The Vikings have had no stronger booster at Minnesota's Capitol than Gov. Mark Dayton, who now faces the Herculean task of trying to keep the team's bid to build a taxpayer-subsidized new stadium alive in the waning days of the legislative session after the proposal failed a committee vote in the state House.
The House Government Operations Committee voted 9-6 against the stadium bill Monday night, dealing a major blow to the team's decade-long effort to secure a replacement for the Metrodome. The vote came just after 10 p.m., following a four-hour hearing in which lawmakers heaped criticism on the $975 million planned partnership between the team, the state and the city of Minneapolis.
"Somebody's going to have to pull a rabbit out of a hat for this thing to be alive at this point," said Rep. Morrie Lanning, the chief House sponsor of the stadium plan. A Senate version of the stadium bill has been stalled in that chamber for the last month.
Lester Bagley, the Vikings' point man on the stadium push at the Capitol, said after the committee vote that the team was "extremely disappointed" at the outcome. "I guess I would ask the state, what else would you expect us to do? What else can we do?" he said.
Dayton has repeatedly stressed he believes failure to help the team build a new stadium could result in Minnesota losing the Vikings to another city. The Democratic governor through a spokeswoman declined immediate comment on the committee vote.
Dayton was scheduled to meet first thing Tuesday with Republican legislative leaders to talk about the final days of session, which is expected to wrap up before the end of April. The developments of Monday night are likely to be a major part of the discussion. In addition to tying the team's future to Minnesota, Dayton has been touting the stadium proposal as a way to create thousands of construction jobs.
"This is extremely disappointing, and it sends a strong message to the Vikings and the NFL about the situation."
— Vikings VP Lester Bagley
Bagley said the team would continue to push the proposal as long as the Legislature remains in session. "But this is extremely disappointing, and it sends a strong message to the Vikings and the NFL about the situation," he said. He would not say whether the committee vote made the team's future in Minnesota any less secure.
The proposal that fell in the House committee would have split the tab three ways for a stadium proposed to be built at the current Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis: $398 million from the state from taxes on expanded gambling, $150 million from the city of Minneapolis from existing sales taxes and $427 million from the Vikings with assistance likely from the NFL.
Prior to the vote, Vikings officials faced tough questioning from several committee members who said they weren't convinced the proposal is a good deal for taxpayers.
"How do we as representatives of public taxpayers, how do we know we're getting a good deal?" asked Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who went on to vote against the proposal. Rep. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada, questioned whether a football stadium was a defensible use for $398 million in proposed new tax revenue when the state is just starting to recover from several years of persistent budget shortfalls.
Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, raised a question frequently heard from stadium bill critics as the team's bid has dominated headlines: "Why should we help a billionaire build a stadium he can afford to build himself?" he asked, referencing Vikings owner Zygi Wilf. Bagley defended the project as more than just a football stadium, pointing out it would be used for everything from high school sports tournaments to national events like hosting NCAA basketball finals.
Urdahl ultimately voted to keep the bill alive, one of five Republicans on the committee to support for it along with one Democrat. Of the nine no votes, five came from Democrats and four were from Republicans.
Leading up to the vote, Bagley had reiterated the view of the team's owners that the Metrodome is no longer sufficiently profitable compared with other NFL venues. While the team is committed to play in the Metrodome for the 2012 football season, it no longer has an active lease in the 30-year-old facility, and team officials have said they do not intend to sign one.