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Legislature approves stadium bill

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Lawmakers approved the final version of a Vikings stadium construction plan Thursday, sending it to the governor's desk for approval.

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The new stadium would make Minnesota "a better place to live," Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said shortly after the House approved his stadium construction bill 71-60 early Thursday.

"It's a win-win for everybody in this state," Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said of the project. Senators approved the stadium 36-30 Thursday afternoon.

The House adjourned for the year after passing the stadium bill before 4 a.m. and the Senate followed suit just after 2 p.m.

Two other steps still remain: a governor's signature and the Minneapolis City Council's approval. Only after the last two plays are run can a decade-old dream of a new stadium, the largest-ever state approved construction project, begin to take shape.

Lanning shepherded the bill through the House after working on the issue seven years. It would build the largest single project the state ever.

"This is an incredible piece of bi-partisan work," Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said.

Lanning said the new stadium would serve the state more than 50 years, replacing the outdated Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis.

But those against the bill delivered strong speeches during debate.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said the government should not get involved in the business of professional sports.

"It saddens me to think that our citizens believe this is a wise expenditure of taxpayer money," he said.

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said a stadium will not strengthen Minnesota. The state needs, instead, to lower taxes and invest in schools, she said.

"Minnesota taxpayers will be subsidizing fans," Franson said.

"I believe that it is wrong that government can use its force to force one group of people to pay for another group's entertainment," Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, said.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, said the funding approved in the bill, using expanded taxes with electronic pulltabs and bingo, never has been used.

"These electronic pulltabs don't exist anywhere," Hackbarth said, and likely will not produce enough revenue to repay stadium construction loans.

Financing the project was a key point of debate throughout discussion on the bill. Some lawmakers did not like using gaming to fund the stadium, and others wanted different sources such as user fees.

Legislators previously rejected attempts to switch to all user fee funding, a plan Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, proposed.

Using charitable gambling taxes to finance the stadium was one of the most controversial parts of the plan.

"We're sucking more money out of the working class that can't afford to give it up," Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park, said.

"Everybody wants a yes vote, everybody wants a stadium. But at what cost?" Howe said.

But many others said the plan was good for the state.

"If you don't buy a pulltab or you don't go to a game, you don't pay a dime," Bakk said. "You got a good deal, Minnesotans."

Vikings fans thanked legislators for keeping the team in Minnesota for another generation. Many in full Vikings garb were in the House and Senate galleries and applauded when the vote was announced.

Stadium backers worked long hours in recent days as they tried to smooth over differences between the House and Senate and between legislators and the Vikings.

"There was a lot of give and take, a lot of compromise," Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said.

Some were upset about the process, as much of those discussions were done in private. Howe and others said there was not enough opportunity for public and other lawmakers' input.

"Everything was done as best could be done with the timeframe we had here," said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, who was part of the joint conference committee.

The Vikings are to pay $477 million toward construction costs, $50 million more than they wanted. The $975 million Minneapolis stadium would have a roof and 65,000 seats, expandable to 72,000.

Most of the state's portion of stadium construction costs would come from taxes collected on new charitable gambling profits after electronic devices are added to pulltab and bingo games. The state would pay $348 million and Minneapolis $150 million.

The compromise bill also allows tipboards, which is a gambling game based on scores but not the outcomes of sports contests.

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