ST. PAUL, Minn. – The big push at Minnesota's Capitol to pass a public subsidy for a new Vikings stadium stalled Tuesday, as the proposal got snared in the partisan politics that have defined state government under a Democratic governor and Republican legislative majorities.
The prospect of impending House and Senate floor votes on the $975 million stadium plan appeared to dissolve after Republican legislative leaders unexpectedly debuted a brand-new financing plan that differs significantly from the proposal negotiated by Gov. Mark Dayton's administration, the Vikings and the city of Minneapolis. GOP leaders called for shrinking the proposed $400 million state contribution by an unspecified amount, eliminating the stadium's roof and paying for it with state general bonds rather than tax money from an expansion of legal gambling.
The proposal earned withering scorn from Dayton even before the GOP unveiled it. The Democratic governor called a news conference to blast Republican leaders after hearing third-hand of what he called "secret meetings" with the Vikings. He described their proposal as "fooling around" and demanded up-or-down House and Senate votes on the original plan.
"Vote on the proposal that's been worked on for the last eight months, that's before the House and the Senate," Dayton said. "That's been vetted by seven legislative committees, and that is a sound package, has been worked out, has support of the Minneapolis City Council and the Mayor, and is a go."
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley denied the team worked covertly with Republicans to craft an alternative. He said team officials merely provided information at the request of House Majority Leader Matt Dean and said that shouldn't be seen as an endorsement of an open-air stadium.
"The time to consider the site or the design has passed," Bagley told reporters. He added, "Make no mistake: the Vikings stand with the agreement we negotiated."
Dean, joined by the Legislature's other top three Republican leaders, said he started discussions on an alternate approach out of concern the original proposal lacked support to pass the House and Senate.
"There were lots of concerns raised by many members of the Legislature," Dean said, pointing to worries expressed by numerous members that the gambling expansion in the stadium bill might not raise as much as projected — thus leaving general taxpayers on the hook.
The new proposal came together without input from the bill's chief House and Senate sponsors, both Republicans. Both Rep. Morrie Lanning and Sen. Julie Rosen had said in recent days they believed they had lined up the votes to pass the original proposal.
Lanning and Rosen both said they only became aware of the new, leadership-backed proposal on Tuesday. Rosen called it "a little bit of a surprise" but said it was worth vetting further — though she said any new stadium would need a roof.
Members of Republican leadership admitted they don't yet have all the numbers filled in on the new proposal, including the exact size of the new state contribution. Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem said the new proposal was still "incubating," and the leaders had not laid out a specific path forward for the new proposal in a legislative session that could wrap up any day.
Republican leaders also have said they don't want to pass a stadium bill unless they can reach a larger deal with Dayton that includes tax cuts for businesses.
They prefer to include the stadium money in a larger package of state construction projects to be funded by state borrowing. That actually sets a higher bar for passage of the stadium bill, from the simple majority that would be needed for the original plan to House and Senate supermajorities that are needed to pass borrowing bills.
Republican leaders, particularly House Speaker Kurt Zellers, had been reluctant to embrace the original stadium plan. Zellers still wouldn't commit to personally supporting the new proposal from his colleagues, but said it looked to him like an honest attempt to nail down wider support.
Democratic legislative leaders joined Dayton in pressing for an up-or-down vote on the original proposal, with House Minority Leader Paul Thissen promising he could deliver the 34 Democratic votes needed to get halfway to the 68-vote House majority.
The Republican proposal "doesn't make sense in any rational or viable way, so you have to ask yourself what else is involved," Dayton said.