Area senators split on stadium vote | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

Area senators split on stadium vote

Posted: May 9, 2012 - 6:42pm
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Three central Minnesota state senators split their votes Tuesday night on the Vikings stadium bill. Voting yes on the stadium bill, which passed the Senate 38-28, were Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria. Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, voted no.

In the wake of this week’s pro-stadium votes in both houses of the Legislature, Gazelka said he’s convinced that all the problems will be ironed out and the Legislature will present Gov. Mark Dayton with a stadium bill that he’ll sign. Although he voted no, Gazelka said he wishes the Vikings well.

“I’m very confident,” he said. “I don’t think the differences are that dramatic between the two. I’m pretty comfortable that all will be settled before we have a final vote.”

Time is running out, however, and Gazelka said the lawmakers will have to act quickly.

“We only have one legislative day beyond today (Wednesday),” he said. “My guess is Friday or Saturday, it will be done.”

Gazelka supported an amendment that would have funded the stadium with user fees and expressed concern that not enough money will be generated by the new gambling source of electronic pull-tabs.

“If it doesn’t pan out then money has to come from the general fund, which means state money.”

He also objected to an Internet sales tax and the fact that Minneapolis voters would be denied the opportunity to vote on whether a sales tax in that city should be continued.

“I really felt like that (user fees) was a much better solution,” Gazelka said. “We could have gone to conference committee in a much better bargaining position.”

He pointed out that when the Vikings claim to be paying more than half of the cost for the new stadium they are including operating expenses for the next 30 years.

Carlson, who voted yes on the Senate stadium bill, said it was a tough vote. The key factors, he said, were that it didn’t require any new taxes and that it didn’t use any general fund money.

The stadium legislation, he said, provides restructured tax breaks for Allied Charities and he cited studies which maintain a larger revenue stream will be created by the electronic pull-tabs.

“So it’s good for charities, good for snowmobile clubs,” he said.

A popular misconception, he said, is that the stadium will be owned by the Vikings. When the Vikings aren’t playing the stadium can be used for high school games and monster truck shows.

“They pay half the cost of building and pay $13 million rent for 10 games,” he said.

He acknowledged the Vikings’ estimate of paying half the cost included operating costs.

“Overall, the project is around 50 percent,” she said. “It’s just not that bad a deal. It’s still a tough vote.”

Carlson also said there is quality of life issue related to the stadium, noting that state money has gone to the Ordway, music and the arts.

User fees are already a part of the Senate stadium bill package and Carlson said the hopes are that charitable gambling will be sufficient and the user fees can be used to buy down the debt faster.

He estimated that reaction from his district was 10 to 1 in favor of a Vikings stadium, and that was backed up by informal comments he heard coming out of church in Bemidji.

“I really had to listen to my district,” he said. “I could just take the conservative approach — ‘no tax breaks for anybody’.”

Despite Vikings officials stating the House and Senate bills are unworkable, he said he was confident the authors of the bill will come back by the end of the week with a conference committee report that will result in a stadium and a 40-year commitment from the Vikings.

He said the lobbying for the Vikings included a lot of hard core fans dressed up as Vikings with horns on helmets.

“You got to love Minnesota,” he said.

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or mike.orourke@brainerddispatch.com. He may be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MikeORourkenews.