Stadium bill may detour to Senate Taxes Committee

Senate tax committee chair Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassan, said today she wants the Vikings stadium bill to get a hearing in her committee.

“The Vikings Stadium proposal that passed the Senate Jobs Committee contains provisions that require the consideration of the Senate Tax Committee,” Ortman said in a statement released this morning. “I am requesting that the bill be referred to the Tax Committee following this morning’s hearing in Finance.”

In an interview, Ortman said there are “some significant tax provisions related to local taxes, and that gambling provisions also raise revenue by imposing a tax on the transaction. And so we want to see them, and make sure everybody’s aware of them.”

Stadium bill authors previously stripped out a sales tax exemption for stadium construction materials, a likely matter of interest among tax committee members. Bill sponsor Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said it would cost the state about $180,000 in 2013, $4.7 million in 2014 and $8.9 million in 2015. That’s a total of $13.87 million in foregone sales taxes.

“I think that’s something you can eventually deal with,” Rosen said, after telling the Rules Committee she planned to drop that provision in the stadium bill. “But this is a planning phase for next year. You get your revenue stream in place, and actively generating dollars, and there might be some other sales tax exemptions we want to throw in. Its absolutely something you can do later.”

That wasn’t washing on Monday with at least one tax committee member, Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. He said the the bill should go to Ortman’s panel.

“I think I can probably find three Democrats there, which means they’ll probably have to find four out of their eight,” Bakk said. “I think they can figure that out. And I meant it when I said I’m not trying to derail the bill. I’m just trying to respect the committee jurisdictions, and clearly, if you’re going to forgive millions of dollars of sales taxes, or exempt it from taxes, then it needs to go to taxes. It just does.”

That isn’t in the current version of the bill, following the Jobs and Economic Growth committee hearing yesterday.

But Bakk says the same legal shift that keeps the plan away from the polls in Minneapolis — designating the city’s sales taxes as state funds, and thus not subject to voter approval — is another argument for tax committee jurisdiction.

“Redirecting the Minneapolis sales tax money to another purpose is kind of another klinker that the tax committee probably should look at. You know, [Republican Majority Leader Sen. Dave] Senjem actually mentioned that to me. He said, ‘you know, Tom, I got this Minneapolis local city sales tax in here, too. And I said, yeah, I know.’ So I think it’s going to go to taxes. I think it clearly should.”

If Bakk is correct, and the Republicans have to come up with four votes, it could be a dicey situation in taxes.

Two members of the committee have already voted against the idea once: Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, and Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, who has been among the most outspoken of the Senate critics of the current plan. Chamberlain has a rival bill to loan the Vikings the money for the stadium, in place of the $400 million state contribution now in the bill, paid for by taxes on new electronic pull tabs and other gambling.

Two other Republicans are also public backers of the deal. Rosen, the bill author, is on the taxes committee. And yesterday, outgoing Jobs chair Geoff Michel, R-Edina, gave what may have been the strongest endorsement of the stadium of anybody not wearing a team jersey or on the payroll.

“I’m going to support your bill,” Michel told Rosen. “I think its part of our brand. I think this is part of Minnesota. You know, we’re a little challenged. We don’t have an ocean. We’re in flyover country. Some of us even think we have high taxes. We need some things. We need some stuff. We need some stuff to offer to families and yes, even to businesses to come here and stay here and grow here. And this is part of it. This is part of our stuff.”

Which could leave four Senators to decide what’s going to happen if the stadium goes to taxes: committee chair Ortman, Majority Leader Senjem, R-Rochester, outgoing freshman Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, and freshman John Howe, R-Red Wing.

The committee chair said she didn’t know how it would go. “I leave it to the author and the Vikings and the others to count votes,” Ortmann said. She wouldn’t say which side she’ll be counted on. “I want to hear it first. I want the opportunity to ask some questions and hear about it first.”

But Ortman is also facing an intra-party challenge from Kevin Masrud. You can see his campaign Facebook page here. Masrud says the endorsing convention is May 15 — presumably long after a stadium vote.

Is her endorsement race figuring in her stance toward the stadium? “No,” Ortman said. “You know, I would say we all are hearing from both sides. We hear a lot of folks hotly in favor and those passionately against.”

Which could make the Vikings bill in the tax committee some must-see TV.