ST. PAUL, Minn. – A long-awaited vote on a nearly $1 billion plan to build a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings will be held next week, top GOP lawmakers decided Thursday — with the fate of the public-private venture impossible to predict.
Republicans, who control the Legislature, scrapped their last-minute proposal that would have slashed the state's share of the $975 million stadium. They then scheduled Monday votes in the House and Senate on an existing plan backed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton that heavily relies on tax revenue from gambling, which GOP leadership and other critics argue isn't a stable funding source.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers said he isn't sure if the existing plan will pass, noting that he plans to vote against it. Dayton urged Minnesotans to pressure their legislators to back the proposal, which also is supported by the Vikings and city leaders in Minneapolis, where the stadium would be built to replace the 30-year-old Metrodome.
"I will continue to do all I can to convince them this is a good deal for Minnesota, the best deal available, and much better than the alternative," Dayton said.
GOP Senate Majority Leader David Senjem said he's not sure whether the plan has enough votes in the Senate. Zellers put the responsibility on Dayton's shoulders.
"The fate of the stadium is now in the governor's hand," Zellers said.
He and Republican colleagues in recent days pursued an alternative approach to funding the stadium, proposing a considerably reduced state share and paying for it with income and sales tax-backed construction bonds — the way the state funds other infrastructure projects. But they said it turned out to be unworkable.
Now, the pending decision puts the focus squarely on rank-and-file lawmakers facing one of the biggest votes of their careers. Passage would require significant backing from Democrats in both chambers, since many Republicans — who hold majorities in both the House and Senate — are unwilling to commit. The bill needs 68 votes in the House and 34 in the Senate to pass.
"Free-agent Monday," said Rep. Kurt Daudt, a Republican from Crown who wouldn't say how he'd vote.
Rounding up the votes could be more complicated than just getting enough lawmakers on board. High-profile bills like the stadium often turn into bargaining chips for undeclared lawmakers seeking support for their own priorities. And, the bill itself could morph if it is amended during the floor debate, swinging lawmakers either way.
Corporate leaders and organized labor activists have been pushing for the stadium. Labor leaders cite the project's potential to employ thousands of idled construction workers. On Thursday, union workers in bright yellow safety vests and hard hats gathered outside the House chamber on Thursday chanting, "Build the stadium, save our team."
The team is alerting Vikings fans to the importance of the pending vote, telling them to press their lawmakers to vote yes.
"Now's the time to pour it on and let legislators know this has to get done," Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said.
The Vikings have pursued a stadium subsidy for more than a decade, and no longer have a lease binding them to the Metrodome. Other cities coveting a new NFL franchise have watched closely.
The team wants to build at the Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis, opening the new facility by 2016.
The team committed $427 million in private financing, with $150 million from Minneapolis sales taxes, and the balance, $400 million, from new taxes projected to roll in by allowing bars and restaurants that offer gambling to upgrade to electronic versions of some games.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said opposition to the existing bill is widespread among fiscal conservatives in the House.
"Too many flaws, too many uncertainties," Drazkowski said.
But Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he was hopeful the stadium would get 34 GOP House votes, if Democrats deliver the other 34 votes.
"There's a lot of people that want to get it done," McNamara said.
House Democrats are also split. The House's newest member, Minneapolis Democrat Susan Allen, said she'd vote against the plan to keep a promise she made while running in a January special election. With more than half the children in her district living in poverty, the state would be better to invest in affordable housing, recreational facilities and youth programs, she said.
"I wouldn't be able to defend my vote in light of all those circumstances," Allen said.
But the House Democratic leader, Paul Thissen of Minneapolis, said he'd vote yes. "It's the right thing for Minnesota," Thissen said.
Zellers calls himself a Vikings fan who doesn't want the team to leave, but said he nonetheless can't support the current bill. He tried to straddle the issue in a Thursday afternoon interview on KFAN-AM in Minneapolis.
"I want to see it pass," Zellers said of the bill. "I won't vote for it, but I want to see it pass."
The stadium bill could require two rounds of votes. If passed by the House, the Senate would act next — but the Senate's stadium bill is slightly different that the House's version. So if the different bills pass, a conference committee would draft a compromise that would require second House and Senate votes to get to Dayton's desk.
Associated Press writer Brian Bakst contributed to this report.