ST. PAUL, Minn. – Efforts to build a new Minnesota Vikings stadium stayed alive at the Capitol on Thursday thanks to a House committee that salvaged the plan ahead of a 10-day legislative break. Still, it faces long odds.
The stadium bill, a public-private partnership to build a $975 million downtown Minneapolis stadium, has been a marquee issue of the 2012 session thanks to Gov. Mark Dayton's strong support, but it has yet to gain serious momentum.
Plus, northwestern Minnesota's White Earth Nation upped the stakes Thursday on its own bid to be part of the stadium solution by offering to bankroll the entire $398 million state share in exchange for permission to build a new casino in the Twin Cities area. But that plan, which unites disparate opponents, likely has little chance.
The House Rules Committee voted Thursday to keep the stadium bill alive, even though a deadline has passed for bills that would spend state money. The House Government Operations Committee is tentatively scheduled to consider the proposal April 17, after lawmakers get back from their spring break.
Dayton has spent a lot of time pursuing a stadium deal that would keep the Vikings in Minnesota for another three decades, at least. The Democratic governor has at times expressed frustration with the bill's slow progress in the Republican-controlled Legislature, but on Thursday said he doesn't fault lawmakers for moving slowly since it took a long time for backers to assemble a final proposal.
Dayton said the plan's true test would come when lawmakers return.
"It's like school's out," Dayton said. "It remains to be seen if they're sincere in their intention to take this to the floor to a vote."
The proposal being pushed by the White Earth Nation, meanwhile, is expected to face heavy opposition.
It looks to replace the current state funding proposal to use taxes on an expansion of low-stakes charitable gambling in bars and restaurants. Critics of the charitable gambling plan question if pull-tab and bingo games are reliable sources of yearly revenue to pay off stadium construction bonds.
By accepting the tribe's money, "the state doesn't have to go to the bond market with questionable proposals," White Earth Chairwoman Erma Vizenor said.
The White Earth Nation, located about five hours from the Twin Cities in the state's northwestern corner, is the state's largest and economically poorest tribe. It has sought state backing for a Twin Cities casino on and off for several years as a vehicle to boost its own economic fortunes.
But a solid bloc of lawmakers opposes any major expansion of gambling. Plus, the state's wealthiest American Indian tribes see unwanted competition to their own Twin Cities-area casinos and have powerful allies in the Legislature.
"I don't know that it has the votes," House Speaker Kurt Zellers said.