in Minnesota.
Lillie said he would have supported the concept of user fees to help fund the stadium package, as well as bonding for the project.
The final bill “relies completely on families in Minnesota to spend more money on gambling,” said Lillie, who confirmed he moved from Lake Elmo to Woodbury earlier in May. “We are asking the average Minnesotan to pay for a billionaire owner and his millionaire players, and that doesn’t sound right.”
Minneapolis vote ahead
The bill Dayton signed leaves the state and Vikings a step away from beginning to plan a stadium that could open in 2016, replacing the 30-year-old Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis.
First, however, the Minneapolis City Council must approve the agreement. A vote tentatively is planned for late next week.
The bill Dayton signed into law approves a $975 million roofed stadium at the current Metrodome site. It is to have 65,000 seats, expandable to 72,000, and host events most days of the year, not just Vikings games.
The state’s $348 million contribution will be funded by charitable gaming taxes, which are expected to rise as the state allows charities to introduce electronic pulltab and bingo games.
Minneapolis is to pay $150 million for construction, with the Vikings and other provide sources they arrange adding the remaining $477 million.
Many of the hundreds of people directly involved in the bill attended Monday’s ceremony.
“The hard works begins now,” Vikings Chairman Zygi Wilf told fans and about a dozen Welfare Rights Committee members protesting the project.
Committee members, regular Capitol protesters, chanted “Shame on you, Gov. Dayton” and one member said he was signing a bill to help ”a losing franchise.”
In an interview, Lanning said that a job is the best way to bring the poor, like the protesters, out of poverty. A stadium should provide thousands of jobs, he added.
Dayton said that while stadium benefits remain uncertain, “the costs are very real,” making it difficult for many lawmakers to support.
He called bill authors Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, “super heroes” for pushing the bill through controversy and doubt.
Rosen said the stadium “provides hope for the entire state” and shows legislators can work together.
Lanning and Rosen have been chief backers of the plan a year and half, although Lanning’s involvement goes back years.
Amid the thanks that has been passed around since the stadium bill passed last week, Lanning may have been the first to thank the media. He said news stories explained the project across the state, which helped win passage.
While Leaning said he “never lost hope,” he also said up to the final vote he remained realistic that the plan could have fallen through.
Construction could begin next year, with the first Vikings game played in the new downtown Minneapolis stadium in 2016.
The stadium is the single largest state government project.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.