MARSHALL - The Minnesota Senate on Thursday voted 36-30 to approve the Vikings stadium bill - the final vote that was needed before the bill hits Gov. Mark Dayton's desk.
Opponents of the stadium bill spoke Thursday on the Senate floor with a defeated tone in their voice before the Senate actually voted on the bill. By then, it appeared the bill's passage was a foregone conclusion.
"The train was heading downhill, and it's hard to jump in front of a train steaming downhill," said District 22 Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, who has worked closely on the stadium issue with the bill's author Sen. Julie Rosen for more than a year. "It kind of kept gaining momentum. There were folks on both sides who were against this, but it became pretty obvious early on it was going to pass."
Much of the chagrin at the Capitol, of which came from both Democrats and Republicans, surrounded the financing plan for the state's contribution of $348 million: expanded gambling.
Senators opposed to the bill predicted that revenue will fall short of projections, meaning the state will be on the hook for the leftover costs and could have to dip into general fund dollars to do it.
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, told his Senate colleagues on the floor Wednesday that if they told their constituents they do not support spending general fund money, they cannot vote for the bill. He said there were 32 references to the general fund in the final version of the bill.
"When this doesn't work, it's money right out of schools, right out of healthcare," Nienow said. "Because we will not default on these bonds. We can't. It's not an option."
The bill provides the public financing for a new $975 million stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Under the plan, the state will now pay $348 million and the Vikings $477 million. Minneapolis' contribution remains at $150 million. The state portion will come from taxes on revenue of new electronic gambling included in the bill. The bill also gives the Vikings the option to upgrade to a retractable roof at their expense.
Sen. Julie Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said Thursday before the final vote that legislators have an even greater responsibility in the future when the bill passes. She said the bill is not a good deal for Minnesota because it puts the general fund at risk. That risk, she said, doesn't end when senators put up a "yes" vote.
"The easy vote is a yes vote," she said. "Because who doesn't love the Vikings? The pressure to deliver up that yes vote is immense."
The financing plan indeed raised plenty of questions - fair questions, Magnus said - but the back-up plan of user fees, taxes on suites, parking fees, and naming rights that were in the bill that would be used should revenue from expanded gambling fall short of projections was enough to ease the minds of most legislators, including Magnus.
"When it left the Senate it had between $8 (million) and $10 million in backup funding in there," he said. "Some of that was taken out when the Vikings agreed to cough up $50 million more, but it did include the blink-on provisions. The idea that the Vikings would put up the first $50 million, that's what sold it for me."
The Senate passed the earlier - and heavily amended - version of the stadium bill Tuesday by 38-28 vote before it was sent to conference committee and adopted the conference committee report Thursday by the same 38-28 tally.
District 20 Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City voted in favor of the bill. District 21 Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, voted against it.
Dahms said he didn't have a problem with building a stadium, his concern was how it was being funded.
"I didn't want to use expanded gambling to pay for it," he said. "I do have some concerns in the bill right now...that the general fund is going to be the backup."
Dahms said he would've liked to have seen the user fee program looked at a lot closer.
"There was a lot of potential there," he said.
The Associated Press reported Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said the team's billionaire owners, New Jersey developers Zygi and Mark Wilf, supported the deal even though $50 million of the cost was shifted from the state to the team.