ST. PAUL, Minn. – Most Republican lawmakers who control Minnesota's Legislature never met a tax increase they liked, but a handful said Thursday that the state's portion of the cost of a new Minnesota Vikings stadium should be funded with new taxes on the team and its fans — rather than with revenue from an expansion of legal gambling.
It was the latest twist in the stadium bill's rocky ride at the Minnesota Capitol. The bill's rapid-fire progress of recent days slowed noticeably Thursday, with an expected hearing in the Senate Taxes Committee delayed until at least Friday. That leaves a shrinking window of time to get the $1 billion stadium proposal to the desk of a supportive Gov. Mark Dayton, with legislative leaders aiming to finish up their 2012 session by Monday at midnight.
Dayton and other stadium supporters contend failure to act this year could cost Minnesota its NFL franchise.
The delay in the Senate, as supporters worked to get the bill in good enough shape to survive a grilling from numerous stadium critics on the panel, also slowed the bill in the House where it awaits a floor vote. The chief House sponsor, Rep. Morrie Lanning, said a House vote was not likely until the stadium bill clears the Senate's committee process.
Senate Tax Committee Chairwoman Julianne Ortman said she was focusing her time on negotiations surrounding other high-profile bills and the stadium hearing could wait. She denied putting a hold on the Vikings bill as leverage.
"I wouldn't call it hostage taking," she said. "We hold hearings when we're ready to have hearings."
The bill's delay left critics of the current proposal time to momentarily grab the spotlight. A group of Republican lawmakers denounced the expansion of legal gambling in the bill, which would let Minnesota charities offer new, electronic versions of games of chance they operate in bars and clubs. The tax revenue that's projected to be raised by that is earmarked to pay yearly costs for construction bonds on the state's $400 million share.
"It's in our Republican Party platform that we don't support expansion of gambling," said Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester. He said when the bill does reach the House floor, he'd move to remove the gambling expansion in favor of income and sales tax increases related to professional sports.
Benson said he'd propose a 4-percent income tax surcharge on Vikings players and executives who earn more than $200,000 a year; sales tax increases on sports memorabilia, liquor and purchases in the new stadium; and a sales tax on online purchases of NFL merchandise. He said it was more defensible than taking tax money from additional legal gambling, which he said tended to prey on people who can least afford it.
Sen. David Hann, a ringleader of Senate conservatives and no fan of tax increases, also said it was a better approach.
"If you're going to put an additional burden on people to pay for something like this, I think you have to look at the people who benefit from the use of it rather than others who may never show up at the stadium at all," Hann said.
The Vikings have consistently opposed game-related taxes to help pay for the stadium. Swapping the bill's funding source at this stage would make it difficult to resolve the issue before the planned end of session, but Benson said he expected to get support from both Republicans and Democrats if he's able to offer his amendment.
The state's roughly $400 million share covers just over a third of the stadium's $1 billion price tag, with the Vikings offering $427 million and another $150 million to come from an existing sales tax in the city of Minneapolis. If approved this year, construction on the new stadium would get underway next year at the current Metrodome site, likely forcing the team to play its 2013 season at the University of Minnesota.
Associated Press writer Brian Bakst contributed to this report.