ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton pronounced the monthslong state push to help build a new Minnesota Vikings stadium a "fiasco" on Wednesday, as the Legislature's Republican leaders proposed a significantly smaller state contribution to the project.
The Republicans proposed a $250 million contribution from the state, considerably lower than the $400 million in a previous stadium deal negotiated between the Dayton administration, the team, the host city of Minneapolis and stadium bill sponsors in the Legislature.
With only five working days left in the state's legislative session, the fate of the Vikings new stadium seemed up in the air. The Vikings have been trying for a decade to get a replacement for the Metrodome. Their lease has expired, though they're compelled to play the 2012 season at the 30-year-old facility.
The Democratic governor Wednesday morning blasted the new GOP proposal as "hare-brained" and "laughable." Dayton toned down his criticism later in the day after meeting privately with Republican leaders, saying he was willing to "look at" their plan as they firm up details.
GOP leaders did abandon one controversial feature of their scaled-back stadium financing proposal, dropping their insistence that the new stadium be built without a roof to cut its total cost.
Republicans said the state would finance the roof after all, at an unspecified additional amount. Most importantly, the state's contribution would come not in the form of tax revenue from an expansion of legal gambling — as proposed in the original bill — but rather from state borrowing in the form of what's known as "general obligation bonds." Under that approach, the state would repay the bonds with money from its general treasury, which comes mostly from income and sales tax collections.
"This is the way we pay for infrastructure all across the state of Minnesota," said House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, the architect of the new proposal.
But Dayton and Democratic leaders said that was a surprising reversal from Republicans who have insisted for months that general taxpayers shouldn't have to foot the stadium bill.
By using bonds, Republicans would set a higher bar for the number of votes needed to pass a stadium plan. While the original plan would require only a simple majority in the House and Senate, bonding bills require supermajorities.
Under the original bill, the Vikings were to contribute $427 million; the new proposal leaves their contribution unspecified but continues to reserve for the team revenues from naming rights and ticket fees.
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley reiterated Wednesday that the Vikings would continue to support the previously negotiated agreement. He said a bill is already on the floor of the House and Senate "and we think that we need to see a vote on it soon."
Republican leaders insist they pursued the last-minute change because the original plan lacked votes to pass the Legislature. But Dayton and the Legislature's Democratic leaders were skeptical of that claim and continued to press GOP leaders to allow floor votes on the original proposal.
"There is a legitimate, vetted proposal sitting on the floor of the House and Senate," said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, a Minneapolis Democrat.
But Dayton, acknowledging Republicans control both chambers, said he'd hear them out on the new proposal.
"They're in the majority — they control the floor, they control the agenda," Dayton said. "They have the majority of the votes. I want to see a stadium that's structurally sound and financially sound, that puts thousands of people to work and keeps the Minnesota Vikings here. If it means continuing to work, and looking at another possibility, we're willing to do that."
Not all Republican stadium supporters were on board with the new plan. Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said he wanted to vote on the previously negotiated proposal.
"The bill has had hearings in four different legislative committees and is the most workable plan," Miller said.