In his strongest comments to date, Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers is suggesting the Minnesota House could vote on a Vikings stadium plan before the end of session. Zellers, who has been reluctant to commit to whether the House would vote on such a plan, now says there’s a likelihood it can happen. In an interview with MPR News, Zellers said the Vikings stadium bill cleared both the House Commerce Committee and the House Rules Committee in the past few weeks.
“We’ve said all along that if it continues to move through the process, which last week with some pretty good pace, moving through two committees in one week is a lot better pace than you’ve seen so far,” Zellers said. “We’re committed to a fair process, and if it can move along like that and continues to move along like that, I think you’ll see a vote this year.”
Zellers said the delay in both the House was caused by debate over whether there was a sufficient backup funding plan in place to ensure that no general fund money would go to the stadium. The more than $975 million stadium plan relies on $400 million in state funding, $150 million from the city of Minneapolis and $427 million from the Vikings. The state plan relies on money generated from allowing charities to operate electronic pull-tabs in bars and restaurants. The plan also legalizes sports-themed tip boards which would be used to give charities a tax break.
Several lawmakers, including Zellers, said they were concerned the projected annual revenue estimates from the electronic pull-tabs would never materialize. They wanted a back-up plan to ensure the state’s general fund wasn’t used to pay for the stadium.
The bill was changed to require other revenue sources “blink on.” Those funding sources include a tax on luxury boxes, a sports-themed lottery game, an admissions tax at the stadium and reserve funds from Hennepin county sales taxes used to build Target Field.
The House Government Operations Committee is likely to hold a hearing on the bill next week. The Vikings stadium bill is currently stalled in a Senate committee but GOP leaders are working to get the bill moving.
“It’s active,” GOP Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem said last week. “We’re trying to thread that needle.”
Gov. Dayton has been pushing for the House and Senate to vote on the bill before the end of session.
Zellers comments come as the House and Senate are on a 10-day Easter/Passover break. Lawmakers return to St. Paul on Monday with the hopes of wrapping up the session by the end of the month.
It also comes as the state’s two largest business groups have ramped up their lobbying for the stadium. Lobbyists for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership have both confirmed that they are contacting lawmakers on the stadium. Minnesota Business Partnership executive director Charlie Weaver said CEOs of EcoLab, U.S. Bancorp, Wells Fargo and General Mills have all contacted GOP leadership on the issue.
“It’s not going away,” Weaver said of the stadium debate. “Rep. Zellers is hearing the love of the business community for the stadium on this deal.”
Weaver said the stadium also has the strong support of the state’s labor unions. He said that should help deliver DFL votes to get the deal done.
House GOP leaders say they want to finish the legislative session on or before April 30 but the constitutional deadline to adjourn May 21.