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Vote, court go against stadium

ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota Vikings football stadium proposal Wednesday sustained what may have been two fatal blows.

The Minnesota Supreme Court released a ruling creating state budget turmoil at the same time a key committee narrowly voted down the stadium plan.

While nothing is dead in the Minnesota Legislature until it adjourns, the one-two punch left the stadium plan reeling.

The House state and local government committee voted 10-9 against the plan to build a $791 million stadium, although a couple of hours later it did advance in a Senate committee.

House committee members were concerned because while the bill was oriented to a Minneapolis stadium, officials there were, at best, cool to it.

There are ways to resurrect the bill after the negative vote, but the court ruling saying that Gov. Tim Pawlenty's 2009 budget-cutting actions were illegal may have been a more serious setback. After the ruling, Pawlenty and legislative leaders said that balancing the budget has taken on new importance and that is a much higher priority than a new stadium.

"The chances, in my view, have been greatly diminished," said Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, a co-sponsor of the House bill.

Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, was disappointed the House committee did not pass the bill. He said he understands the budget is the main priority but said now is the right time to discuss the issue.

A Senate state and local government committee changed the way a new stadium would be funded.

Sen. Rick Olseen, DFL-Harris, proposed using personal seat licenses, which gives the license holder a right to later buy tickets. That would cover two-thirds of the stadium cost, he said.

Licenses for prime locations at other stadiums have cost as much as $20,000 per seat, he said.

After passing the Olseen amendment, the Senate committee passed the bill 9-3.

The team will study demand for seat licenses in the Twin Cities, Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said, but he doubted they would provide enough revenue.

The House bill, which was defeated by a single vote, also gained a new funding method from the original bill that was introduced Monday.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he would not accept tax increases to fund a new stadium, so the proposal's House author took out new taxes and decided to borrow money instead. Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, also changed the bill so the new stadium was likely to be in Minneapolis, although other cities would be eligible.

The proposal is to provide part of the funding for a $791 million stadium at an undetermined location. Originally, the bill called for increased taxes to bring in $527 million, but Solberg said that he decided to change funding to borrowed money after Pawlenty told reporters on Tuesday that he would reject the tax provisions.

The revised bill would require the team to provide money up front, then the Metropolitan Council would borrow money by selling bonds. A portion of an existing Minneapolis Convention Center tax would be used to help pay off the debt once the center's debt is retired in 2020.

A Minneapolis official said the Convention Center will need the funds after its debt is paid off because by then it will be 30 years old.

The Vikings' Metrodome lease expires after next season and team owners say they will not play in the dome after that.

The chairman of the House committee that defeated the bill, Rep. Gene Pelowski of Winona, said that House leaders ordered him to hold a committee meeting about the bill. Earlier, they told reporters they would not give the stadium bill special treatment.

The bills missed legislative deadlines by several weeks.

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.